Innovation & Entrepreneurship

For my latest Discourse column (“We Really Need To ‘Have a Conversation’ About AI … or Do We?”), I discuss two commonly heard lines in tech policy circles.

1) “We need to have conversation about the future of AI and the risks that it poses.”

2) “We should get a bunch of smart people in a room and figure this out.”

I note that, if you’ve read enough essays, books or social media posts about artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics—among other emerging technologies—then chances are you’ve stumbled on variants of these two arguments many times over. They are almost impossible to disagree with in theory, but when you start to investigate what they actually mean in practice, they are revealed to be largely meaningless rhetorical flourishes which threaten to hold up meaningful progress on the AI front. I continue on to argue in my essay that:

I’m not at all opposed to people having serious discussions about the potential risks associated with AI, algorithms, robotics or smart machines. But I do have an issue with: (a) the astonishing degree of ambiguity at work in the world of AI punditry regarding the nature of these “conversations,” and, (b) the fact that people who are making such statements apparently have not spent much time investigating the remarkable number of very serious conversations that have already taken place, or which are ongoing, about AI issues.

In fact, it very well could be the case that we have too many conversations going on currently about AI issues and that the bigger problem is instead one of better coordinating the important lessons and best practices that we have already learned from those conversations.

I then unpack each of those lines and explain what is wrong with them in more detail. Continue reading →

It was my pleasure this week to participate in a panel discussion about the future of innovation policy at the James Madison Institute’s 2022 Tech and Innovation Summit in Coral Gables, FL. Our conversation focused on the future of Progress Studies, which is one of my favorite topics. We were asked to discuss five major questions and below I have summarized some of my answers to them, plus some other thoughts I had about what I heard at the conference from others.

  1. What is progress studies and why is it so needed today?

In a sense, Progress Studies is nothing new. Progress studies goes back at least to the days of Adam Smith and plenty of important scholars have been thinking about it ever since. Those scholars and policy advocates have long been engaged in trying to figure out what’s the secret sauce that powers economic growth and human prosperity. It’s just that we didn’t call that Progress Studies in the old days.

The reason Progress Studies is important is because technological innovation has been shown to be the fundamental driver in improvements in human well-being over time.  When we can move the needle on progress, it helps individuals extend and improve their lives, incomes, and happiness. By extension, progress helps us live lives of our choosing. As Hans Rosling brilliantly argued, the goal of expanding innovation opportunities and raising incomes “is not just bigger piles of money” or more leisure time. “The ultimate goal is to have the freedom to do what we want.” Continue reading →

[Cross-posted from Medium.]

In an age of hyper-partisanship, one issue unites the warring tribes of American politics like no other: hatred of “Big Tech.” You know, those evil bastards who gave us instantaneous access to a universe of information at little to no cost. Those treacherous villains! People are quick to forget the benefits of moving from a world of Information Poverty to one of Information Abundance, preferring to take for granted all they’ve been given and then find new things to complain about.

But what mostly unites people against large technology platforms is the feeling that they are just too big or too influential relative to other institutions, including government. I get some of that concern, even if I strongly disagree with many of their proposed solutions, such as the highly dangerous sledgehammer of antitrust breakups or sweeping speech controls. Breaking up large tech companies would not only compromise the many benefits they provide us with, but it would undermine America’s global standing as a leader in information and computational technology. We don’t want that. And speech codes or meddlesome algorithmic regulations are on a collision course with the First Amendment and will just result in endless litigation in the courts.

There’s a better path forward. As President Ronald Reagan rightly said in 1987 when vetoing a bill to reestablish the Fairness Doctrine, “History has shown that the dangers of an overly timid or biased press cannot be averted through bureaucratic regulation, but only through the freedom and competition that the First Amendment sought to guarantee.” In other words, as I wrote in a previous essay about “The Classical Liberal Approach to Digital Media Free Speech Issues,” more innovation and competition are always superior to more regulation when it comes to encouraging speech and speech opportunities.

Continue reading →

[Cross-posted from Medium.]

[Cross-posted from Medium]

There are two general types of technological governance that can be used to address challenges associated with artificial intelligence (AI) and computational sciences more generally. We can think of these as “on the ground” (bottom-up, informal “soft law”) governance mechanisms versus “on the books” (top-down, formal “hard law”) governance mechanisms.

Unfortunately, heated debates about the latter type of governance often divert attention from the many ways in which the former can (or already does) help us address many of the challenges associated with emerging technologies like AI, machine learning, and robotics. It is important that we think harder about how to optimize these decentralized soft law governance mechanisms today, especially as traditional hard law methods are increasingly strained by the relentless pace of technological change and ongoing dysfunctionalism in the legislative and regulatory arenas.

