By Christopher Tobutt
The third annual Cayman Islands Digital Economy Conference (CyDEC), hosted by FTS, took place on Thursday 25 June. This year, of course, it was a virtual conference, because of COVID-19, but that fact alone was a great illustration, highlighting many of the things that need to change. The conference brought together global and local experts to share exciting new ideas in the world of the digital economy, with a special focus on the impact of COVID-19, which has highlighted the need for secure digital transactions. Social distancing of course demands digital, contactless, hence theme of this year’s conference: “Digitization beyond COVID-19.” The conference covered topics such as payment systems, digital innovation, the progress of AI, big data, and the effects of COVID-19 on cybersecurity. The conference was facilitated by Tammi Suleiman, and Paul Byles.
Two of the speakers, Inma Martinez, and Dr. Chris Brauer focused on the effects of artificial intelligence (A.I) which enables cybernetic systems to think more like human beings, but without their cultural bias. Martinez brought AI into the context of so-called ‘big data,’ which is a term used to help in the analysis of collective demographical, and behavioral mega-trends: “Very recently in just five or seven years we have been beginning to teach machines to behave almost like a human brain, like a neural network,” she said. “Machines have shown us an enormous potentiality and we can predict future events but we can also automate systems and we can also ask those systems to even think for themselves.”
Ms Martinez went on to highlight some key issues: “Inclusion is one of the targets we have at the European Commission: make sure that humans who have analogue lives are also included into digital services, and that they are trained, and they have exactly the same rights as savvy techy people,” she said.
A.I expert Dr. Chris Brauer, who is one of 50 global strategy officers with the World Economic Forum, explained why A.I. is emerging as a global force in the new geological age characterized by human control of the earth’s resources, which academics have dubbed the ‘Anthropocene’: “A.I plays a prolific role in inclusivity and diversity issues both perpetuating inequalities and address in making them visible, and broadly applications of A.I. have been used to drive the acceleration of the digital economy, in two main ways, one around optimizing and efficiencies, and the other around human factors, and the ability of AI to augment human endeavor, innovation and pursuits,” he said. “Whether those things are in relation to clean water, or climate change, or some of the issues I talked about before …the spread of pandemics, the need for greater equality within our societies; virtually any major challenge you look at you see this. We need to work with advanced technologies to address the challenges that the Anthropocene puts forward, and we cannot do that without addressing the politics that surrounds that.” Outlining the nature of such political issues, Dr. Brauer said, “95 percent of the provision of AI is controlled by eight firms, and all eight of those firms are located in the United States or China.”
Focusing on digital issues closer to home, Presenter Jason Butcher spoke on the status of the Cayman Islands payment system, and the urgent need for the jurisdiction to find ways of verifying documents and legal identities online, as well as finding ways of making payments for business transactions, calling such developments a “must,” for Cayman’s financial sector if it is not going to lose out to other jurisdictions where such digital identity requirements have already been streamlined: “The importance of implementing this here in Cayman is, I think, a priority,” he said.