Regulating emerging technologies

Earlier in the week I attended a symposium, Getting Connected: How to achieve effective regulation of new emerging technologies?{.vt-p}, organised by the think-tank Biocentre{.vt-p}. I have previously posted a summary of my talk{.vt-p}, and this post gives an overview of the other presentations.

The topic of the symposium is a challenging one, and the meeting was deliberately designed to bring a diverse range of perspectives to bear. The organisers certainly succeeded in this aim, with a set of speakers from a range of disciplines and backgrounds.

The meeting was opened by Chamu Kuppuswamy{.vt-p} who discussed regulation from the perspective of international law. She stressed particularly the important relationship between binding international legislation, like treaties, and more advisory approaches such as international declarations. The next speaker was Charles Raab{.vt-p} who took IT privacy issues as a case study for regulation. He covered the range of approaches that can be taken, but made the central point that we need to consider both the regulatory instruments and the policy environment in which they operate. Andy Stirling{.vt-p} addressed issues of risk and uncertainty in the regulation of emerging technologies. He called for an approach  that opens up, rather than closes down, options and emphasised the importance of taking into account as wide a range of views and approaches as possible. Later in the afternoon Andrew Miller MP{.vt-p}, Chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee{.vt-p}, explained the role and work of the Committee. In scrutinising science and technology in Parliament, the Committee play an important part in keeping the development of regulation in touch with new technologies. Finally, the meeting was concluded by a presentation from Julia Manning{.vt-p} of the 2020health.org{.vt-p} think-tank. She introduced their recent report{.vt-p} on emerging technologies in healthcare.

Although there was a diverse set of inputs, a set of common themes emerged from the discussion:

  • The regulation of emerging technologies needs to be global, and to take into account the global context, especially the increasing connectedness of the world.
  • Given the pace of change in technology it is becoming more important that a wide range of view points are integrated for the development of effective regulation.
  • And more broadly, we need to make sure that the development of new technologies is not just driven by science, but is also responsive to societal need.

At the end of the meeting I was left with a feeling of the challenge of getting this right. With technology developing at an ever-increasing pace, how we can we take the measured and thoughtful steps needed to maximise the benefits, and mitigate the risks?