Welcome back to our regular Friday article, The Future in Five Questions. Today we have Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), who represents Washington’s First Congressional District. DelBene is the chair of the New Democrat Coalition and a former Microsoft executive, who has worked extensively on technology policy since being elected to Congress in 2010. DelBene also helped found the “Reality Caucus,” a bipartisan group of lawmakers formed to promote a better understanding in Washington of virtual reality technology.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What is an underrated great idea?
Telehealth. One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the wider adoption of telehealth technology that makes it easier for people in rural communities, workers with non-standard hours and low-income Americans to access medical services from base. The more we can do to increase service utilization, the sooner providers can detect and treat health problems.
What is one technology that you think is overrated?
The metaverse. I’m a major proponent of “XR” virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technology, but the hype around the metaverse quickly turned from excitement to jargon. Consumers, businesses, and government need to stay focused on the real medical, educational, and workforce promises of XR technology. I started and led the Reality Caucus in the Chamber to help educate my colleagues and the public about how this technology can help people.
Which book shaped your conception of the future the most?
The most important thing that shaped my concept of the future was my time spent in biology research and technology. I have had a long career in companies large and small. I saw breakthroughs from email to smartphones and vaccines that were revolutionary at the time. If you could see what they looked like in their original form, you would hardly recognize them. What’s important to remember about many of these ideas, and especially the people who developed them, is that they didn’t come from the usual suspects at the time.
The book that best summarizes some of these technological breakthroughs and ideas is “The Innovators” by Walter Isaacson. It paints a rich portrait of the digital revolution and how the legends of the tech space we think of today began.
What could the government be doing about technology that it is not doing?
Pass a national privacy law. Privacy is so fundamental to anything tech. We’ve made more progress on that front in the past few months than at any convention before, but that doesn’t mean anything until we cross the finish line. After the appalling Supreme Court ruling overturning abortion rights, many women realized that their app, geolocation, and search data could be used against them because there is no federal privacy law. of privacy. I have been working for years to change that because we are already so far behind on this front.
What surprised you the most this year?
The passage of the bipartisan CHIPS & Science Act. Passing this law will help boost American manufacturing and reduce our overreliance on foreign-made semiconductors. The global shortage of these components is driving up costs for families, as they power nearly every modern device, from smartphones to washing machines. I am glad that Congress was able to meet at the end and that this bill crossed the finish line.
It was almost a year since the Biden administration called for an “AI bill of rights” that would “ensure that data-driven technologies reflect and respect our democratic values,” as the White House president put it. Eric Lander and Alondra Nelson wrote at the time.
This official framework is still untraceable, but Miriam Vogel, co-chair of the National AI Advisory Committeereiterated this mission at yesterday’s meeting AI and Technology Summitin the context of global competition with China – saying that “if we create AI that demonstrates our commitment to these values…then we win”.
As to exactly what the United States could “gain,” Vogel quoted a recent report of the “Special Competitiveness Studies Project”, a non-profit organization co-created by Eric Schmidt of Google and aimed at strengthening the competitive advantage of the United States over countries like China or Russia. This report warns that “understanding the stakes requires imagining a world in which an authoritarian state controls the digital infrastructure” and that “a losing scenario is plausible” – in short, a scenario where such abstract realities as freedom of digital and concrete expression as Taiwan’s sovereignty is threatened by the lag of democratic nations in technologies like AI or chip manufacturing.
Not everyone complains about police use of facial recognition Technology: The Royal Canadian Mounted Police still hopes to increase its use of technology, as POLITICO Maura Forrest reported today.
Although the RCMP does not currently use facial recognition, pending an internal review, documents tabled in Parliament revealed that it has signed contracts with several companies. Canada is one of many countries to have banned or otherwise sanctioned Clearview AI, one of the largest and most controversial facial recognition and law enforcement vendors.
The list of countries where Clearview has been fined, banned or otherwise sanctioned it’s long. In the US, the company settled a lawsuit with the ACLU in May agreeing not to sell its database to private actors – but use by law enforcement is still widespread despite a handful of premises prohibitions. As American technology companies keep waiting the Biden administration’s “AI Bill of Rights,” facial recognition-based surveillance remains one of the few uses of artificial intelligence that inspired more immediate public outrage and subsequent regulatory response.
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