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Alastair Farr, the lead for the Department of Internal Affair’s Digital Rights and Ethics Programme, discusses the Fourth Industrial Revolution and what this means for New Zealand.

The World Economic Forum describes the age we are living in as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The first replaced manual labour with mechanised production. The second introduced mass production techniques powered by major advancements in transport, telecommunications and energy production. And the third brought the internet and other technological innovations, ushering humanity into the digital era.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution builds on the digital revolution of the third and is characterised by a fusion of technologies and raw computing power. This has unleashed substantial new opportunities and benefits, which in turn are accelerating further innovation.

The accelerating pace of change means the social norms and regulatory structures that underpin many of our systems are increasingly falling behind.

The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The World Economic Forum established the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It provides a global hub for governments, leading companies, civil society, and other global experts to design and share responses to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of advanced technology.

What this means for New Zealand

Across the world, countries are grappling with the opportunities and challenges posed by the emergence of new technologies. New Zealand is no different.

The New Zealand Government is responding in a range of ways. Examples include:

  • The Algorithm Assessment Report — this report found the use of advanced algorithms to support operational activities is widespread across the public sector. However, there are opportunities to build capability across the public sector, and strengthen safeguards to ensure algorithms are used safely.
  • The Christchurch Call — the livestreaming of Christchurch mosque attacks starkly illustrated the dark side of emerging digital technologies. Through the Christchurch Call, New Zealand is working closely with foreign governments and online service providers to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.
  • The Productivity Commission — the Productivity Commission is examining how New Zealand can manage the impacts of technological change on the future of work.

These issues all point to different aspects of the same challenge — how does society ensure that its policies, norms and standards are able to keep up with the rapid development of new technologies?

Reimagining regulation in the age of AI

New Zealand is partnering with the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution on how governments, business and society can work together to meet the challenge of regulating AI.

The aim of this work is to:

  • frame national and international conversations on regulating AI in a coherent and accessible way
  • develop a roadmap for policymakers to facilitate their decisions about whether and how to regulate AI
  • identify and iterate innovative regulatory approaches and tools for AI that could be scaled.

This project will be featured at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos. Ultimately, the objective is to produce a roadmap to guide policy makers in regulating AI.

To support this project, the World Economic Forum and the Department of Internal Affairs hosted a community workshop in Wellington in late October.

This involved stakeholders from business, civil society, te ao Māori, academia and government to gather views on the benefits and challenges posed by AI, and to identify individual pilot projects in New Zealand that can be used to test key aspects of the road map.

We want to hear from you

We want to continue the conversation to incorporate the various experiences and perspectives on ethics and AI within New Zealand. This will influence the future development of AI — and how regulation can be used to build and maintain public confidence in digital technologies.

If you want to keep up to date on the progress of this project and be involved in the next stages, email

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