The next president and Congress should also consider rules forcing companies to require users to opt in to data collection, placing limitations on targeted advertising, broadening individual rights to sue over privacy violations and establishing a muscular enforcement apparatus.
Artificial intelligence underpins promising new technologies like self-driving cars and manufacturing automation, and holds the potential to accelerate innovation in a host of industries. But A.I. is also still nascent and unproven for applications like facial recognition, text review and voice assistants, which can harbor biases that unduly affect minorities, women and lower-income Americans. A.I. also holds the potential to drastically alter employment, and it could push truck drivers, production line workers and others out of their jobs. Lawmakers will have to find a balance between pushing the technology forward and protecting jobs.
Consumers need regulators to ensure that artificial intelligence replacing human review does not contribute to inequities, including in police enforcement, hiring, housing, health care and education. The software has already been used in attempts to manipulate voters through deep fakes and the rapid spread of misinformation. Sensible policies, like setting standards for data collection and developing a transparent review process for A.I.-backed systems at federal agencies, could go a long way toward preventing the misuse of the software.
Social Media and Section 230
Politicians are openly debating what to do about the liability shield known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Broadly, it allows internet companies to police their own sites, while also avoiding liability for nearly all of the user-created content they host, and it is the backbone of how the web functions today. Republican lawmakers, including Mr. Hawley, contend that Section 230 gives tech companies blanket immunity to stifle free speech, since posts can be removed and their sharing can be blocked. Democrats say the law allows companies to skirt responsibility for the misinformation that flourishes on their sites.
Joe Biden has called for Section 230 protections to be revoked entirely, as has President Trump, who signed an executive order in May for a federal review of the statute. A recent Senate hearing with the heads of Google, Facebook and Twitter unfortunately lacked substantive discussion around sensible solutions for regulating social media. The executives promised greater transparency around their decisions to remove or block content, but it is hard to imagine a truly honest accounting when such an accounting would go against their business interests.
Eliminating the law entirely would probably cause Facebook, Twitter and others to more aggressively police their sites, for fear of liability claims. But that could result in unintended consequences, like the suppression of artistic content and limitations on listings sites like Amazon, Nextdoor and Craigslist. It is clear that the nation needs to rethink the rules that govern our digital spaces and make sure that these spaces don’t stifle democracy.
Through trade restrictions on tech businesses such as Huawei and China’s leading computer chip maker, President Trump has taken a hard line. But maintaining a functioning relationship with China will be crucial for a predictable supply chain of hardware for mobile phones and other devices.