There was a time when American governments were drivers of technological change, sponsoring the space age and making the early investments that led to the creation of the Internet.
Today, governments largely leave research and development to big companies and startups in Silicon Valley and elsewhere — private firms that aren’t necessarily incentivized to think about how their innovations can lead to ill effects for democracy and communities.
Historically, government tends to be reactive, with lawmakers seeking to address problems after they’ve already occurred. That makes it a bad fit for dealing with something rapidly changing and increasingly all pervasive as technology.
Even as technologies such as facial recognition and artificial intelligence are increasingly embedded in everything we do and interact with, there’s no one, inside of government or out, in charge of thinking about where it’s all headed.
AI may become like electricity, affecting every industry, but we have no serious dialogue about how we might want its still-developing effects to play out.
The lack of digital policymaking at the federal level has opened up a policy space for states and localities to step in. New laws are being passed and bills are being considered that touch on everything from privacy and facial recognition bans to bitcoin and autonomous vehicle regulation.
Governments are still playing catch-up when it comes to using tech. Many lawmakers lack basic understanding of how technology works, let alone how it’s changing.
When Lawmakers Don’t Get Technology
Lack of technological literacy not only makes it easier to fall for a company’s line, but also leads lawmakers to make demands that simply can’t be fulfilled.
The Public Sector Lags Behind
The sense that government is slow and unresponsive has only been exacerbated by technology. The standard now for customer service on the Internet is seamless, instantaneous and efficient. It’s fair to say that governments, on the whole, don’t offer that level of experience.
In government people are often stuck using old computers or running programs using languages that are the software equivalent of speaking Latin. Procurement for technology is still handled in many agencies as though the needs aren’t any different than buying office chairs.
Ignorance Has Been Bliss
It’s clear that policymakers are starting to think more skeptically about technology, given rising public concern about data breaches and how both private companies and governments are using their information.
In order to have effective regulations regarding IT, it’s essential not only to understand technology better, but to have a firm sense of desired outcomes. As a society, it’s critical that we ask what we want out of tech and where we want it to go.
Despite the growing “techlash,” it’s important that as lawmakers seek to address problems with technology, they keep their eyes on both its benefits and their own first principles.
Summarized from governing.com