I just returned from the World Economic Forum’s annual conference in the snowy Swiss town of Davos on Monday. This was my fourth time covering the gathering, and while I have seen Asia’s presence grow over much of that time, this year, interest in Asian affairs seems to have taken a back seat.
Burning issues elsewhere were, of course, grabbing people’s attention, namely the prospect of Donald Trump returning to the White House and the two heart-wrenching wars, in Ukraine and Gaza, being fought in and near Europe.
Apart from these issues, artificial intelligence was one widely discussed topic at the conference.
UN secretary-general António Guterres called on the private sector to join an effort to develop a “networked and adaptive” governance model for AI. “We need governments urgently to work with tech companies on risk-management frameworks for current AI development, and on monitoring and mitigating future harms,” he said, as the technology poses risks to human rights, personal privacy and society as a whole.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, shared a similar sentiment, saying, “Being proactive about managing risk is the right thing to do” in order to avoid any “unintended consequences” from the new technology.
Sam Altman, CEO of Microsoft-backed OpenAI and the creator of ChatGPT, defended his invention at Davos. “Humans are going to have better tools. We’ve had better tools before,” he said. But even he acknowledged the need for risk management. “We can draw on lessons from the past about how technology has been made to be safe and how different stakeholders have handled negotiations about what safe means.”
The question of how to regulate AI was one of the most hotly debated topics at the Davos winter meeting of the World Economic Forum this year, writes Nikkei’s Juliette Perreard.
Governments around the world have been exploring regulation and governance, but the European Union became the first to provisionally pass AI legislation in December. “Legislation is much slower than the world of technologies, but that’s law,” Vera Jourova, European Commission vice-president for values and transparency, said on a Davos panel.
Her boss, EC president Ursula von der Leyen, stressed in her keynote address that AI is “one of the top potential risks for the next decade”.
Another big talking point concerning AI was China, especially its approach to privacy. Jourova said there were similarities between Chinese guidelines and those in the West, but added that this comes with a “big but”.
“In China, they want to use AI to keep the society under control . . . We want to keep this philosophy of protecting the individual people and balance it with the national security measures,” she said. “So here, we cannot have a common language with China.”
Chinese Premier Li Qiang, who spoke immediately prior to von der Leyen, touched on AI only once in his address, to boast about his country’s capabilities in this and other cutting-edge technologies, namely cloud computing, big data and blockchain.
A labour crisis in Japan is forcing companies to rethink the way they operate, putting in jeopardy iconic features of its service economy, from 24-hour convenience stores to food trolleys on trains, write Kana Inagaki, Leo Lewis and David Keohane for the Financial Times.
The world’s fastest-ageing economy has long wrestled with a shortfall of workers, but the crisis is set to deepen with new labour rules from April that would curtail overtime for construction workers and truck drivers.
According to the Recruit Works Institute, the country will have a labour shortage of 11mn people by 2040, with the number of people above age 65 — who already account for nearly 30 per cent of the population — expected to hit its peak in 2042.
In the past decade, Japan has relied on female and elderly workers in the face of strict restrictions on hiring overseas workers. But Naruhisa Nakagawa, founder of hedge fund Caygan Capital, said from this year this would no longer be enough and the country’s labour force would start to dwindle.
Companies are tackling the demographic challenge by introducing more avatars, robots and artificial intelligence to the workforce in key sectors such as construction, agriculture and retail.
As part of its ambition to build a homegrown semiconductor supply chain immune to the threat of US sanctions, the Chinese government has called on industry to create technological standards for more than 30 important automotive semiconductors by 2025 and more than 70 types by 2030.
An auto industry source told Nikkei’s Shunsuke Tabeta that the government “will probably use the standard-setting process to instruct automakers to use domestically made semiconductors”.
Chips have been a weak spot in China’s attempt to take the lead in the global auto market, despite homegrown electric-vehicle makers gaining market share abroad as the shift from gasoline-fuelled cars accelerates.
Domestic production of automotive chips meets only about 15 per cent of China’s needs, according to industry data provider Gasgoo. For advanced chips needed for autonomous driving, that percentage dips below 5 per cent. IDC’s ranking of top five suppliers are all non-Chinese, led by Germany’s Infineon.
Ringing the changes
The latest battlefield for personal tech gadgets could be on your finger, as Samsung Electronics plans to launch a “smart ring” later this year, writes Nikkei Asia’s Kim Jaewon.
Samsung teased an image of the Galaxy Ring at its event in San Jose, California, last week, after unveiling its first AI-powered Galaxy S24 series smartphones. The South Korean tech titan was largely mum on the details, however, leaving the market guessing as to its capabilities and applications.
Roh Tae-moon, president and head of mobile experience at Samsung, said only that the ring can be worn comfortably around the clock, and that it will be an indispensable part of the “development of Samsung’s health services.”
It may be in for competition from its smartphone arch-rival, however, with an analyst noting that Apple has registered a patent related to a “skin-to-skin contact detection system”.
TSMC forecasts return to strong growth as global chip market recovers (FT)