Big Tech's calls for more regulation offers a chance for them to increase their power

Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft

At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, "tech for good" was one of the key themes on the agenda. Big Tech — companies like Microsoft and Google — used their airtime to call for more regulation, particularly in the area of artificial intelligence (AI).

It's a broad term that applies to a set of different technologies such as facial recognition. Over the past couple of years, discussion at Davos has really focused on what impact AI and increasing automation might have on jobs, society, and privacy.

Everyone, from governments to tech leaders agree that the development of AI needs to be done responsibly and carefully. And they agree it needs to be regulated.

Those calls for regulation are coming from technology giants believe it or not. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty told CNBC at Davos that she backs AI regulation on "how the technology is used," but not necessarily the technology itself.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai called for "sensible regulation" and Satya Nadella, the boss of Microsoft, called for global rules around A.I. He also backed regulation around the "time of use" of AI, like facial recognition.

So why is Big Tech pushing so hard for more regulation?

Firstly they want to appear like they are benevolent forces using technology for good. And they want to make it seem like they are ready to work with governments around the world.

But I would say they actually see regulation as a chance to increase their dominance.

There have been calls for the breaking up of big technology firms in the U.S. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator, is perhaps the best-known proponent. The argument is that these firms have become too dominant.

In the EU, the argument around regulation of big tech firms, is that they have become too powerful and have stifled competition. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) brought in stringent rules around the handling of people's personal information and data. It was designed to make sure there was no misuse for data. But the cost of complying with it was so high, it only helped Google and Facebook consolidate their dominance of the European advertising market.

A similar trend could happen if more and more regulation is brought in, particularly around AI. Big Tech will be able to afford the lawyers and compliance costs while start-ups could be left behind. With AI being seen as such a critical technology, Big Tech's power could be stronger than ever. That's why the bosses of these firms want more rules.