Techonomy Policy 2015: Biggest Takeaways

On Tuesday, Techonomy Media held its 2015 Techonomy Policy conference, which featured speakers from a wide variety of businesses, regulatory agencies, and other organizations. The speakers discussed how technological innovation can be used to facilitate social progress, and gave their views as to public policy that should be implemented to catalyze this progress. In case you missed it, here are some of the biggest takeaways from the conference:

Keeping America Innovative in the Age of Data Exhaust

  • This panel was moderated by David Kirkpatrick of Techonomy Media, and featured Steve Case of Revolution and America Online, Vinton G. Cerf of Google, and R. David Edelman of The White House National Economic Council.
  • Panelists discussed how the roles of the federal government and business have changed as the pace of internet innovation has increased since the 1990s. Now that business is at the forefront of internet development, cooperation among leaders in tech and government is essential to ensure that the U.S. remains competitive with regard to technological innovation.
  • Ensuring broadband access to American students is one critical component of any such strategy, and Edelman said The White House is committed to working with industry leaders to advance this goal.

“In a country where we have free wi-fi with our cup of coffee, it’s idiotic that we don’t provide access to our students,”

said Edelman.

The Worrisome Future of the Internet

  • Moderated by Gordon Goldstein of Silver Lake, and featured Fadi Chehadé of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Steve DelBianco of NetChoice, and Miriam Sapiro of Summit Strategies International and The Brookings Institution.
  • The Internet is becoming increasingly fragmented as nations attempt to control access and regulate content more strongly.
  • ICANN has 150 member countries which advise the board but ultimately the board makes decisions autonomously.
  • Congress was hesitant to give up the central U.S. role in the internet but has become more willing to work with industry, especially in comparison to much of the world.
  • Russia and E.U. countries, in particular, are increasing restrictions on content and centralizing server networks. Working collaboratively to make regulations more compatible is critical in order to foster greater innovation in the coming years.

Briefing: “On-Demand” Workers May Demand New Policy

  • Arun Sundararajan of NYU Stern School of Business and NYU CUSP was the featured speaker.
  • Blockchain technology will lower transaction costs for various services, since it allows consumers and businesses to bypass financial services intermediaries.
  • Services such as Uber and Airbnb present certain regulatory challenges with regard to working conditions, product safety, taxation, and other public policy.
  • The sharing economy makes the old employment categorizations, “employed” and “unemployed,” much less useful because income sources are less centralized, and people are increasingly drawing income from multiple sources. New employment categorizations are needed to measure output and reshape public policy to increase its efficacy in the changing economy.

Briefing: The Social Media Dilemma for Regulated Industries

  • Kitty Parry of The Social Media Charter Association and Social Media Compliance spoke about the challenges that social media poses for financial services companies and the tech industry.
  • As more consumers rely on social media to help inform their purchases, companies must ensure that their use of social media platforms constructively engage consumers without violating existing regulations.
  • Cooperation between industry and regulators is key to reshaping corporate and regulatory policies to better fit today’s economic reality.

The Problem with Success: Global Pushback Against American Tech

  • This panel was moderated by Robert Boorstin of Albright Stonebridge Group. Its panelists included Erich Andersen of Microsoft, Yael Weinman of Information Technology Industry Council, and Andrea Glorioso of the Delegation of the European Union to the USA.
  • Panelists discussed the challenges American tech companies face as their overseas operations grow. Regulations vary widely from nation to nation due to differences in cultural values and the role of government.
  • Glorioso argued that the legal challenges faced by large American firms are in large part due to their noncompliance with local laws. For example, the cultural values of the E.U. are very similar to those of the United States. However, the right to privacy takes legal precedent over the freedom of companies to track users of their online services. The other panelists argued that E.U. privacy laws are unnecessarily burdensome to American tech corporations.
  • The panelists agreed that the global dominance of American tech companies much of the world will likely be diminished in the coming decades, and that the U.S. and E.U. in particular should work to make tech regulations interoperable.

Briefing: How the Blockchain Could Change Everything

  • Jerry Brito of Coin Center described how the blockchain system works and its potential uses beyond Bitcoin.
  • He emphasized three main aspects of the blockchain: it is open source, open protocol, and is a record of permissions.
  • Blockchain will likely reduce the role of banks as intermediaries for consumer-corporate transactions.

Briefing: How the Internet of Things Will Connect Shoes, Cars, Doctors and Power Plants

  • Alex Hawkinson of SmartThings discussed how smart technologies will be integrated into nearly every aspect of our lives in the coming years.
  • Homes will be controlled from our smartphones and nano-technology will allow constant health monitoring, but there are concerns over the implications for consumer privacy.

FCC (R&D) on Spectrum and the Policy Future for Ubiquitous Tech

  • This panel discussion was moderated by Craig Mundie of Mundie & Associates, and featured Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
  • Rosenworcel argued in favor of a synthetic currency, or “spectrum bucks,” to account for federal spectrum allocation. She believes this would facilitate greater exchange, transfer, and efficient use of spectrum resources.
  • O’Reilly argued that less stringent restrictions on spectrum use and allocation would foster greater innovation and benefit to consumers.

The Digital Revolution and America’s Economic Future

  • Philip Zelikow of the Markle Foundation and the University of Virginia spoke about the scope and implications of the digital revolution.
  • The digital revolution is as large in scale as the industrial revolution, but is much more “user friendly,” he argued.
  • This revolution makes our lives much easier and its benefits are more broadly accessible to consumers. He said that we are entering a “no-collar” system, in which the labor force will be primarily devoted to new technologies and the division between “white-collar” work and “blue-collar” work will no longer exist as it does today.

Why Everybody Cares About the Blockchain

  • Paul Vigna of The Wall Street Journal moderated this panel discussion, which featured Jerry Brito of Coin Center, Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures, Brian Forde of MIT Media Lab, and Jinyoung Lee Englund of Fé Ventures and the Digital Currency Council.
  • Panelists discussed the potential uses of the blockchain beyond its present application in the Bitcoin system. The discussion focused on its potential for creating “digital identities” that would be used for copyright permissions and law enforcement, among other areas.

Privacy Collides with Data in a Transparent World

  • This panel was moderated by David Callaway of USA Today, and featured Robert Quinn of AT&T, Julie Brill of the FTC, Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures, and Horacio Gutierrez of Microsoft.
  • The panelists discussed the need to balance the implementation of new technologies with consumer privacy. There are presently some flexible regulations which are not specific to a particular sector or sectors. Practices have to be “fair,” and cannot be deceptive or harm consumers in an unavoidable manner.
  • There is a need for firms to take some of the responsibility for privacy off of consumers by ensuring transparent and accessible privacy options. Firms who are seen as trustworthy will benefit.

Briefing: Why Drones are Dive-Bombing the FAA

  • Lisa Ellman of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Practice Group and Mckennz, Long & Aldridge discussed the need for more widespread use of commercial drones in the U.S.
  • The U.S. is lagging behind other countries like Japan, where 85 percent of crop-dusting is done using drones.
  • Drones can also provide access to hard-to-reach areas, create more effective search-and-rescue operations, deliver packages, and many other uses.
  • Regulators need to work with businesses and consumers to create safe but not overly-stringent policy.
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