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Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

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Columbia law professor discusses tech’s impact on democracy

Governments, tech companies battle over jurisdiction

“This is not just about technology; this is also about how this technology impacts democracy and fundamental human rights,” Anu Bradford, a Columbia law professor, told an audience in Mendoza College of Business' Jordan Auditorium Friday.

As students and faculty filed into the auditorium around 10:30 a.m., a quiet buzz spread across the room in anticipation of “Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology,” a lecture within a greater series hosted by Mendoza exploring artificial intelligence through the research perspective of some of the top scholars in the field.

Sponsored by Mendoza’s Eugene Clark Distinguished Lecture Series endowment, Friday’s lecture was delivered by Bradford, the Henry L. Moses Distinguished Professor of Law and International Organization at Columbia Law School. Bradford, who received her Doctorate of Juridical Science as a Harvard Fulbright Scholar in 2007, is now a leading educator on the regulatory actions of the European Union and is sought after commentator on the EU, global economy and digital reputation.

Three models

Bradford offered a comprehensive, but rather grave overview of the rapid advancement of technology and artificial intelligence. She provided an explanation about how governments are grappling with the issues that arise from it on the world stage based on her second book “Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology,” which was published by Oxford University Press in September.

“There is an increasing global consensus on [technological] regulation, but no consensus on what that regulation might look like,” Bradford began.

She then explored the three current “models” of interaction with technology utilized by three regions of the world: the American market-driven model, the Chinese state-driven model and the European rights-driven model. Yet each of these models, Bradford said, are not confined to the jurisdictions of their regions. They overlap and collide with one another, even coming into conflict, she explained.

“It is very hard for Microsoft to hand over data to numerous law enforcement agencies as part of a law enforcement investigation when that data is located in Ireland and protected by the GDPR [the EU's General Data Protection Regulation].”

Two battles

This type of technological jurisdiction overlaps between companies and thus, their home countries leads to two types of battles, Bradford said: horizontal battles and vertical battles.

Horizontal battles are conflicts raised between governments. Bradford offered the example of regulation between Europeans and Americans.

“If I asked you to name a European tech company, it might take you a while,” she joked, since the region primarily relies on American technology.

However, Bradford said, the issue arises when Europeans wish to regulate aspects of the technology. The companies are not their own and are left with American technology that may “compromise their rights, their privacy and leave them surrounded by hate speech and disinformation.”

Vertical battles, Bradford said, are conflicts within each region between the power of government and the power of their own tech companies.

The United States, she explained, for the longest time had existed as a libertarian market for tech companies, allowing them virtually free reign over the American economy. Yet, with the growing power of these companies and the rise of artificial intelligence, there exists in the country a “high stakes battle looming over the digital empire.”

If the United States does chose to regulate, Bradford added, there exists the fear that the nation may fall behind technological advancements made in China.

One goal

Bradford concluded her remarks with a grim sentiment about the rise in global popularity in the Chinese technological market.

“Although the European model does very well in the democratic world, it is not doing well in the authoritarian world and that world is getting bigger every day,” Bradford said. Other developing countries “look at China, and they like what they see … because China has shown to the world that innovation does not require freedom,” she added.

Bradford argued that to combat technological impacts from rising democratic backsliding, the United States and Europe must work together “to show the world that there is a liberal democratic way to regulate technology” and that “developing countries need to have a stake in technological development,” rather than fall in the trap of partnering with China’s state-driven authoritarian model.

She offered hope about the power liberal democratic governments hold in this matter.

“What do you expect will be around 100 years from now, Facebook or France? I think France,” Bradford said. “These states have power. They just have to use it.”

The next lecture within the “Artificial Intelligence: Promise or Peril?” series will take place March 22 and will explore “Symbiotic Human-AI Interaction: Examples of AI in Robot and AI in Finance.”