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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The topic for the 34th Annual Aspen Institute Conference was “In Harm’s Way: Smart Regulation of Digital & Network Technology.” The conference focused on the following questions: What harms should society be concerned about with the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and 5G? Who should play a role in addressing these potential harms? What governmental action or collaboration should occur to minimize the harms and maximize the benefits of these new advances?

The individual working groups at the conference developed numerous recommendations. This report synthesizes the broad themes that permeated most of the discussion. While the recommendations reflect input from many conferees, no votes were taken. Accordingly, not every recommendation or statement in this report reflects the views of all attendees or their employers.

A broad theme of the conference was the role and capabilities that government has to address the challenges and issues of the digital age. One recommendation is to create a new federal agency to address data and technology policy. This agency could spearhead the development of a national plan for technology policy that allows the private sector to innovate and develop new business models, while ensuring U.S. technological leadership. A second recommendation is to create a new Federal Innovation Center that would develop a comprehensive digital-first strategy for federal government delivery of services and benefits, while serving as an expert resource to state and local governments engaged in similar efforts.

A second topic of discussion at the conference was the role of the technology sector in today’s society. An overarching concern is that major online platforms have an enormous influence on what information people consume and disseminate. One recommendation is to ensure that antitrust policy evolves to include consideration of the impact of market structure, which includes consumer choice (or lack thereof) and large companies who are significant drivers of U.S. innovation. Another is that industry should be doing more to moderate extreme online content, such as hate speech and content that incites violence.

A third recurring theme of the conference was how to provide all Americans with the tools they need to succeed in a digital society. Artificial intelligence is transforming the workforce and the workers of tomorrow will need new training. The U.S. needs to strengthen public education in computer sciences and include ethics as a core component of the curriculum. Moreover, the U.S. needs to promote lifelong learning and training so that individuals of all ages are digitally literate.

A fourth focus of the conference was how to close the digital divide. Digital inequality will prevent all Americans from fully participating in the shared fabric of the nation. One concern is that discrete areas of the nation do not benefit from advances stemming from high-speed internet and other technologies. The digital divide has many dimensions—relevance, affordability and availability—and different solutions are appropriate to address each facet of the problem. Participants developed several ideas to ensure that all can pay for an in-home broadband connection/device and enjoy the value of broadband.

 
 
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