DIY medicineMargaret Talbot has written an excellent New Yorker essay entitled, “The Rogue Experimenters,” which documents the growth of the D.I.Y.-bio movement. This refers to the organic, bottom-up, citizen science movement, or “leaderless do-ocracy” of tinkerers, as she notes. I highly recommend you check it out.

As I noted in my new book on Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance, “DIY health services and medical devices are on the rise thanks to the combined power of open-source software, 3D printers, cloud computing, and digital platforms that allow information sharing between individuals with specific health needs. Average citizens are using these new technologies to modify their bodies and abilities, often beyond the confines of the law.”

Talbot discusses many of the same examples I discuss in my book, including:

  • the Four Thieves Vinegar collective, which devised instructions for building its own version of the EpiPen;
  • e-nable, an international collective of thirty thousand volunteers, designs and 3-D-prints prosthetic hands and arms (and which has, more recently, distributed more than fifty thousand face shields in more than twenty-five countries.);
  • GenSpace and other community biohacking labs; and
  • Open Insulin and Open Artificial Pancreas System.

I like the way Talbot compares these movements to the hacker and start-up culture of the Digital Revolution: Continue reading →

Here’s a video chat I did today with Americans for Prosperity – Virginia. My thanks to Benjamin Knotts for hosting the discussion. We talked about my recent book (Evasive Entrepreneurs) and my last one (Permissionless Innovation). We also discussed my new proposal with Matt Mitchell and Patrick McLaughlin to create “Fresh Start Initiatives” to address rules suspended during the COVID crisis.  Watch the 30 min video here:

Matt RidleyThere are few things more exciting to innovation policy geeks that than the week a new Matt Ridley book drops. Thankfully, that time is upon us once again. This week, Ridley’s latest book, How Innovation Works: And Why It Flourishes in Freedom, is being released. I can’t wait to dig in.

This weekend, the Wall Street Journal published an essay condensed from the book entitled, “Innovation Can’t Be Forced, but It Can Be Quashed.” Here are some of the highlights from Ridley’s piece:

Innovation relies upon freedom to experiment and try new things, which requires sensible regulation that is permissive, encouraging and quick to give decisions. By far the surest way to rediscover rapid economic growth when the pandemic is over will be to study the regulatory delays and hurdles that have now been hastily swept aside to help innovators in medical devices and therapies, and to see whether such reforms could be applied to other parts of the economy too.

Dealing with Covid-19 has forcibly reminded governments of the value of innovation. But if we are to get faster vaccines and treatments—and better still, more innovation across all fields in the future—then innovators need to be freed from the shackles that hold them back.

These are crucial point, and ones I discuss in the launch essay and the afterward of my new book, Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance. Alas, as I pointed out in that launch essay and my last book on Permissionless Innovation, a great many barriers stand in the way of the freedom to experiment and try new things. As Ridley points out: Continue reading →

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how important technology is for enabling social distancing measures while staying connected to friends, family, school, and work. But for some, including a number of celebrities, it has also heightened fears of emerging technologies that could further improve our connectivity. The latest technopanic should not make us fear technology that has added so much to our lives and that promises to help us even more.

Celebrities such as Keri Hilson, John Cusack, and Woody Harrelson have repeated concerns about 5G—from how it could be weakening our immune systems to even causing this pandemic. These claims about 5G have gotten serious enough that Google banned ads with misleading health information regarding 5G, and Twitter has stated it will remove tweets with 5G and health misinformation that could potentially cause harm in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 5G is not causing the current pandemic, nor has it been linked to other health concerns. As the director of American Public Health Association Dr. Georges C. Benjamin has stated, “COVID-19 is caused by a virus that came through a natural animal source and has no relation to 5G, or any radiation linked to technology.”  As the New York Times has pointed out, much of the non-COVID-19 5G health concerns originated from Russian propaganda news source RT or trace back to a single decades-old flawed study. In short, there is no evidence to support many of the outrageous health claims regarding 5G.

Continue reading →

I’m making the opening chapter of my new book, Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments, available here. Also here’s the launch essay and the event launch video, which discuss how the themes discussed throughout the book have become even more visible during the coronavirus crisis.

Also, here are some lists of 10 major themes from the book13 key terms found in the book, and 5 innovation policy scholars who inspired my thinking. Reminder: this book is a sequel to my previous book, Permissionless Innovation: The Continuing Case for Comprehensive Technological Freedom.

I hope you will consider buying Evasive Entrepreneurs after reading this opening chapter.

Last week the Federalist Society’s Regulatory Transparency Project released a podcast Adam and I recorded with FCC Chairman Pai:

Tech Roundup 9 – COVID-19 and the Internet: A Conversation with Ajit Pai

A few highlights: Chairman Pai’s legacy is still being written, but I suspect one of his lasting marks on the agency will be his integrating more economics and engineering in the FCC’s work.

