Artificial Intelligence

How Switzerland can take the lead in responsible AI development

Switzerland occupies a unique global role in responsible AI governance and deployment.

Switzerland occupies a unique global role in responsible AI governance and deployment. Image: Unsplash/Damian Markutt

Alois Zwinggi
Managing Director, World Economic Forum
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Artificial Intelligence

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Artificial intelligence is in increasing need of good governance and Switzerland occupies a unique position to play a global role in responsible AI deployment.
  • Several initiatives helmed by the Swiss government bring academia, policymakers and the private sector together to seek practical and swift solutions to AI-related risks.
  • Davos 2024, the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, took place from 15–19 January in Davos, Switzerland.

Calls for greater oversight in the development of AI have gathered pace, particularly over the past year, as generative artificial intelligence (AI) has seen rapid advancement. As public and private leaders look to leverage the benefits while mitigating the risks of this emerging technology, Switzerland is in a strong position to play a vital global role in advancing the development and deployment of AI responsibly.

Switzerland has been working since 2018 to create a robust set of digital guidelines, at the heart of which is AI. The government pursued this to take advantage of the opportunities of digitalization in crucial areas of life. AI guidelines were developed for use in the federal administration in 2020 to ensure the coherence of AI-relevant policy in various activities.

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These have continued to be developed, with the government calling for an overview of a possible regulatory framework for AI in November 2023. This approach will build on Swiss law and identify rules compatible with European Union (EU) legislation. In a nod to the close nexus with business, technical standards and financial and institutional implications of different regulatory approaches are being considered.

Underscoring that the Swiss government is looking beyond its systems and those of the country, in 2020, former Federal Councillor Ueli Maurer formally backed the Swiss Digital Initiative. The initiative, supported by the Swiss Digital Initiative Foundation, encourages companies globally to adopt ethical standards in the digital world, typified in its creation of a Digital Trust Label, which supports end users, helping them make informed choices about the digital services they want to use.

Against this backdrop, increased collaboration with the private sector has resulted in several new, important initiatives with global ramifications.

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Growing public-private collaboration

To this end, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs has announced the Swiss Call for Trust and Transparency Initiative. Officially launched at Davos 2024, this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the initiative aims to bring academia, policymakers and the private sector together to seek practical and swift solutions to AI-related risks. The focus will be on tangible action rather than rhetoric and the initiative’s goals are to protect global AI users and develop trust and confidence in AI technologies.

Also, at Davos 2024, an international network aimed at responsible AI deployment has just been revealed. The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, both Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology – ETH Zurich and EPFL – the Swiss Super Computer Center and members of the European Laboratory for Learning and Intelligent Systems network, Data Science Africa and the Finnish Supercomputing Center Lumi will work to make AI more inclusive and mitigate its adverse societal effects by creating an international computation and AI network of excellence. The network is designed to promote interdisciplinary research and expertise for AI models that serve society’s best interests. The first use case will be with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This initiative aims to develop more vigorous interdisciplinary AI research that aligns with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In this vein, ETH Zurich’s AI Centre is also developing an AI-assisted analysis tool prototype for the UN’s Operations and Crisis Centre. It is envisaged that the tool will support peacekeeping missions to protect civilians and peacekeepers better.

The Forum understands the urgency of this work and is itself home to an AI Governance Alliance, which brings together industry and government leaders, academia and civil society to champion the responsible global design of AI and release transparent and inclusive systems. The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs is a member of the alliance.

We are undoubtedly in an era of radical innovation and change and there is a mounting need for AI’s fast and effective governance.

Alois Zwinggi, Managing Director, World Economic Forum

Culture of cooperation

As these initiatives highlight, Switzerland is at the cutting edge of developing responsible AI to serve humankind better. It’s not hard to see why.

The Swiss have a natural affinity for collaboration and a tradition of facilitating dialogue. This disposition has made the country a natural home for leading UN agencies, which, in turn, influence respective global policy negotiations.

Switzerland enjoys a serendipitous mix of linkages between academia and cutting-edge private sectors, through which it has developed a collaborative technology ecosystem with clear and transparent regulations. In turn, it provides a welcoming environment to business and supports partnering opportunities.

Switzerland also features a high density of globally recognized universities per capita. Their focus on fundamental and applied research helps support the pursuit of knowledge and solutions to social and business challenges. That has created an ecosystem that promotes strong ties between academia and business, helping to bring innovative products to market swiftly.

We are undoubtedly in an era of radical innovation and change and there is a mounting need for AI’s fast and effective governance. AI has the potential to help us combat some of our most pressing global challenges but only if developed responsibly to uphold shared human values and promote inclusive societal progress.

Through Switzerland’s strong multi-stakeholder network of public and private-sector interests, academia and civil society, it is developing just such a model. Many of these diverse stakeholders have come together in Davos to advance this work and build an inclusive, safe future.

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