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The New Urgency of Global Tech Governance

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the diffusion of digital technologies, international rules and standards governing data urgently need to catch up. The more that policymaking remains stuck at the national level, the fewer benefits the Fourth Industrial Revolution will yield.

WASHINGTON, DC – Pandemic lockdowns, digitalization, and the acceleration of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) are all driving a shift in global governance. Since the world’s technological leaders will also be geopolitical leaders, the competition for dominance in cutting-edge sectors like artificial intelligence is intensifying. The 4IR technology race will be the primary factor influencing global economic and political arrangements in the post-pandemic future.

Although the United States remains the top AI power, it is closely followed by China, and then by other players such as Russia. For its part, China has already invested an estimated $300 billion in the field (including chips and electric cars), adopted a national innovation strategy (“Made in China 2025”), and enabled the rise of pioneering tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. But while China has massive potential for AI development, it also has a lot of work to do before it surpasses the US. Studies show that China still lags on three key fronts: hardware, research, and the commercial sector.

Beyond the US and China, European and Asian countries are also pursuing 4IR innovation. The United Kingdom, for example, is in the top quartile of countries in terms of AI readiness, owing to its top-tier research universities and generous public research funding. Similarly, many Asian countries have demonstrated an obvious advantage in terms of technological diffusion and robot density. With 774 robots per 10,000 workers, South Korea is far ahead of most other countries; and Japan, with its already-dominant automobile industry, has begun to establish itself as a leader in autonomous vehicles.

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