Ayisha Piotti is Director of AI Policy at ETH Zurich’s Center for Law & Economics and Managing Partner at RegHorizon. She is a strategic alliance builder with a strong business background and with extensive experience in Government Affairs tackling complex regulatory challenges through working with politicians, diplomatic missions, international organizations, government ministries, consumer and business associations.
Passionate about promoting responsible adoption of AI through innovation in policy and multistakeholder dialogue, Ayisha is the visionary behind creating Switzerland’s largest Global AI Policy discussion platform, attended in 2022 by 82 countries spanning six continents, the host of a newly launched podcast series NAVIGATING AI. and an active speaker at global AI events. Ayisha is involved in many expert groups working on AI Policy frameworks, including ITU / UNESCO Broadband Commission’s expert committee on AI Capacity Building. She is also a member of the Ethics Council of a US-based company, Eightfold AI, a Faculty member at the AI Business School in Switzerland.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Digital First Magazine, Ayisha shared her professional journey, current roles and responsibilities as Director of AI Policy at ETH Zurich Center for Law and Economics, her biggest stress relievers, future plans, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Ayisha, brief us about your background and areas of interest.
As a child I grew up in many different countries. We moved very often across countries and continents. Whilst at that time it seemed hard to change schools and make new friend every two years, I believe it gave me a great appreciation for different cultures and a general interest in people. I believe this contributed greatly to shaping my personality and my professional interests. I got my university education in the UK, the US, France, and Switzerland. My first job was at the United Nations, and I then spent over 15 years in the private sector building and leading cross-functional teams spanning diverse geographies, including Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
My passion is to build bridges between the needs of policy makers, companies, and society at large, on emerging issues, especially digital technologies. I am a strong believer in using multi stakeholder dialogue and agile governance as tools to promote innovation, maximize the benefits of groundbreaking technologies and respond to societal challenges that touch us all. My recent focus is on building public policy solutions in Artificial Intelligence.
Tell us about your role as Director of AI Policy at ETH Zurich Center for Law and Economics.
My role entails building the bridge between research and innovation at ETH’ Zurich’s Center for Law & Economics and the needs of policy makers, governments, and the private sector. I am also responsible to build awareness and capacity in this field through leading global events and projects with civil society, think tanks and governments. Large part of my job is also to represent the Center at regional and international events as a speaker on AI Policy related topics.
You are the Managing Partner at RegHorizon. How does RegHorizon connect the dots between the needs of businesses, regulators, thought leaders and innovators in Tech (for) Governance area?
Technological developments offer miracle leaps forward. However, they also present unprecedented challenges and can lead to major disruptions in the core fabric of our society. At RegHorizon we gather key players from around the world to discuss those challenges and how to tackle them. Our focus is on innovation and governance. As an organisation we empower our community to take an active part in shaping a better future for AI and emerging technologies by creating an inclusive culture of dialogue among all parties, through conferences, podcasts, expert panels discussions and interviews. We promote policy solutions based on global best practices and insights from Industry, policy makers, international organisations and subject matter experts. More importantly, we also provide actionable strategic advice, training programs, and project management consulting services to public and private sector clients.
We started our annual Global AI Policy Summit four years ago. Today this event is the largest global discussion forum on AI policy in Switzerland, attended in 2022 by 82 countries spanning six continents.
Your recent focus is on building public policy solutions in areas related to Internet Technologies, Artificial Intelligence, Data Protection and Use, and E commerce. Can you shed light on the importance of building public policy solutions, especially for AI?
Public policy solutions for AI and related technologies are essential to balance innovation with ethical, social, and economic considerations. Today, AI concerns are in mainstream discussions. They range from infringing privacy, magnifying societal biases, disseminating large scale misinformation, to economic disruptions and worries about existential threat to humanity. Public policy discussions are not always about defining hard law. They are also about discussing tradeoffs in society, driving accountability, creating a level playing field for the business, defining red lines, and identifying low hanging fruits.
Public policy solutions, when developed inclusively, provide a framework for responsible deployment, protect individuals and societies, and ensure that AI’s benefits are maximized while its risks are mitigated. This balance is key to harnessing the full potential of AI for the betterment of humanity.
What is anything you wish you knew when you first went into this career?
I wish I had grasped the significance of work-life balance and self-care. It’s easy to become consumed by work, but maintaining a healthy balance between professional and personal life is crucial for overall well-being.
In your academic or work career, were there any mentors who have helped you grow along the way? What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?
I have been blessed all through my career to have bosses and mentors who really believed in my abilities. They often saw potential in me that I could have never imagined myself. I was often pushed well beyond my comfort zone, which helped me to constantly grow.
Two pieces of advice come to mind:
You learn 20% from formal education and 80% from your experiences. So be open to new tasks, responsibilities, and projects. Try to interact with those who have different areas of expertise than yourself. This will help you to understand the big picture, connect the dots, which can then allow you to add immense value in your area of expertise.
The universe has a way to open to you if you do three things: have passion for what you do, believe in yourself and work hard!
What is your biggest stress reliever?
My children. I have boy, girl twins who are 11, and more recently the number expanded with the addition of a 6-month-old puppy.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?
I am driven by a sense of purpose and a need for continuous progress. I see myself as a recognized contributor in the global technology policy space, whilst at the same time having a healthy equilibrium in my personal life.
What is the one piece of advice that you can share with other professionals in your industry?
We have a common goal, which is to maximize the benefits of new technologies for a maximum number of people, not just for today but also for our future generations. To do that, we must find a way to balance the risks and opportunities of this technological revolution. But doing so is not easy and requires innovative thinking in the policy space and engagement from each one of us. Innovation does not thrive in silos. We all have a unique opportunity today to participate in the policy debate and carve a prosperous future for our next generations. So, whether you are a business leader, academic, technologist, ethicists or simply a consumer or parent, the time to act is now!