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Innovation

Tech Systems Are Outdated, Say Experts Fashioning Briefs for Incoming Administration

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Screenshot from the webinar

November 1, 2020 — The federal government’s outdated technology systems have left America vulnerable, said Cassandra Madison, acting executive director of the Tech Talent Project, during an American Enterprise Institute webinar on Tuesday.

One example of failure occurred when the government’s unemployment website crashed. Another manifest itself in the difficulty of obtaining statistics on how many Americans have been tested for COVID-19. Or even when stimulus checks were mailed to the deceased.

In the year 2020, she said technological failures undermined the capabilities of day-to-day government operations.

The Tech Talent Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit project dedicated to increasing the ability of the U.S. government to recruit modern technical leaders, is developing a network of tech experts to conduct in-depth tours of the technology fueling America’s public agencies.

The incoming administration will receive technology-focused agency briefs written by expert technologists and policymakers who served in the agencies to assess items critical for first 200 days of the President’s agenda.

Experts in tech policy in the federal government aim to provide a roadmap for the next administration to follow.

“Seizing the opportunities of technology and ensuring its proper governance requires leaders who deeply understand how technology can affect the American people, our national security, the economy, and our competitiveness in the global landscape,” said Madison.

“Any presidential agenda in the 21st century must prioritize technology expertise to accomplish its goals,” said Nina Hsiang, vice president of policy and government affairs at Devoted Health, adding that the government has not kept pace with technological innovation.

“America’s systems are not just ageing, they are old and outdated,” added Nicole Wong, former deputy chief technology officer of the United States, detailing that the Unites States’ social security website operates on 60 million lines of COBOL, a programming language created in 1959.

Running a $200 million HHS system on COBOL

In one of the worse cases, the Department of Health and Human Services was running on a 50-year-old $200 million system. “Forty private sector experts created a new system that cost $4 million to build and less than $4 million per year to operate, and it worked better,” said Madison.

According to the panelists, $90 billion is spent annually on technology, but a lack of technical understanding by senior leadership prevents investments from delivering results.

The panelists advocated for the federal government to increase national tech talent by investing time and resources to upskill America’s existing workforce, as agencies will need leaders with modern technical expertise from day one.

Further, the administration should prioritize building a modern data infrastructure to enable secure sharing of data within agencies, between agencies, and with the American public.

Finally, the panel called for the federal government to adopt human-centric product development models.

“More attention should be drawn to the experience of end users,” said Hsiang. “People literally have to take off of work and seek assistance to fill out federal applications. We should be able to do better.” Hsiang called for more government services to be offered on mobile-friendly platforms.

“Many people in government are not consumers of the services we’re offering,” added Wong. “They have never been on Medicaid; they’ve never applied for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s hard to have the right intuition about end users when you have little experience with the users themselves.”

Crypto

Cryptocurrency Has Promise But ‘Screams for Regulation,’ Says Miami Mayor Francis Suarez

The mayor has been an enthusiastic proponent of MiamiCoin, a privately-owned cryptocurrency.

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Screenshot of Francis Suarez, mayor of the City of Miami, at the Wilson Center event

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2023 — Embracing emerging technologies such as cryptocurrency will have long-term benefits for the general public, but the industry needs much stronger regulation, City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said at an event hosted Tuesday by the Wilson Center.

Suarez, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, spoke in advance of the mayors’ 91st annual meeting from Tuesday until this Friday.

Suarez has long been an advocate for cryptocurrency adoption; after winning reelection in 2021, he announced that his own salary would be paid in bitcoin. He has also been an enthusiastic proponent of MiamiCoin, a privately-owned cryptocurrency meant to benefit the city — even after the currency’s value dropped by more than 95 percent.

However, when discussing the recent collapse of crypto exchange FTX, Suarez acknowledged that the technology “screams for regulation.” U.S. legislation tends to be reactive instead of proactive, but the latter approach might have been able to stop the FTX crash, he added.

“I think there should have been regulation on what some of these custodial entities could do with custody assets,” he said. “They’re like banks — the kind of assets that they had were enormous — and what they were doing when you when you peel back the layers of the onion is frightening… there’s a reason why some level of regulation exists already in the banking industry.”

Suarez said that the first step for lawmakers taking on cryptocurrency regulation should be to recognize the significance of the technology. Issues such as the national debt ceiling and rate of inflation demonstrate the value of having currency “outside of the mainstream fiat system,” he said.