He points out that that in recent decades, the FCC’s work has focused on the legal and policy aspects of telecommunications. My take: much of the dysfunctional legalism and regulatory arcana that’s built up in communications law is because Congress refuses to give the FCC a clean slate. Instead, communications laws have piled on to communications laws for 80 years. The regulatory thicket gives attorneys and insiders undue power in telecom policy. With the creation of the Office of Economics and Analytics and Engineering Honors program, Chairman Pai is creating institutions within the FCC to shift some expertise and resources to the economists and engineers.

We also discussed Marc Andreessen’s It’s Time to Build essay. A thought-provoking polemic (Adam has a response) that offers a challenge:

[T]o everyone around us, we should be asking the question, what are you building? What are you building directly, or helping other people to build, or teaching other people to build, or taking care of people who are building? If the work you’re doing isn’t either leading to something being built or taking care of people directly, we’ve failed you, and we need to get you into a position, an occupation, a career where you can contribute to building.

As we discuss in the podcast, the FCC has outperformed most public institutions on this front. The FCC in the past few years has untangled itself from the nonstop legal trench warfare of net neutrality regulation–an immense waste of time–to focus on making it faster and easier to build networks. As a result, the US is seeing impressive increases in network investment, coverage, and capacity relative to peer countries.

The COVID-19 crisis has been a stress test for the FCC and the broadband industry, and we’re grateful the Chairman took the time to discuss the agency, industry trends, and more with us.

Recently, a group of Republican senators announced they plan to introduce the COVID-19 Consumer Data Protection Act of 2020 to address privacy concerns related to contact-tracing and other pandemic-related apps. This new bill will reinvigorate many of the ongoing concerns regarding a potential federal data privacy framework.

Even before the bill has been officially introduced, it has faced criticism from some groups for failing to sufficiently protect consumers. But a more regulatory approach that might appear protective on the surface also has consequences. The European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has made it more complex to develop compliant contact-tracing apps and to run charitable responses that might need personal information. Ideally, data privacy policy around the specific COVID-19 concerns should have enough certainty to enable innovative responses while preserving civil liberties. Policymakers should approach this policy area in a way that enables consumers to choose which options work best for their own privacy preferences and not dictate a one-size-fits-all set of privacy standards.

A quick review of the current landscape of the data privacy policy debate

Unlike the EU, the United States has taken an approach that only creates privacy regulation for specific types of data. Specific frameworks address those areas that consumers would likely consider the most sensitive and expect increased protection, such as financial information, health information, and children’s information. In general, this approach has allowed new and innovative uses of data to flourish.

Following various scandals and data breaches and the expansive regulatory requirements of the EU’s GDPR, policymakers, advocates, consumers, and tech companies have begun to question if the United States should follow Europe’s lead, or instead create a different federal data protection framework, or even maintain the status quo. In the absence of federal action, states such as California have passed their own data privacy laws. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) became effective in January (you may remember a flurry of emails notifying you of privacy policy changes) and is set to become enforceable July 1. The lack of a federal framework means, with various state laws, the United States could go from an innovation-enabling hands-off approach to a disruptive patchwork, creating confusion for both consumers and innovators. A patchwork means that some beneficial products might not be available in all states because of differing requirements or that the most restrictive parts of a state’s law might become the de facto rule. To avoid this scenario, a federal framework would provide certainty to innovators creating beneficial uses of data such as contact-tracing apps (and the consumers that use them) while also clarifying the redress and any necessary checks to prevent harm.

Questions of Enforcement in the Data Privacy Debate

One key roadblock in achieving a federal privacy framework whether is the question of how such rules should be enforced. Some of the early criticism of the potential COVID-19 data privacy bill has been about the anticipated lack of additional enforcement.

Often the choices for data privacy enforcement are portrayed as a false dichotomy between the status quo or an aggressive private right of action, with neither side willing to give way. In reality, as I discuss in a new primer, there are a wide range of options for potential enforcement. Policymakers should build on the advantages of the current flexible approach that has allowed American innovation to flourish. This also provides a key opportunity to improve the certainty for both innovators and consumers when it comes to new uses of data. More precautionary and regulatory approaches could increase the cost and discourage innovation by burdening innovative products with the need for pre-approval. Ideally, a policy framework should preserve consumers and innovators’ ability to make a wide range of privacy choices but still provides redress in the case of fraudulent claims or other wrongful action.

There are tradeoffs in all approaches. Current Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforcement has led to concerns around the use of consent decrees and the need for clarity. A new agency to govern data privacy could be a massive expansion of the administrative state. State attorneys general might interpret and enforce federal privacy law differently if not given clear guidance from the FTC or Congress. A private right of action could deter not only potentially harmful innovation but prevent consumers from receiving beneficial products out of concerns about litigation risks. I discuss each of these options and tradeoffs in more detail in the new primer mentioned earlier.

Policymakers should look to the success of the current approach and modify and increase enforcement to improve that approach, rather than pursue other options that could lead to some of the more pronounced consequences of intervention.

Conclusion

As we are seeing play out during the current crisis, all privacy regulation inevitably comes with tradeoffs. We should be cautious of policies that presume that privacy should always be the preferred value and instead look to address the areas of harm while allowing a wide range of preferences. When it comes to questions of enforcement and other areas of privacy legislation, policymakers should look to preserve the benefits of the American approach that has given rise to a great deal of innovation that could not have been predicted or dictated.

