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World consensus essential for internet governance

The first day of RIGF 2021 continued with sessions Internet Governance and Emerging Technologies. Artificial Intelligence and Ethics.

The session on internet governance, moderated by Andrey Vorobyev, Ilona Stadnik (Coordination Center for TLD .RU/.РФ) and Jovan Kurbalija (DiploFoundation), focused on the report, The Age of Digital Interdependence, released in 2018 by the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, established at the instruction of UN Secretary-General to develop proposals on improving cooperation in the digital area between governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, research organizations, the engineering community and other interested parties. The participants discussed why global digital cooperation is necessary, what values the digital world shares as well as what efficient platforms are available where all countries can be heard. Other items on the agenda included the risk of internet fragmentation and the implementation of the Roadmap of Digital Cooperation.

Maxim Parshin, Deputy Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Mass Media of the Russian Federation, noted that internet governance requires a global consensus resulting in a global pact identifying coordinated approaches and policies. “It is important to designate a body within the UN that will be responsible for developing and implementing legal regulations and standards on internet governance. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) seems to be the most suitable platform for this purpose,” he added.

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau and a candidate to become the next Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union, in particular focused on inclusivity of the internet while presenting her remarks. She pointed out that half of the population of the world, or 3.7 billion people, still have no access to the internet. She also spoke about the UN’s program aimed at addressing this issue and providing the entire world population with access to the internet by the year 2030. She also talked about the international efforts to engage young people in resolving these matters and specifically noted the role of national internet governance forums, including Russia’s IGF.

President of VimpelCom Rashid Ismailov, who is also running for ITU Secretary-General this year, pointed out the current trend for dividing countries into two blocs – those who support total freedom of the internet and believe in the so-called Silicon Valley model and those who are concerned about national sovereignty. The parties have been on the path towards convergence though, especially on the ITU platforms since the union is focusing on developing countries and eliminating digital inequality.

“The key areas for international cooperation include growing economic inequality in view of digitalization. The digital gap is widening: with monopolies growing, local companies suffer from competition and fail to properly process personal data, including due to the lack of a qualified workforce that drains developed countries. One way to overcome the digital gap is to optimize tax and other legal regulations. Digital giants should pay higher taxes in the countries where they operate. Still, it is vital not to overdo it,” Rashid Ismailov said.

Mandy Carver, Senior Vice President for Government and Intergovernmental Organization (IGO) Engagement at ICANN, spoke about the principles of technical governance that were first presented on December 20 at the 15th IGF: “Technical internet governance focuses on the way the internet works. It is purely the technical aspects related to the components, that contribute to secure, stable and resilient Internet. A crucial aspect of technical internet governance is the need to ensure, from a technical perspective, that the internet is accessible to everyone. The decision that we use the integrated domain name space, the common IP-addressing system and common protocol specifications, was the biggest factor enabling the growth of the internet over the last 40 years.”

Jovan Kurbalija, founding director of DiploFoundation and head of the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP), did not agree that the technical community represented by ICANN cannot be concerned with political issues because on the internet there is no clear division between technical and non- technical aspects. It is indeed important, he believes, to maintain security and uninterrupted operations of the core infrastructure. Still, there are many important matters at the intersection of technical aspects and geopolitics.

The session participants also discussed engagement of all stakeholders into the internet governance narrative, including representatives of small countries. They noted that dividing countries into supporters of total freedom and supporters of national sovereignty is an outdated approach as their views are becoming largely similar. Summarizing the session, Jovan Kurbalija proposed to refrain from counting models and looking for differences but instead make an effort to find common ground.

During the session Emerging Technologies. Artificial Intelligence and Ethics moderated by Karen Kazaryan (RAEC) and Anna Abramova (MGIMO), experts discussed the importance of a responsible approach to developing AI in such areas as medicine, industrial production and transport. They acknowledged that this approach provides for identifying mechanisms to delegate process management to AI and minimize existing risks. Ethics and artificial intelligence were among the key discussion topics at different levels, both national, international and sectoral. It is becoming increasingly obvious that this aspect may serve as a pillar when building a foundation for soft law in AI regulation.

Karen Kazaryan confirmed that the majority of discussion platforms are currently concerned about ethics and AI. Numerous experts from around the world are working on the implementation of AI, a technology that can help people and businesses at large. AI can also contribute to eliminating digital inequality, promoting inclusivity and providing access to technology.

Anna Abramova added that there are more than 100 documents on ethics at this point, which is an issue of heated debates. As AI is developing, both its potential and risks are becoming more apparent. Therefore, it is necessary to maintain balance between the regulatory efforts and promoting the technological progress.

Jan Kleijssen (Council of Europe) stressed that AI is creating numerous opportunities but that it is also a source of new discrimination practices as new categories and new objects of discrimination are emerging right now.

Elza Ganeyeva (Microsoft) offered a detailed picture of the basic principles of dealing with AI that were adopted by Microsoft five years ago. She emphasized the importance of verifying the practical implementation of these principles in each particular case.

Andrey Kuleshov (MIPT) noted the importance of defining terms, subjects and objects of law in AI regulation, which would help professionals and society discuss AI using a language understood by everybody. “ This is exactly what a code of ethics is for. This code must be human-centered, risk- oriented and based on the principle of commensurate liability.”

“Thirty major AI developers have their corporate codes of ethics, the purpose of which is to make the AI technology safe and trustworthy. Self- regulation and development of ethical principles is the most reasonable approach. We are working with the AI Alliance on creating a universal Russian code of ethics. Our goal is to produce a set of rules that would be reasonable for every person,” concluded Andrey Neznamov (Sberbank). The session was also attended by Andrey Ignatyev (Center for Global IT Cooperation), Alexander Tyulkanov (Skolkovo Foundation) and Maxim Fedorov (Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology).