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Is Self-Regulation a Way Forward for Emerging Technologies?

Should we continuously struggle to adapt legislation to each new technology?

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As we discuss Artificial Intelligence regulation today, it is crucial to recognise that the conversation might shift to regulating technologies like quantum computing and machine learning in just five years.

These technological advancements are advancing at an unprecedented pace, outstripping traditional legislative processes. This leads to a fundamental question:

Should we continuously struggle to adapt legislation to each new technology, or should we consider a point where self-regulation becomes a viable alternative?

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What Does 'Self-regulation' Refer To?

With technologies emerging at the speed of light, regulating and governing these innovations is a complex and pressing concern. Traditional regulatory frameworks often struggle to keep pace with the speed of technological advancements, leaving gaps that can be exploited or hinder innovation.

As a result, there has been a growing interest in the concept of self-regulation to address the challenges associated with emerging technologies. We can take the example of Meta’s oversight board, often referred to as the “Facebook Supreme Court,” which is an independent body established to review and make binding decisions on content moderation issues within Meta’s platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. It serves as a mechanism for addressing complex content disputes and upholding principles of free expression while maintaining responsible community standards.

Self-regulation, in this context, refers to the practice of industries or technology stakeholders voluntarily establishing and adhering to a set of guidelines, standards, and best practices without direct government intervention.

It is a concept that has gained prominence in fields such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and biotechnology. But is it a viable way forward?

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The Case for Self-regulation in Emerging Technologies

Amidst the global economic slowdown, the Indian economy remains robust, thanks to its resilient technology sector on the path to becoming a trillion-dollar digital economy. Recent surges in emerging technologies, including health tech, fin-tech, ed-tech, and agri-tech, along with the rise of online gaming and over-the-top media platforms, have outpaced regulatory adaptations, a common challenge in the face of innovation’s fast-paced nature.

In this context, industry self-regulation emerges as an alternative, enabling industry experts to craft nuanced, tailored guidelines that can address industry-specific challenges. While industry self-regulation offers advantages such as agility and industry knowledge, challenges include the potential for gaps, lack of enforcement, conflicts of interest, and the need for government support in specific cases.

Another notable example is the self-regulation in India’s online gaming sector, which serves as a blueprint for emerging technologies and gaming associations. These entities can thrive through strong self-regulation, backed by explicit government recognition, ensuring high ethical and professional standards while fostering the growth of emerging sectors.

The case for self-regulation in emerging technologies is compelling on several fronts. Firstly, self-regulation offers the advantage of speed and adaptability, a stark contrast to the often-ponderous pace of government regulations.

The rapid evolution of emerging technologies necessitates nimble responses to changing circumstances and advances, ensuring that standards remain pertinent and effective. Secondly, self-regulation capitalises on the expertise inherent in industries and professionals immersed in these technologies, as they possess a nuanced understanding surpassing that of government agencies. This expertise empowers industry stakeholders to craft rules and practices tailored to the distinct challenges and opportunities posed by these innovations.

Thirdly, self-regulation strikes a balance between fostering innovation and upholding safety, security, and ethical use. It mitigates the risk of stifling creativity, allowing experimentation and progress to flourish. Lastly, emerging technologies transcend national borders, making global consistency imperative.

Self-regulation can pave the way for the establishment of consistent international standards, fostering interoperability and bolstering international collaboration.

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And the Challenges?

We need to also assess the challenges associated with self-regulation in emerging technologies as they are multifaceted. For example, the voluntary nature of self-regulation can result in potential gaps where not all industry players opt to participate. This can create compliance and oversight issues.

Moreover, without government oversight, enforcing self-regulatory measures becomes a significant challenge. In instances where compliance is lacking, the overall effectiveness of self-regulation diminishes, potentially leaving room for unethical or unsafe practices. Additionally, self-regulated industries may grapple with conflicts of interest, prioritizing their individual concerns over broader societal well-being, giving rise to ethical dilemmas and conflicting interests.

Also, in certain cases, the need for government intervention becomes apparent, especially when matters of public safety and security are in question.

Government oversight can serve as a necessary backstop to ensure that critical issues are addressed effectively and with the broader public’s interests in mind. For example, in the case of autonomous vehicles, self-regulation may not suffice to guarantee passenger safety, necessitating government intervention to establish and enforce safety standards.

The concept of self-regulation for emerging technologies should not be seen as an alternative to government regulation but rather as a complementary approach. Striking the right balance between self-regulation and government oversight is crucial. Effective self-regulation should be transparent, inclusive, and accountable.

It should involve a wide range of stakeholders, including industry leaders, experts, consumer advocates, and government representatives. This collaborative approach can help create well-rounded, ethical, and responsible guidelines for emerging technologies.

Ultimately, self-regulation backed by adequate governmental support, can play a valuable role in fostering responsible innovation and addressing the unique challenges of emerging technologies.

(Sanhita Chauriha is with Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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