Continue reading →

For my latest column in The Hill, I explored the European Union’s (EU) endlessly expanding push to regulate all facets of the modern data economy. That now includes a new effort to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) using the same sort of top-down, heavy-handed, bureaucratic compliance regime that has stifled digital innovation on the continent over the past quarter century.

The European Commission (EC) is advancing a new Artificial Intelligence Act, which proposes banning some AI technologies while classifying many others under a heavily controlled “high-risk” category. A new bureaucracy, the European Artificial Intelligence Board, will be tasked with enforcing a wide variety of new rules, including “prior conformity assessments,” which are like permission slips for algorithmic innovators. Steep fines are also part of the plan. There’s a lengthy list of covered sectors and technologies, with many others that could be added in coming years. It’s no wonder, then, that the measure has been labelled the measure “the mother of all AI laws” and analysts have argued it will further burden innovation and investment in Europe.

As I noted in my new column, the consensus about Europe’s future on the emerging technology front is dismal to put it mildly. The International Economy journal recently asked 11 experts from Europe and the U.S. where the EU currently stood in global tech competition. Responses were nearly unanimous and bluntly summarized by the symposium’s title: “The Biggest Loser.” Respondents said Europe is “lagging behind in the global tech race,” and “unlikely to become a global hub of innovation.” “The future will not be invented in Europe,” another analyst bluntly concluded. Continue reading →

Profectus is an excellent new online magazine featuring essays and interviews on the intersection of academic literature, public policy, civilizational progress, and human flourishing. The Spring 2022 edition of the magazine features a “Progress Roundtable” in which six different scholars were asked to contribute their thoughts on three general questions:
  1. What is progress?
  2. What are the most significant barriers holding back further progress?
  3. If those challenges can be overcome, what does the world look like in 50 years?

I was honored to be asked by Clay Routledge to contribute answers to those questions alongside others, including: Steven Pinker (Harvard University), Jason Crawford (Roots of Progress), Matt Clancy (Institute for Progress), Marian Tupy (Human​Progress​.org), James Pethokoukis (AEI). I encourage you to jump over the roundtable and read all their excellent responses. I’ve included my answers down below:

Continue reading →

On Thursday, June 9, it was my great pleasure to return to my first work office at the Adam Smith Institute in London and give a talk on the future of innovation policy and the governance of artificial intelligence. James Lawson, who is affiliated with the ASI and wrote a wonderful 2020 study on AI policy, introduced me and also offered some remarks. Among the issues discussed:

  • What sort of governance vision should govern the future of innovation generally and AI in particular: the “precautionary principle” or “permissionless innovation”?
  • Which AI sectors are witnessing the most exciting forms of innovation currently?
  • What are the fundamental policy fault lines in the AI policy debates today?
  • Will fears about disruption and automation lead to a new Luddite movement?
  • How can “soft law” and decentralized governance mechanism help us solve pressing policy concerns surrounding AI?
  • How did automation affect traditional jobs and sectors?
  • Will the European Union’s AI Act become a global model for regulation and will it have a “Brussels Effect” in terms of forcing innovators across the world to come into compliance with EU regulatory mandates?
  • How will global innovation arbitrage affect the efforts by governments in Europe and elsewhere to regulate AI innovation?
  • Can the common law help address AI risk? How is the UK common law system superior to the US legal system?
  • What do we mean by “existential risk” as it pertains to artificial intelligence?

I have a massive study in the works addressing all these issues. In the meantime, you can watch the video of my London talk here. And thanks again to my friends at the Adam Smith Institute for hosting!

Continue reading →

[This is a draft of a section of a forthcoming study on “A Flexible Governance Framework for Artificial Intelligence,” which I hope to complete shortly. I welcome feedback. I have also cross-posted this essay at Medium.]

Debates about how to embed ethics and best practices into AI product design is where the question of public policy defaults becomes important. To the extent AI design becomes the subject of legal or regulatory decision-making, a choice must be made between two general approaches: the precautionary principle or the proactionary principle.[1] While there are many hybrid governance approaches in between these two poles, the crucial issue is whether the initial legal default for AI technologies will be set closer to the red light of the precautionary principle (i.e., permissioned innovation) or to the green light of the proactionary principle (i.e., (permissionless innovation). Each governance default will be discussed.

Continue reading →

Just FYI, the James Madison Institute will be hosting its “2022 Tech and Innovation Summit” on Thursday, September 15 and Friday, September 16 in Coral Gables, Florida. I’m honored to be included among the roster of speakers announced so far, which includes:

  • Ajit Pai, Former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
  • Adam Thierer, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University
  • Will Duffield, Cato Institute
  • Utah State Representative Cory Maloy
  • Dane Ishihara, Director of Utah’s Office of Regulatory Relief

Registration info is here.