In addition to cryptocurrency, Suarez expressed his opinion on a variety of other timely technology issues.

“I think AI is going to be our generation’s arms race,” he said, noting the growing potential for cyberwarfare as weapons systems come to rely on encrypted technology.

Suarez also discussed the impacts that an increasingly digital world may have on childhood development. “My daughter one shocked me when she was two years old — she’s four now — by taking a pretend selfie with her pacifier of me,” he said. “And I was like, wow, this is really crazy.”

Despite having initial concerns about technology’s impact on children, Suarez said that watching his own children’s online interactions had assuaged his fears.

“I’m actually going to take it a step further — I’m starting to see socialization opportunities… they’re actually virtually online with a friend, and they’re playing and talking and socializing,” he said.

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Crypto

CES 2023: Crypto Protects Privacy and Civil Liberties

The ability to coordinate outside of government control could be a massive boon for oppressed or dissident groups.

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Photo of Kurt Opsahl, Mike Wawszczak, Anna Stone, and Sandy Carter (left to right)

LAS VEGAS, January 5, 2023 – Despite the crypto industry’s recent stumbles, a panel of experts at the Consumer Electronics Show remained bullish on its potential – as well as that of its underlying technology, the blockchain – to protect individuals’ data privacy and civil liberties.

Many blockchains, although residing in the digital world, largely fall into the category of “public goods,” which traditionally includes shared infrastructure such as roads, argued Anna Stone, director of impact at eToro. Stone cited the Ethereum network, which is open source and allows many individuals to build on it. “What makes Ethereum exist is not any one company that’s doing anything, it’s actually that there are thousands of different contributors,” she said. 

Mike Wawszczak, general counsel at Alliance, argued that the traditional funders of public goods – governments – make serious mistakes that stem from being insulated from market forces. “[Crypto] offers an alternative method of managing and governing these protocols – that we’re only now starting to see massive amounts of experimentation in – might not be subject to the same failure[s]…that we see in states,” Wawszczak said.

Later in the panel, Wawszczak argued that decentralized autonomous organizations empower individuals and communities to further and protect their own interests, even in opposition to state authority. “If you can imagine a lot of the more disparate groups that exist around particular social-justice causes or identity groups that are far flung or spread out, but now they have a new means of coordinating their behiavior and of generating economic wealth,” Wawszczak explained. He argued that the ability to coordinate outside of government control could be a massive boon for oppressed or dissident groups.

Panelists further said blockchain technologies can ensure that consumers maintain control over their own data. “Giving [users] that choice…to pick a place that is built and verifiable to be secure, to be private, to be a place that fits with their values, that can really enhance things for the users,” said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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Innovation

CES 2023: Tech Retail Revenues Will Drop in 2023, Says Consumer Technology Association

Inflation and ‘looming recession’ blamed for drop to $485 billion in 2023, down $12 billion from 2022 and $27 billion from 2021.

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Illustration from eStore Factory

LAS VEGAS, January 4, 2023 – United States technology retail revenues will slide to $485 billion in 2023, down $12 billion from 2022 and $27 billion from the 2021 peak of $512 billion, according to new research from the Consumer Technology Association.

CTA announced its findings Tuesday night as it prepares to open its Consumer Electronics Show on Thursday. The organization attributed projected falling revenues to inflation and a “looming recession,” though it noted its forecast would still exceed 2019’s revenues of $435 billion. The Covid-19 pandemic, along with stay-at-home orders, drove massive consumer demand for connectivity and technology.

The overall dip notwithstanding, CTA predicted that consumer spending will rise in the sectors of “consumer services” – e.g., audio, apps, gaming, and video – automotive technologies, and health and fitness technologies. “Portable gaming consoles will generate $1.5 billion in 2023, up 41% over 2022,” the CTA press release stated.

 “Leaders in Washington can help American entrepreneurs by advocating for a proactive and pro-innovation approach to trade,” said CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro in a statement. “We need to eliminate tariffs that amount to taxes on U.S. businesses, and spur exports by striking new trade deals with our friends and allies.” Shapiro touted the technology industry as a driver of economic efficiency and a “deflationary force in the global economy.”

In the broadband world, some players have called on regulators to waive “Build America, Buy America” provisions, which require federally funded infrastructure projects to use domestically manufactured materials. Critics say Build America, Buy America raises costs for builders who could otherwise source foreign-made goods more cheaply. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has proposed waiving the requirement for its Middle Mile grant program, and many have called for similar relief for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

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