The case for a global tech policeman

The case for a global tech policeman

A few days ago, the New York Times published a bombshell report on the Chinese government's systematic oppression of Muslims in Western China. The story was about many things: human rights, geopolitics, Chinese society – but it was also about technology: Beijing's repression in Xinjiang province is powered in part by facial recognition, big data, and other advanced technologies.

It's a concrete example of a broader trend in global politics: technology is a double-edged sword with sharp political consequences. Artificial intelligence, for example, can help develop new medicines but it can also support surveillance states. Social media helps nourish democracy movements and entertains us with cat memes, but it also feeds ISIS and 4Chan.


There are geopolitical considerations at work here too: the US and China are slipping into a technology "Cold War" over technologies like AI and 5G that will shape both economic growth and the future of military power. Meanwhile, Europe is trying to lead a new regulatory front against Western tech giants that have run roughshod over users' privacy. The US, for its part, isn't sure what to do: calls for more regulation are getting louder, but policymakers are leery of hamstringing Silicon Valley with new restrictions right as the US steps up its tech competition with China.

It's a mess out there. To manage—and possibly avoid—a damaging split that could stop globalization in its tracks, Ian Bremmer, the founder of GZERO Media's parent company, Eurasia Group, called on Monday for a new approach to managing global tech competition.

His idea is to create two new global organizations:

First, a kind of global referee to assess the world's current progress in managing data and emerging technologies like AI. This would be modelled after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN body that serves a similar function on the science of climate change.

Second, a World Data Organization (WDO) modelled on the World Trade Organization — a club of like-minded countries that believe in "online openness and transparency" that could set and enforce norms around data privacy and digital trade.

There are some clear benefits to this approach: a WDO would make the world safer helping countries develop shared norms on privacy, cybersecurity, and AI safety. And it would help preserve the kind of country-to-country collaboration that spurs positive technological innovation.

But there are also two big challenges: First, the Western countries that might form the core of these organizations actually hold very different views on the appropriate trade-offs between Silicon Valley profits and users' privacy. Consensus won't come easily.

Second, how would these bodies deal with China? Using WTO membership as an enticement to try to mould China's economy in a more "Western" direction led Beijing to embrace some market forces, but only up to a point. (And it did not convince the Chinese Communist party to liberalize politically). It's not clear that a WDO would be any more effective at getting China to reform. And yet, excluding China entirely might deepen the rifts that a new global platform is meant to address.

It's obvious that new approaches to managing global technology competition are needed. New global institutions are one potential solution. But we'd love to hear your ideas, too. You can write to us here.

This week, the market value of Tencent, China's biggest video game company, nosedived after a state media outlet suggested that online gaming was as addictive and destructive as opium. Tencent immediately pledged to cap the number of hours people can play, and to keep minors off its platforms.

It's the latest example of a months-long crackdown on major Chinese technology firms that until recently were viewed as some of the world's most powerful and successful companies, as well as a source of national pride. Beijing's about-face on its own tech titans could have big implications for China, and beyond.

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Equestrian jumpers, and their horses, are disciplined species. They don't appreciate surprises very much.

But many participants were caught off guard during this week's individual jumping qualifiers in Tokyo by a very daunting statue of a sumo wrestler on the hurdle course (which is dotted with statues paying homage to traditional Japanese culture, like geisha kimonos, cherry blossoms, and taiko drums).

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For Dick Pound, the longest serving member of the International Olympic Committee, protesting at the Games is fine — as long as it doesn't "interfere" with the competition itself or awards ceremonies. The Olympics, in his view, are an oasis of calm in the middle of an increasingly tense world, and "we shouldn't be spoiling that by pointing out the obvious , which is that there are social and political problems." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World on US public television.

India's rape problem: Hundreds of protesters have flocked to the streets of New Delhi for four days straight after a 9-year old girl was raped and murdered in a small village outside the capital while going to fetch water for her family. Some demonstrators burned effigies of India's PM Narendra Modi, saying that the government has not done enough — or anything, really — to address the country's abysmal rape problem: there were more than 32,000 rapes recorded in 2019, certainly a vast undercount given the stigma associated with reporting sexual assaults in India. The scourge of sexual violence against women and girls in India was brought to light in 2012 when a 23-year-old woman was gang raped and murdered while traveling on a bus in the nation's capital, prompting international outrage. Four men have been arrested in connection with this week's attack, though they have not been charged. The city of New Delhi, meanwhile, has ordered an inquiry to probe events surrounding the young girl's death, though Indians who have been sounding the alarm on violence against women for decades aren't expecting much to come of it.

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It's been 365 days since twin blasts at a Beirut port decimated Lebanon's capital. More than 200 people were killed and some 7,000 were injured, yet accountability has been scarce. There is ample evidence that multiple Lebanese officials knew that ammonium nitrate was being improperly stored at the port. Four high-ranking politicians, including former PM Hassan Diab, have been charged by a Lebanese judge, but they all refuse to cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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20,200: As the super contagious delta variant continues to spread, Thailand is now a COVID hotspot, recording more than 20,200 new COVID cases Wednesday, the highest daily toll since the pandemic began. Authorities imposed new restrictions in Bangkok and other provinces as the vaccine rollout remains sluggish; just 5.8 percent of Thailand's 66 million people are fully vaccinated.

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University of British Colombia professor Edward Slingerland says drinking makes us feel good and has historically encouraged socializing. But there are negative implications, as well. We now have the problem of "distillation and isolation": getting as much booze as you want and drinking alone, especially during the pandemic. There's a gender issue too: the "bro culture" associated with alcohol can exclude and even be dangerous for women. Not all regions have the same problems, though, as drinking habits vary widely. Watch Slingerland's interview with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

Watch the episode: The (political) power of alcohol

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