Consumer electronics and the intersection of technology and policy

Consumer electronics and the intersection of technology and policy

Technology is now an integral part of everyday life, but it is clear that policy and regulations also need to keep up. We’ve heard many stories how platforms like Airbnb could pose challenges for people renting out their property to strangers both from a tax point of view as well as health and safety. And how platforms like Uber face challenges in different markets with incumbent taxi associations and the issue of licensing. Or there are drones and how they sit alongside aviation rules

Also, last month there was the proposal in California of preliminary regulations for autonomous-driving (or driverless) cars, which suggests that driverless cars must have a driver capable of taking control of the vehicle – which sounds kind of contradictory. The proposed regulations would require consumers to get a special state-issued driver’s certificate after receiving training from a car company on how to use a driverless vehicle.

Autonomous cars would also have to pass a test administered by a third party before being sold. Auto makers would only be allowed to lease driverless cars, as opposed to selling them outright. This may of course not be what the technology companies like Google and others have been expecting.

New automotive technology announcements will be a key part of this month’s annual consumer electronics and technology show in Las Vegas. So it is entirely appropriate that technology companies and policy makers should come together at this event – according to the organizers of CES 2016®, 27 international, federal, state and local government officials will speak or participate at the conference.

In total, more than 160 top policymakers, regulators and staff are expected to attend. Among the policymakers delivering remarks or speaking on panels is:

  • Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Huerta
  • Every member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
  • U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith
  • Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle Lee
  • Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Mark Warner (D-VA), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)
  • France’s Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, Emmanuel Macron

The transportation secretary will be part of a keynote on the future of urban mobility, looking beyond smart cities. Fellow panelists will include Dr. Volkmar Denner, CEO and CTO of Robert Bosch, Kent Larson of MIT Media Lab, Professor Amnon Shashua, co-founder, CTO and chairman of Mobileye, and Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm.

The FAA will participate in a key session on ‘rules for drones – best policies and practices’. This session will explore what rules for drones are needed so that entrepreneurs, businesses and governments can realize the tremendous benefits of unmanned aircraft systems.  It will also look at what policies and initiatives are best to support safety and innovation, with benefits to consumers and commerce.

According to Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, Consumer Technology Association, which runs the consumer electronics event every year, “CES has become a must-attend event for government officials who sit at the intersection of public policy and technology. CES is the ideal gathering place for policymakers and regulators to engage with the tech companies and entrepreneurs driving innovation and the global economy.”

“As an industry, the tech sector understands the importance of showing government officials how emerging and disruptive technologies are improving our world and changing the way we live and work. And we understand the need to explain that pro-innovation policies allow for the next generation of tech breakthroughs.”

One aspect of the intersection of policy and technology is in data and data privacy. Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig said recently in the CIO Journal that technology will create new models for privacy regulation. However, he says that regulation should focus on the business model, and not technology.

He comments, “I don’t think the law should say here is what services can do and not do, because the technology is so (fast-changing) the law could never catch up. But that (we want) to avoid are certain kinds of business models, a prison of bits, where services leverage control over access to content and profit from that control over content. You could achieve that by regulating the kinds of contracts these businesses engage in – you avoid these tying arrangements. What the Internet companies ought to think about is what is the cheapest, fastest way to provide Internet service, not is there a way I can get 10 percent of the latest HBO hit.”

He adds, “The platform of today is not the operating system. It is data. Data providers don’t necessarily have to be broken up, but you have got to understand the market’s externalities.”

It is true that consumer electronics technology and technology in general is moving much faster than policy and it has been clear for a while that policymakers could benefit from better understanding of technology, its capabilities to ‘disrupt’ existing models, and its impact on the fundamentals of regulatory policy. It is therefore a positive step that so many policymakers and regulators are increasing attending the major technology conferences both to hear about new technology but also to contribute to the discussions on how the services they enable should evolve.

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