I really liked this new essay, “Innovation is thriving in the fight against Covid-19,” by Norman Lewis over at Spiked, a UK-based publication. In it, he makes several important points similar to themes discussed in my book launch essay last week (“Evasive Entrepreneurialism and Technological Civil Disobedience in the Midst of a Pandemic.”) Lewis begins by noting that:

There is nothing like a crisis to concentrate the mind. And the Covid-19 catastrophe has certainly done this. It has speeded up latent trends and posed new questions. The issue of our technologically informed capacity to solve problems is just one example.

He continues on to argue:

a crisis like Covid-19 will necessarily pose new urgent questions that could not have been anticipated. New initiatives will rise to meet these. Pre-existing skills, knowledge, technologies and attitudes will always be the starting point of new problem-solving quests. Where and how we focus attention will, in part, be based on prior cultural assumptions and existing technologies, and also on the novelty of the problem to be solved.

Lewis discusses how innovative minds are pushing back against archaic regulatory barriers, business models and government regulations. As he nicely summarizes:

Unimagined solutions are being pushed while a more open attitude towards experimentation, risk-taking and side-stepping onerous and costly regulation is starting to emerge. Human needs are breaking down yesterday’s precautionary approaches.

That last line really resonated with me because it’s a major theme that runs throughout my new book, “Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments.” As I summarized in my book launch essay:

Eventually, people take notice of how regulators and their rules encumber entrepreneurial activities, and they act to evade them when public welfare is undermined. Working around the system becomes inevitable when the permission society becomes so completely dysfunctional and counterproductive.

This was happening before the coronavirus outbreak, but the crisis has supercharged this phenomenon. Evasive entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the growth of new devices and platforms that let citizens circumvent (or perhaps just ignore) public policies that limit innovative efforts. These can include common tools like smartphones, computers, and various new interactive platforms, as well as more specialized technologies like cryptocurrencies, private drones, immersive technologies (like virtual reality), 3D printers, the “Internet of Things,” and sharing economy platforms and services. But that list just scratches the surface and the public is increasingly using these new technological capabilities to assert themselves and push back against laws and regulations that defy common sense and hold back progress.

Lawmakers and regulators need to consider a balanced response to evasive entrepreneurialism that is rooted in the realization that technology creators and users are less likely to seek to evade laws and regulations when public policies are more in line with common sense. Yesterday’s heavy-handed approaches that are rooted in the Precautionary Principle will need to be reformed to make sure progress can happen. 

Read my book to find out more!

 

[Co-authored with Walter Stover]

Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems have grown more prominent in both their use and their unintended effects. Just last month, LAPD announced that they would end their use of a predicting policing system known as PredPol, which had sustained criticism for reinforcing policing practices that disproportionately affect minorities. Such incidents of machine learning algorithms producing unintentionally biased outcomes have prompted calls for ‘ethical AI’. However, this approach focuses on technical fixes to AI, and ignores two crucial components of undesired outcomes: the subjectivity of data fed into and out of AI systems, and the interaction between actors who must interpret that data. When considering regulation on artificial intelligence, policymakers, companies, and other organizations using AI should therefore focus less on the algorithms and more on data and how it flows between actors to reduce risk of misdiagnosing AI systems. To be sure, applying an ethical AI framework is better than discounting ethics all together, but an approach that focuses on the interaction between human and data processes is a better foundation for AI policy.

The fundamental mistake underlying the ethical AI framework is that it treats biased outcomes as a purely technical problem. If this was true, then fixing the algorithm is an effective solution, because the outcome is purely defined by the tools applied. In the case of landing a man on the moon, for instance, we can tweak the telemetry of the rocket with well-defined physical principles until the man is on the moon. In the case of biased social outcomes, the problem is not well-defined. Who decides what an appropriate level of policing is for minorities? What sentence lengths are appropriate for which groups of individuals? What is an acceptable level of bias? An AI is simply a tool that transforms input data into output data, but it’s people that give meaning to data at both steps in context of their understanding of these questions and what appropriate measures of such outcomes are.

Continue reading →

Here’s yesterday’s full launch event video for the release of my new book, Evasive Entrepreneurs and the Future of Governance: How Innovation Improves Economies and Governments. My thanks to Matthew Feeney, Director of the Project on Emerging Technologies at the Cato Institute, for hosting the discussion and sorting through audience questions. The video is below and some of the topics we discussed are listed down below:

* innovation culture
* charter cities, innovation hubs & competitive federalism
* the pacing problem
* technological determinism
* innovation arbitrage
* existential risk
* the Precautionary Principle vs. Permissionless Innovation
* responsible innovation
* drones, facial recognition & surveillance tech
* why privacy & cybersecurity bills never pass
* regulatory accumulation
* applying Moore’s Law to government
* technological civil disobedience
* 3D printing
* biohacking & the “Right to Try” movement
* technologies of resistance
* “born free” technologies vs. “born in captivity” tech
* regulatory capture
* agency threats & “regulation by raised eyebrow”
* soft law vs. hard law
* autonomous systems & “killer robots”!