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Smart Tech Needs Sound Policy

The annual Consumer Electronics Show took place a couple of weeks ago, and the parade of innovation was undeniable again this year. Automotive intelligence, 5G and its supportive technology, 10G, block chain, digital health, sharper pictures, bendable screens, robots that fold laundry at home and Alexa-connected toilet seats. 

This array of imagination, creativity and invention reminds us that human creativity seems almost limitless. But some of the most important moves affecting innovation this year might not be in the exhibit halls but in government halls.  

Finally, this year, 5G networks and technologies will begin rolling out in neighborhoods and towns across the country. Meanwhile, the promise of 10G was announced during the Show. This variety of technologies will supercharge current networks to achieve 10 gigabit connections resulting in a better experience online, enhanced reliability, and better security.  

While the rollout for both will take time, it will be much slower if state and local governments across the country do not get out of the way and reduce barriers to broadband. With 92 percent of people responding in a recent Morning Consult poll that speed of broadband is important, local governments would certainly be more popular if they allow the market to deliver these services effectively and efficiently. 

The goal in Washington for 2019 should be to learn. If congressional hearings are any indication, Congress has much to learn about information technology and the innovation ecosystem. Certainly, at a minimum, members of Congress should hold real hearings with the goal of listening and actually learning. We are well past the time where it should seem quaint when politicians admit they don’t understand a technology but then move to regulate it. 

Congress must allow regulatory space for emerging technologies to develop, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain. Wrongheaded privacy policies that restrict private sector innovation but give government a free pass come up short. Such a poor policy, combined with a lack of understanding in the legislature, could lead to government abuse.  

For example, in China, facial recognition is now used continuously to autonomously ticket citizens for violations. Those violations are tallied and can result in an evaluation that a person is antisocial and so denied public services. Focusing our privacy concerns on the private sector rather than government neglects the fact that government has the greater potential to erode our liberty. 

Blockchain promises to enhance trust in transactions and data (and likely how we think of privacy) by creating a single shared version of the truth. This increase in trust could help address some very challenging issues in a number of industries not least of which is health, identity and property. The impact will be felt across the nation, but only if the innovation can continue. 

With repeated threats to regulate and even “break up” U.S. “tech companies,” the biggest threat to innovation seems to be government. Why the government would be threatening a globally dominant U.S. industry with big government intervention is puzzling, especially when the arguments seem to come from political opportunism rather than sound policy. 

Innovation continues to outpace government, especially the capacity of legislatures to design sound policy frameworks. The danger is that poor policy will hamper the rollout of smart technology.