David McCourt: Ireland needs to play a leading role in writing global AI rules to benefit us all

By Tom Webb Business, Tech No Comments on David McCourt: Ireland needs to play a leading role in writing global AI rules to benefit us all

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the most urgent technology issue of our times. Every week brings a major inflection point, whether it’s OpenAI, Google, Anthropic or any of the other hundreds of big organisations racing to develop parts of an unprecedentedly powerful engine that is already starting to reshape societies.

We’ve never seen potential like it.

But we must move quickly to meaningfully frame it in a way that serves our democracy, our society and our vision of humanity.

I’ve written about this topic before: I believe it is a civilisationally-defining one.

This month, I’ll be stepping up efforts to advance Ireland’s position in helping to write the world’s AI rules. This will come at a gathering to coincide with the Dalkey Book Festival and will focus on AI and its positive effects as opposed to the usual stories of gloom and doom.

These sessions are part of a worldwide series I am hosting with Columbia University that will take place in half a dozen different countries.

Dalkey has become one of the coolest ideas festivals in Europe. It’s perfect to discuss not just AI, but the correlation with virtual reality, cryptocurrency, augmented reality and, soon, the Metaverse, all of which will, I believe, change most of what you know about the world.

These things are more than the future of the internet. If harnessed correctly, they can and will create a more equitable, useful, interesting and valuable human experience.

But that equitable future hangs in the balance. If we’re to avoid some of the worst-case scenarios – which I don’t need to go into here – we need to focus on a few things immediately.

First, we need a more explicitly-stated understanding of what these groups of new technologies, that for simplicity’s sake I’m calling AI, can accomplish. Second, we need to continue to work together on sensible, enforceable regulations.

This may not come from the places it did in the past, such as the US and UK. The political systems of those countries appear to be broken, temporarily at least.

While we wait for them to regenerate and repair themselves, China is relentlessly moving forward. This is a major challenge for the West. Our escalation of protectionism, tariffs and other trade walls won’t really substitute for actual leadership on shaping global standards in areas such as AI.

This is where we in Ireland, in conjunction with our close-working allies, come in. We need global thought leadership around this new world that we are all fast approaching.

On one level, we are doing OK. Recent visits to Silicon Valley and the tech scenes of New York, France, Ireland and, most recently, Saudi Arabia, have convinced me that most of these places are full of doers who are simply getting on with it.

Go to some of the chambers in the capitals of the West, however, and you’ll find, instead, fighting or political point-scoring or figures in authority trying to undo what their predecessors did just for the sake of it.

This creates a far more dangerous world for all of us, and a far less equitable one.

The only solution I can see is for small countries to take a leadership position and drag the big ones with them.

Ireland took a leadership position in recent weeks on what is arguably the hottest global geopolitical issue, one that people have been afraid to touch for 50 years.

We in Ireland can step up to such leadership when we clearly see the need to. So let’s now step up on tech reform. Let’s lead on AI. Let’s bring the Silicon Isle to its next logical position: one that sensibly, humanely and confidently helps shape the rules that will govern society for the next 100 years.

More than 50 years ago, US president Lyndon Baines Johnson said it right: “Let’s hope the world doesn’t narrow into a neighbourhood before it broadens into brotherhood.”

David McCourt is chairman and founder of Granahan McCourt, and chairman and founder of National Broadband Ireland. He is also UCD Smurfit School adjunct professor in artificial intelligence.

As published in the Irish Independent

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