The FedTalks 2013 conference, held June 12 in Washington, brought together a motley crew of government officials, tech company executives, military contractors and civic IT experts to discuss “how technology and people can change government and our communities.” The speakers, ranging from Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) to famed impostor Frank Abagnale (more on him below) came from similarly broad backgrounds. Here is a quick rundown on some highlights and observations from the conference.
Postal Reform for the Digital Age
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is in crisis, having lost almost $30 billion dollars in the last three years and exhausting its $15 billion federal borrowing authority. Clearly tinkering around the edges won't solve the problem. In this report, ITIF argues that all but “final mile” mail delivery should be opened up to private competition and the size of USPS should be drastically reduced to meet the realities of the digital age.
Book Review of “Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think”
There have been a number of attempts to chronicle exactly what is “big data” and why anyone should care. The latest entrant is Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier which focuses heavily on explaining some of the more interesting impacts of living in a big data world. The first part of this book provides a fairly compelling vision of how big data is changing how we use data, but Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier are at their best when they later describe the economic consequences of big data, both in terms of how data is creating economic value and how data is disrupting many industries. While the authors also carve out a chapter to explore the “dark side” of big data, including privacy and misuse, they mostly avoid the overwrought handwringing that typically characterizes writing on this subject. And they recognize that much of the big data revolution does not involve personal data. Overall, the book is an enjoyable read if for nothing else than some of the great nuggets of big data trivia that show just how much data is changing.
Should Government Regulate Illicit Uses of 3D Printing?
3D printing is an important technology that introduces new risks for public safety and intellectual property rights. Although 3D printing opens up new practical challenges, especially around enforcement, the policy questions for 3D printers are not substantively different than for other technologies. We should promote the technology while also ensuring that we have strong enforcement mechanisms and penalties, both domestically and internationally, to punish bad actors who abuse the technology by producing items that would be illegal regardless of how they were created. This will allow consumers to continue to reap the benefits of the technology while also protecting them from its potential harms.
How Did You Sign Your Taxes This Year? Not with an Electronic ID
The goal of widespread deployment of electronic IDs in the United States still remains a long way off. But given the huge cost to individuals and the government in tax fraud alone, doesn’t it make sense to invest more in creating a modern electronic ID system? The U.S. should take a serious look at international leadership on electronic ID systems and consider adoption of similar practices.
The Road Ahead: The Emerging Policy Debates for IT in Vehicles
Just as IT-driven transformations in other industries have created new policy issues, the same will be true in transportation. The automotive industry will likely face some of the same policy debates and challenges previously seen in other industries further along in the technology adoption lifecycle. Chief among these policy debates will likely be concerns about public safety, data privacy and ownership, free speech and decency, liability, and access to wireless spectrum. While this report will not offer answers to all of the questions it raises, it will argue that the policy decisions about IT in the vehicle should be driven, not by narrow interests and concerns, but rather by a broad government mandate to foster innovation in the transportation sector. This will require leadership from both the government and the private sector and cooperation between different stakeholders.