Emerging Technologies

Why telecommunications is a lynchpin between cybersecurity and AI for good

The telecommunications industry is the guardian of security and AI harms.

The telecommunications industry is the guardian of security and AI harms. Image: Unsplash/Jorge Salvador

Sigve Brekke
Chief Executive Officer, Telenor Group
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) holds enormous potential to generate sustainability and climate solutions using data.
  • The telecommunications industry plays a pivotal role in addressing potential risks posed by AI while collaborating with other sectors to safeguard critical infrastructure.
  • As long as data protection and ethical uses of AI are considered, the telecommunications industry can balance between AI's force for good, connectivity and security of critical infrastructure.

Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerful force at the heart of the digital revolution.

The telecommunications industry plays a vital role in fostering AI, bearing responsibility for cybersecurity and the resilience of critical infrastructure. That role is critical for AI and our future as the technology holds great potential for good in providing sustainability and climate solutions in our increasingly digitized world.

This intersection is more than just a result of technological advancement by happenstance; it should be viewed as an intentional strategy to address complex challenges and opportunities in our digitized world.

So, outside of the hype, why is this relationship between AI, connectivity and cybersecurity particularly critical now?

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Connection and resilience

AI is projected to generate up to 10% of available data within the next three years, with the telecommunications industry quietly propelling this transformation.

Investments in advanced telecommunications networks extend beyond mere connectivity; they serve as the backbone of critical infrastructure in our increasingly digitized world.

Mobile connectivity, as the primary mode of connection, enables efficient data transmission with high-speed, low-latency connections. It also fortifies global resilience against the disruptions of natural disasters and cyber threats, empowering societies for a better tomorrow.

Between cybersecurity and critical infrastructure

When it comes to cybersecurity and threats, AI presents a double-edged sword as it both emanates and helps safeguard against them. At a recent Telenor event, for instance, AI's capabilities were demonstrated when I was portrayed through a deepfake video, yet my replica was making statements that were completely contrary to my actual views. While fascinating, it is undoubtedly frightening as the potential for misuse is evident.

Then, as the cybersecurity threats facing nations rise – Norway experienced a tripling in cyber attacks between 2019 and 2021 – businesses have still typically lacked readiness, even though three in four Nordic business leaders think that a cyber attack could put them out of operation. AI's rise now initiates a race to invest in countermeasures; however, how many companies will fall in line is yet to be seen.

The telecommunications industry is developing AI-driven solutions to address these cybersecurity challenges, including AI-powered threat detection and automated response systems.

Mobile industry organization GSMA, for instance, is working towards establishing common guidelines for ethical AI. Its AI for Impact initiative collaborates with partners across the public and private sectors to commercially scale responsible AI for a better future. It also created an AI Ethics Playbook to help organizations consider how to ethically design, develop and deploy AI systems. Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica have also have also established guidelines for the ethical use of AI.

Ethical considerations are paramount and the industry is committed to implementing ethical AI principles to ensure unbiased and responsible use – the EU's AI Act is one potential guide on considerations for AI actors.

Three in four Nordic business leaders fear a cyber attack could disrupt their operations.
Three in four Nordic business leaders fear a cyber attack could disrupt their operations. Image: Norstat for Telenor

Guardians of security

Over the next five years, PwC estimates that mobile big data and AI solutions can positively affect 150 million people, roughly 3% of the global population.

In the intricate dance of AI, telecommunications and critical infrastructure, a comprehensive regulatory framework is needed to balance fostering innovation and ensuring the security and resilience of critical infrastructure.

Collaboration between the telecommunications industry and other critical infrastructure providers, such as the energy sector, transport and water supply is indispensable for identifying vulnerabilities, sharing threat intelligence and jointly developing strategies to defend against cyber threats.

Telenor's Exercise BuckLeap is one example where critical infrastructure providers train together to prepare against cyber-attacks across industries, collaborating with the Norwegian Cyber Defense and the Norwegian National Security Authority.

In the intricate dance of AI, telecommunications and critical infrastructure, a comprehensive regulatory framework is needed to balance fostering innovation and ensuring the security and resilience of critical infrastructure.

Sigve Brekke, Chief Executive Officer, Telenor Group

A catalyst for a greener future

Beyond its roles in connectivity and security, AI is emerging as a force for good in sustainability and climate.

As the conduit for AI-driven sustainability, the telecommunications industry actively contributes to this transformative journey. AI's potential in addressing environmental challenges is immense in our increasingly digitized world: optimizing energy consumption, reducing carbon emissions and enhancing climate monitoring.

However, addressing the climate crisis cannot rely solely on AI; it hinges on the determination of decision-makers to take action and implement the required changes, with AI and other emerging technologies providing supportive roles. Although, currently, AI-related climate change solutions are generally dispersed, challenging to access and lack the resources needed for scaling.

Shaping a responsible digital destiny

The telecommunications industry stands at the crossroads of AI, connectivity, security and sustainability in a digitized world. It drives the AI revolution and shoulders the responsibility of securing critical infrastructure and safeguarding our world.

Focusing on data protection, ethical AI in security and collaboration with other critical infrastructure providers, the telecommunications industry is pivotal in ensuring the resilience and security of the systems underpinning our society. Simultaneously, it addresses environmental challenges and builds a more sustainable, environmentally responsible future.

We all have a part to play in actively shaping a world where the synergy of AI and telecommunications creates a tapestry of progress, resilience and environmental responsibility. Individuals, communities, businesses, and policymakers collectively possess the agency to influence and determine the trajectory and impact of these technologies, whether that is by engaging with technology providers, adhering to guidelines, advocating for regulation or investing in cybersecurity.

The power is in our hands and the journey has just begun. Are we ready to leap into a future shaped by the collective force of technology, connectivity and an unwavering commitment to a sustainable, digitized world?

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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