January 18, 2021—“Congress needs to better organize itself around technology,” said Rep. Bill Foster, D-Illinois, a member of the Financial Services and Science, Space, and Technology Committees.
Foster, along with a panel of tech innovators and policymakers, explained the steps the United States should take to remain a global leader in technology and innovation, during a webinar by The Hill that aired Thursday.
“The current Congress representing America” is outdated, Foster said, calling for new life to be breathed into the U.S. Office of Technology. Further, he suggested a new Committee on Information Technology to be established.
Other panelists believed greater distribution of broadband resources will help America remain competitive. “In order to get trade and technology right in this current age, proper infrastructure must exist,” said Ambassador Michael Froman, former U.S. Trade Representative and vice president and chairman in strategic growth at Mastercard ,
Froman also stressed the importance of having an open digital economy that protects privacy.
When it comes to homeland security, “America can not take its eye off the ball,” said Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., ranking member on the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Innovation Subcommittee. Katko recognized the challenge in balancing security and innovation, but ultimately said he believes foreign input in the American tech sector is a positive thing.
Katko said he favored easing student visa regulations to allow scholars from around the globe to stay in America, rather than taking their knowledge and expertise back home, where America will have to compete against them.
The technology industry needs to establish norms for free expression and safety
“Tech needs to have norms and rules to make sure people have free expression while also being safe,” said Karen Kornbluh, senior fellow and director at the Digital Innovation and Democracy Initiative, member of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and former ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
“It is critical civil rights, consumers, and even campaign finance transparency are protected,” said Kornbluh. “America needs more than standard media literacy. It needs more investment into civic infrastructure like broadband, and to use its public institutions in the best way possible, such as libraries.”
Kornbluh went on to say that the federal government needs more tech literate people. No longer can government separate pillars like economic issues from tech issues. It needs to have techonomic—a blend of technology and economics—appointed people, and other roles including Housing and Urban Development Tech.
Kornbluh also said that the IT sector needs to take ethics and values seriously, because ethics in tech is not optional.
The coronavirus pandemic is driving greater focus on health care
Of the many areas panelists said the U.S. needs to remain competitive in, one stood out in particular: Health care. Citing the coronavirus pandemic, James Manyika, senior partner at McKinsey & Company, said this includes boosting research and development in medical supplies, equipment and vaccine research.,
Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda, senior vice president in policy and advocacy at MediaMath and a member of the Biden-Harris Transition Agency Review Team, said when he worked with then-Sen. Barack Obama, it was important to ensure nascent technologies were not hindered by regulation.
He maintained that this should be an important priority for the Biden-Harris administration. “Technology must be governed since it has potential to be used to harm,” said Sepulveda. “Ensuring interagency cooperation is important to prevent state-level malicious actors from harming U.S. interests via cyberattacks.”
Sepulveda maintained that keeping an openness to the world by accepting and welcoming talent, including low age and immigrant populations is a priority for the Biden-Harris Administration.
Squeezing the inequities out of the technology industry
Technology can and continues to perpetuate systemic inequalities in racism and gender. “The first thing America must do is milk out the inequities in the tech industry,” said Mia Dand, CEO of Lighthouse3 and founder of Women in AI Ethics.
“There is not enough representation of women. Women and women of color still sink into the single when it comes to representation in tech,” said Dand.“The right people needed are not sitting at the table to help change this. Not only is this a problem for women, but any minority group as well.”
Nicol Turner Lee, senior fellow of Governance Studies and director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution., further argued that the people developing technology are often not inclusive of the people tech is applied to.
Issues stemming from the digital divide go well beyond hurting women and people of color. This includes farmers, rural people, and lower-class people also face deep systemic inequities in the digital world, she said.