Lewis: Is there a technologist in the house?

While you might have heard someone call for a doctor or a police officer in a group setting, it’s unlikely you’ve ever heard the plea, “Is there a technologist in the house?” When faced with chest pains, we seek out a doctor. When betrayed by a business partner, we consult a lawyer. This is how we address problems — by seeking assistance from subject matter experts.

Specialized government departments, such as the FDA, exist for precisely this reason. They support the legislature and executive branch in specific areas of expertise. In today’s world, where career politicians and lawyers dominate our legislatures, it’s clear that they lack the necessary skills to determine the rules for drug approvals or airline safety. They require the guidance of skilled professionals from agencies like the FDA.

Given this sensible approach, it is perplexing that the government has not established a dedicated “Department of Technology.” Currently, there is only a small “Office of Technology Policy” under the president, but its responsibilities are unclear, and it doesn’t seem to address critical topics such as cybercrime, social media, or AI.

Although I am not an advocate of “big government,” I recognize that technology, like drugs, can bring both immense benefits and significant harm. It baffles me that our legislators, with most of them likely falling into the “technology illiterate” category, believe they can craft technology policies without expert assistance.

If we can allocate $30 billion for a “space force” to protect against space attacks, shouldn’t we also invest a few bucks to investigate and guard against the malicious use of technology?

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As a technologist myself, I fully appreciate the benefits of technology, but I also recognize its potential for harm. I recently wrote a column highlighting the risks social media poses to the mental health of teenagers. Last week, the Surgeon General issued a formal warning that social media may harm children and adolescents.

I also wrote a column about AI, acknowledging its revolutionary potential for tremendous benefits but also cautioning against its potential for misuse. This week, a group of AI experts and luminaries issued a statement emphasizing that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.” While this statement may sound dramatic, it certainly warrants further investigation, doesn’t it?

While overall crime rates are declining, cybercrime is on the rise, with reported losses reaching a staggering $10.3 billion in 2022, more than double the figure from just two years prior.

While a few states like Utah and Montana are attempting to address social media issues, their efforts are unlikely to yield significant results. The Senate recently held hearings on social media, but as of yet, no concrete actions have been taken.

Technology is a specialized field, akin to being a doctor or a lawyer. In order to establish reasonable and effective policies, the government needs its own set of experts. Relying on Facebook’s recommendations on how to regulate social media is like letting the fox guard the henhouse. It is a flawed approach that will never work, and we are already experiencing the consequences.

Just as advanced medicine can be a game changer for society, technology holds similar potential as long as we can harness its benefits while effectively controlling the downsides. Given the significant role it plays in our lives, it would be wise for our government to appoint the right experts to guide us on this journey.

Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.

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