Web Summit urges taming tech giants
Commissioner Vestager seeks details on Apple's moot tax moves
10 November, 2017
Web Summit co-founder and CEO, Paddy Cosgrave, talks during the event opening ceremony.
Lisbon Web Summit, or the Davos of the tech world as many have called it, was held last week for the second time in the Portugal's capital after moving there from Dublin under the cloud of recently disclosed Paradise Papers. While the summit's founder, Paddy Cosgrave, stressed that tech companies like Google and Facebook behave like monopolies and need to work under new rules, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager demanded details of Apple's recent tax structure following last year's order to pay back taxes of up to €13bn to Ireland and Paradise Papers claim that the company has moved giant cash amounts to offshore havens.
“In economic terms these companies would appear to fall into a classic definition of monopolies,” Cosgrave told Reuters in an interview. “And if Vestager is successful she will probably set the standard for the rest of the world and will usher in a fundamental change in how the largest and most profitable companies in the history of the world are treated. This changes the playing field for all other companies.” Cosgrave also said that new technology had been assumed by many to be just positive, but it often “can be incredibly disruptive”.
He pointed out that the need for new rules was similar to past technological shifts such as the invention of cars. “We had an operating system that, by and large with some modifications every decade, worked for the last 200 years,” Cosgrave said. “And then suddenly, you'd have to be naive or have your head buried in the sand, to not realize that the very fabric of our society, certainly western society, feels like it's getting pulled and stretched in weird ways. I think we need ... a new operating system.”
As far as Apple was concerned, Vestager told a news briefing on the summit sidelines that she has already asked for an update on the arrangement made by Apple and the recent way they have been organised. “We are looking into this of course without any kind of prejudice, just to get the information,” she said, adding that Brussels has to be sure the company works in accordance with European rules.
Among the many topics discussed at the mega-event with over 60,000 participants and 1,000 speakers, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, former French President Francois Hollande and former US Vice President Al Gore, was that of the artificial intelligence (AI) and its influence on the future of humankind. According to world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, the AI makes everyday life easier, but it might also end it one day.
“Computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence, and exceed it,” he pointed out at the summit. “Success in creating effective AI could be the biggest event in the history of our civilisation. Or the worst. We just don't know. So we cannot know if we will be infinitely helped by AI, or ignored by it and side-lined, or conceivably destroyed by it. Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization,” Hawking warned.