Competition authorities are hitting the books when it comes to emerging technologies like blockchain and AI.
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice announced that it would be participating in a new initiative at Stanford University to onboard more advanced technological tools into its fight against monopolies.
The DoJ is merely the most vocal addition to Stanford’s Computational Antitrust project. It joins the competition watchdogs of 46 other countries and the U.S.’s Federal Trade Commission.
The announcement is part of a broad surge in interest in cutting-edge tech and antitrust law, the culmination of a lot of motion at both academia and global regulators. Also on Tuesday, the DoJ’s antitrust leader, Makan Delrahim, gave a farewell address at Duke University’s Center on Science & Technology Policy in which he entreated the antitrust division to update it’s technological capabilities. In remarks from August, Delrahim had put forward blockchain’s ability to decentralize information as critical to the future of antitrust:
“I expect the Division will play a critical role in ensuring market conditions are conducive to unleashing blockchain’s revolutionary potential.”
In advance of his departure, Delrahim has taken many steps to bring the DoJ back to school for these emerging technologies. The DoJ advertised that it had "offered attorneys and staff the opportunity to take coursework focused on blockchain, artificial intelligence and Machine Learning" at MIT's Sloan school — incidentally, where likely SEC Chairman Gary Gensler used to teach courses on blockchain. Schools have been upping their own preparedness accordingly.
The Computational Antitrust project was only publicized on Monday. It aims to bring “together academics from different backgrounds (law, computer science, economics…) with developers, policymakers, and regulators.” Alongside the program’s announcement, founding professor Thibault Schrepel published objectives for research that envisione:
“A world in which artificial intelligence ('AI') and blockchain combined with quantum computing will soon provide valuable support by enabling a better understanding of the world’s complexity, and eventually, capturing part of it.”
This past fall semester saw Schrepel leave Harvard to join Stanford’s broader CodeX program. At the behest of director Roland Vogl, Schrepel’s research has ascended to the status of an independent project within CodeX.
But what exactly will the 48 agencies who have signed on to the project be doing? Dr. Schrepel told Cointelegraph that “They will also send us a short annual contribution detailing all the actions taken to modernize their practices using computational technologies.” He continued to elaborate on the technologies of interest:
“One can think of machine learning, natural language processing and understanding techniques, scraping, and so on. Blockchain is also mentioned as a way of ensuring the integrity of databases sent to agencies, and, for example, enabling smart contracts to ensure the implementation of behavioral commitments.”
While at Harvard, Schrepel wrote extensively about the role of blockchain in fighting anticompetitive behavior alongside legal mechanisms, ultimately getting Vitalik Buterin on board with his idea.
And while these ideas grow louder in academia, they are seeing new resonance among regulators. Many countries have spent the past year dusting off their antitrust artillery and aiming it squarely at the tech industry. The DoJ recently put a stop to Visa’s acquisition of Plaid. The FTC has sued Facebook and sent demands to a host of other social media platforms asking them to answer for how they use user data.
Meanwhile, China seems to be doing much the same thing with its home-grown tech industry, recently canceling Ant Group’s initial public offering and pushing founder Jack Ma out of the public eye for several months. The European Union, on the other hand, has undertaken it's most eye-catching attacks on (mostly American) tech firms under the auspices of its General Data Protection Regulation.