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FCC and FTC Commissioners Address ‘Technology Optimism and Pessimism’ at Silicon Flatirons Conference

David Jelke

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Screenshot of FTC Commissioner Chopra

Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly raised concerns over the challenges posed by technology in society, whereas Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra expressed “supreme optimism,” while also acknowledging the challenges his agency faces, at Silicon Flatirons’ conference on “Technology Optimism and Pessimism.”

O’Rielly opened his Monday keynote address with a quote from Bruce Springsteen: “Pessimism and optimism are slammed up against each other in my records, the tension between them is where it’s all at, it’s what lights the fire.”

But O’Rielly then used fire as an example of a technology with tremendous negative side effects: It leads to arson and wildfires. He also cited the invention of the wheel as a cause of drunk driving and the invention of the airplane as a prerequisite for the terrorist attacks of September 11.

O’Rielly also blasted what he called the “tech naivete” of Silicon Valley corporate executives.

For example, O’Rielly also recalled being taken aback while visiting a drone manufacturer that company officials had not even considered the privacy risks of spying on neighbors and government facilities.

And he acknowledged the shrinking authority of the FCC and appeared resigned to that fate.

In a separate keynote on Monday, Chopra called himself “supremely optimistic” about the future of technology in society. But just as quickly, Chopra identified the major problems that require regulatory action and offered possible solutions to those problems.

Speaking on government treatment of large tech companies, Chopra wryly observed that “every industry thinks it’s a special flower,” which drew snickers from the audience.

He asserted that there are policing principles that are consistent across industries. He also criticized the FTC’s penchant for ordering small monetary remedies from offending companies: “They don’t go far enough,” he said

The FTC always will be a necessary agent for ensuring healthy competition in the marketplace. Historically, competition has produced great swells of innovation for which the United States is famous.

Chopra warned that the U.S. should not mimic China by providing special treatment to a few tech giants.

The solution to our current technological problems “is more of a goal we have to constantly strive for.”

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