IGF 2020 WS #275 Can AI supremacy give rise to a new era of data colonialism?

Thematic Track

Organizer 1: Otavio Henrique Mayrink Resende, Laboratory of Public Policy and Internet (LAPIN)
Organizer 2: Thiago Moraes, Laboratory of Public Policy and Internet
Organizer 3: Gabriel Araújo Souto, Laboratory of Public Policy and Internet (LAPIN)

Speaker 1: Pansy Tlakula , Government, African Group
Speaker 2: Miriam Wimmer, Government, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 3: Nathalie Smuha, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 4: Wenhong Chen, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group


Otavio Henrique Mayrink Resende, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Online Moderator

Thiago Moraes, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Gabriel Araújo Souto, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)


Panel - Auditorium - 90 Min

Policy Question(s)

- What are the leading countries in AI development at the moment? What are they developing? - What are the opportunities these AI systems may bring? - What are the risks related to the creation of a digital divide? - Is Global South developing their own AI systems? Do they stand a chance against stronger (i.e. US, China) competitors? - How is this race for AI impacting citizens? - Is the data asymmetry between the leading competitors and the rest of the world surpassable? - Are there ways to tip the balance and promote global fairness in AI development? If so, how? - What issues should primarily be addressed to guarantee more fairness to individuals that have their personal data processed by automated decision-making systems?

The race for AI, while promoting innovation, consumer welfare, and better performance, is also creating a new digital divide: while some societies are deeply integrated with their smart devices in their homes and cities, others are still struggling for internet connection. Besides this inclusion issue, there is also a concern for the surveillance society that is being created. Be that a company or a State, citizens' daily life is every day more and more tracked and profiled. And this information is held in the hands of a few with purposes many times unknown. In this context, regions such as the Global South and even some European countries may see themselves not as subjects but objects of this AI environment, where their citizens' data are constantly collected to be fed in automated-decision making systems with little or no power to make a stand. Therefore, this panel tries to reflect if there are ways to tip the balance and/or provide a more ethical use of the opportunities that an AI-boosted society may bring.


GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities
GOAL 12: Responsible Production and Consumption


Whether you are an AI enthusiast or a believer in the "AI’pocalypse", there’s one thing you can’t deny: artificial intelligence will likely bring radical changes on a global scale. But changes for whom? Many tech analysts argue that the current competition between the US and China to achieve the so-called 'AI supremacy' may be a zero-sum game. That means who first invents the stronger AI will likely render all competitors insignificant. As the saying goes, the “winner takes all” the prize. But how will that impact the development opportunities of the rest of the world, particularly of the Global South? Is it possible for everyone to reap the good fruits of this technology or is the already existing data asymmetry between the leading competitors and the rest of the world impossible to overcome? Our goal is to find out whether this scenario can lead to a new era of data colonialism, in which a few countries exercise economic and technological control over the rest, or if there is an alternative path.

Expected Outcomes

We intend to prepare a document outlining: (i) how probable is the scenario in which the concentration of AI power in the hands of a few dramatically affects the development possibilities of the rest of the world, giving rise to an era of data colonialism; (ii) what should be done to prevent this situation to happen? What are the alternative ways to be explored? Finally, given the relevance and urgency of the matter, we also aim to bring awareness to the public about this issue and creating a network of active individuals committed with the interests of the less privileged, as well as proposing solutions to the problem, to be implemented by the multistakeholder agents present at the panel. If the session is approved, we plan to reunite with the speakers before IGF (online meeting) to work on the details of the panel.

After the panelists' opening remarks, the public will be able to participate, whether by asking questions and making comments on the proposed theme. Interventions can be made through the microphone, on paper, or through remote participation. Audience questions will be directed to the appointed panelists and the answers cured by the moderator. In addition, the event will be widely disseminated on social media, where the public can send comments and questions, including using the hashtag #DataColonization and #AIsupremacy. For this, LAPIN has a vast network of digital followers on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, among others.

Relevance to Internet Governance: The Internet connects most digital relationships today. Just as the old colonial systems would gain ground wherever they went, digital colonization involves the Internet observing all the activities of all its users, as well as monopolizing access to content and information to the public. The knowledge gained about Internet users is then used to influence their decisions. This can influence a user to buy a specific product or choose the part that should come to power in a country. This is proof of how Internet governance can take the form of modern colonization. If it can influence the seat of the presidency in the territory of a political superpower, world colonization of data can also definitely create or damage other geopolitical scenarios. The reason for the Internet being the major cause of disparity between the nations of the world is the governing body of the Web. This situation is aggravated by the AI race, as the AI sector is different from previous major Internet areas because it is seen as strategic technology by many governments. For example, most data captured in the US and China, and to an extent, Russia, stay in their respective countries because of market dominance, policy, or both. Also, Google captures 86% of global Internet searches, Facebook has more than 2 billion active users per month, and Amazon is the largest provider of cloud services with over 1 million users. Therefore, examining if AI supremacy can give rise to a new era of data colonialism is crucial to manage and mitigate eventual dominations by few nations and companies.

Relevance to Theme: Artificial Intelligence is the engine who has been moving the current Surveillance Capitalist society, which collects and processes millions of personal data every day. It's of utmost importance to reflect on how this is affecting society as a whole, at a global level, and the most logical thematic track in which this topic should be discussed is Data.

Online Participation


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