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#Tech2021 - Foreword by Will Hurd

November 19, 2020
4 min read

A critical factor in the United States’ economic and military success has been the achievement of global leadership in advanced technology; however, the next administration will inherit the country’s most tenuous global position in this area since the Second World War. In today’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, technological change over the next 30 years will make the last 30 years look insignificant. The next administration will also deal with a dramatically shifting global landscape influenced by the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic and a Chinese government that is trying to rapidly erode U.S. technological advantages through legal and illegal means. Winning this generation-defining struggle for global leadership in advanced technology will not just affect the U.S. economy but will also shape the rest of the century for the entire world. The next administration must have a comprehensive technology agenda to spur innovation in the United States, leverage innovative technologies within government to better serve citizens, mitigate the challenges posed by technological disruption, and work with allies to ensure our democratic values drive development of these new tools.

Though artificial intelligence (AI) is just one of many critical emerging technologies, the blueprint for achieving global leadership in AI can be a useful guide for how the next administration could foster innovation across a number of technologies. The explosion of data and computational capability has made advances in AI possible; but these resources are concurrently chokepoints preventing the maturity of the industry. Continued AI innovation will require large amounts of data and if the federal government provided more high-quality data sets to the public, entrepreneurs and researchers could compete more closely on the quality of their ideas, rather than their access to proprietary data sets. Open data does not just advance innovation, it can also promote equity by reducing one source of bias in AI—inferior training data. While vetted government data sets will not eliminate bias, this coupled with investment in digital infrastructure can go a long way in addressing digital equity. Whether it is increasing access to supercomputing resources for academic researchers to advance basic knowledge or providing broadband access so underserved communities can participate in the digital economy, the United States will not reach its full AI potential if bright minds are left behind.

Bringing these technologies into the public sector will also allow governments at all levels to better serve citizens. In the face of a global pandemic, government information technology systems at the federal, state, and local levels have been tested. When citizens needed government the most, paper-based processes and legacy digital systems failed to scale, causing unnecessary delays and suffering. Rapidly scaling capacity is just one benefit of moving to the cloud. With the public sector’s data safely in the cloud, civil servants will be able to use modern tools, like those powered by machine learning and AI, to draw insights that were previously impossible. Armed with this new intelligence, civic leaders can offer Americans a better, more efficient version of government. The effort to modernize government systems should not cease after the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, we should use this as an impetus to supercharge modernization efforts.

While technology can be used to improve society, these same digital tools will be used against us by our adversaries. Russian disinformation operations have turned tools designed to bring us together into weapons to drive us apart. While the United States first experienced this in full force during the 2016 elections, many of its European allies, from the United Kingdom to Montenegro, have been dealing with the effects of Russian interference for years. In the summer of 2020, National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina stated that not only did this malicious activity shows no signs of abating, but that countries like China and Iran were also starting to take a page out of the Russian playbook. In addition to disinformation, we have to be prepared for our adversaries’ continued use of cyberattacks to steal intellectual property, probe critical infrastructure, and violate the privacy of Americans.

The next administration will be unable to tackle these challenges alone. Beginning with the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after the Second World War and served as the bedrock commitment enabling the creation of NATO in 1949, the center of international prosperity and security has been U.S.-led alliances, not the United States alone. We stood up to despots and tyrants and helped our friends stand on their own. We did not take spoils but showed leadership and worked toward shared goals with our allies. If the next administration embraces the understanding that the United States has become an exceptional nation not because of what we have taken but because of what we have given, then we will continue our position as the global leader in advanced technology despite uncertain times.

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Photo Credit: Peshkova / Shutterstock

Will Hurd represents Texas’ 23rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the board of directors of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.