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Debate Discussion: Let's Give Them Something To Talk About
How about emerging technological issues? It is a little mystery to figure out
Wednesday night was the Republican national convention and with (almost) all of the challenging party's nominees on the stage it was our first opportunity to see what issues may shape the 2024 election. Despite important and rightful focus on Ukraine, abortion, the economy, and more there was a glaring lack of focus on technology. Even if most Americans don’t realize it many of these issues will have a fundamental impact on their day to day lives in the decades ahead. Left unaddressed we may find ourselves in a dark, almost dystopian, future.
It is the responsibility of both parties, not just to respond to the public discourse but also, to focus the political conversation in this country on the challenges facing our republic. Here is a list of several key issues that were missed, how they can be addressed by candidates, and why they are important.
The Sum Total of Your Experience: The Right to Control Ones Data
The more advanced our society becomes the easier it is for corporations to take the seemingly harmless data we generate; where we go while carrying our phones, what websites we visit, what content we interact with, who we talk to, how we react to good or bad news, and use it to control and influence public perception. During the 2016 Election we had companies and countries literally trying to brainwash sections of the American electorate to influence the outcome of the race.
When many of the technological giants of the internet began there was an implicit transaction occurring; they provide services to the public ‘for free’ and in exchange they use the data we generate on their systems for marketing. Targeted advertising was one thing (“We want woman to buy our soap so we will only show this ad to woman”) but it has grown to be so much more than that. Companies now take your data and use elaborate equations to determine exactly what they need to put in front of you to effect your decisions.
Even more horrifying, some companies have even admitted to conducted experiments on their users with this power. Facebook, for example, purposely put content in front of some users to see if they could make them sad and different content in front of others to see if they could make them happy. Frighteningly, it worked!
The scariest part of all of this is, not only are these influence programs working but also, no one seems to want to do anything about it. Politicians seem content to go on the news every so often and say they need to look into these allegations but then, assuming the public has the attention span of your average TikTok user, they move right on to the next item.
Laws should and must be passed giving users more control over their data. We should all have the right to access whatever information has been compiled on us by social media companies and search engines and request that it be expunged. Further, policies should be put in place to make sure data is not being collected on minors or used to indoctrinate them.
I Swear I Thought of That: Protecting American Intellectual Property
Foreign actors influencing the American psyche is bad enough but the outright theft of American genius cannot be tolerated.
Capitalism is the greatest engine of innovation and wealth in the history of our species. The American liberal capitalistic system has not only made the world a better place but has literally saved it. However, despite literal warnings from those in the know, our leaders seem unwilling or incapable of addressing when the fruits of our system are being stolen.
The Chinese Communist Party, like the Soviet Union before them, are incapable of breakthrough innovations. That is why they work to undermine American industry by stealing technology, undercutting the creators in the industry, pushing American businesses into bankruptcy, and then jacking up prices to the detriment of the American consumer.
To see how they do this look no further than the solar panel industry which the Chinese government has all but taken over  . In order for American companies to do businesses in China they have to allow the Chinese government access to their patents. The Chinese government then takes those patents and provides them to Chinese solar companies. Once those companies can recreated the technology on their own they are subsidized by the Communists to drop prices of solar panels. Once the prices are too low for American businesses to compete with those companies, those American innovators, are pushed out of businesses, not just in China but also, across the world leaving a vacuum that China can fill. With the American competition gone the Chinese company, with the blessing of the Communist Party, drives up prices to recoup their losses having now taken over the industry.
Due to this theft by China and other actors like them the United States is losing out on money, jobs, and future technological innovation.
To address this our leaders need to push for greater controls on what technology can be shared with the Chinese government and governments under their sway. Further, tariffs should be placed on goods that were clearly created using stolen American technology. Finally, the United States needs to strengthen their trade agreements around the world to incorporate these protections in as many regions as possible to maximize their effect.
The greater the collective action, the greater the impact!
Whose Tractor Is It Anyway? The Right to Repair
The "Right to Repair" refers to the legal right of a person to fix or modify products they have purchased. When many people hear about the Right to Repair, including our would-be-elected officials, they assume it does not effect the majority of people. However, the increasing use of licenses as opposed to purchases effects every American and their rights.
Let’s begin with an example that effects almost everyone; your phone. If you have ever had a broken phone you know how hard it can be to have it repaired. You go down to the store, say Apple or Samsung, and they make you wait an exorbitant amount of time. When you are finally seen they will either charge you an incredible amount of money or tell you that you need to buy a new device. However, if you went to a local repair shop they can , usually, do it for much cheaper and much quicker. The problem here is that once you do so the company you purchased it from will, in many cases, disable the device for you having using ‘unapproved parts’.
This same phenomena is happening across the market. Printers are routinely disabled in peoples homes because they bought ink from someone other than the printers maker (in some cases the printer will even be disabled if one ink cartridge out of several is empty but not the others). More and more appliances in the home are coming with a requirements they be connected to the internet so that their manufacturers can disable them if you have them repaired by someone other than a licenses tech who themself has to charge higher rates in order to be licensed. Farmers in particular have been fighting a years long battle to have the right to repair their own tractors!
Capitalism is not unlike most ecosystems. To remain healthy you need to remove as many impediments as possible for innovation to grow. Local businesses should be allowed to repair and improve technology! If they can do it better than, for example, the local Apple store than the Apple store should improve to do better. By tipping the scale in favor of corporations we are hurting consumers and the economy.
To address this lawmakers need to support Right to Repair legislation nationwide. No one is saying that a warranty should not be void if a consumer decides to take apart something they bought but, at the same time, a corporation should not be able to disable a machine once it has been purchased just to line their own pockets.
R2-D2 or the Terminator: The Ethics of AI
Should drones, operated not by a person but by an AI program, be authorized to use lethal force? Should the police be allowed to program a drone to go into a building and kill occupants? Should the military? Should anyone even be allowed to test such technology?
These are just some of the questions facing the development of artificial intelligence. It may be appealing, especially with military applications, to program a drone to fly over a given area night and day and kill someone who matches a description but what if a mistake happens? What if there is a malfunction?
Even setting aside the possibility of AI displacing or replacing huge sections of the American workforce, the chance that AI could develop in new and terrifying ways is very real. When the atomic bomb was developed, while there was clearly civilian applications, the scientist knew their technology would be a weapon so safeguards were put in place to prevent nuclear proliferation. Today, while many countries we wish did not have nuclear capabilities, the vast majority of hostile actors on the world stage cannot launch much less develop nuclear weapons.
This same approach, these same tight controls, must be placed on artificial intelligence. Politicians must put in place laws and policies to prevent the creation of weapons that could and likely would kill an incredible amount of people.
One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure: Disinformation
Remember in 2020 when both sides of the aisle were complaining about disinformation and the governments response to it? Social Media @ Law remembers.
Yet despite the focus on disinformation previously and some discussion following a court case restricting the Biden information from influencing social media companies , the topic has largely fallen by the wayside. All of our elected officials, especially those in Congress, should be working toward addressing the issue.
However, we need to take the issue apart before proceeding. On one side of the political spectrum, disinformation is associated with false or misleading information being shared online to influence public opinion. On the other side of the spectrum, disinformation conjures images of censorship and biased fact checkers adding ‘unnecessary’ disclosures to posts. Both sides agree that there is an issue but neither can agree on what the issue is.
The first things our elected (or aspiring elected) officials need to do is frame the conversation for the public and then work toward policies that address that framing. Passing laws to prevent some form is censorship is pointless, especially since we want things like pornography and criminal content walled off, but there are laws that could be passed. Service providers should have to disclose their policies in clear and easily accessible ways.
Most importantly there needs to be transparency of how the government is interacting with these businesses and what role government sponsored policy is having on their actions. The Government cannot infringe our freedom of speech therefore they should not be able to force a private actor to infringe the same right without consequence. Laws, policies, and punishments pertaining to Government sponsored censorship must be passed.
Making It To The Debate Stage
The only way these issues and others like them will be addressed is if they reach the national stage. The debates, both the Republican primary debates and the eventual Presidential debates, are the perfect platforms to elevate these issues. We can all have a positive influence on the future by contacting candidates and bringing these issues to their attention. Sitting back and hoping someone else will raise these concerns will undoubtedly be as fruitful as waiting for the politicians to bring them up on their own. That is to say, not at all.