Cancel Culture Is Techno Tyranny

Hyper partisan politics and our divided nation make it easier than ever to vilify anyone, any time, in any way.  In the words of Michael Corleone, “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.”

Used figuratively here, of course, but that is what cancel culture has wrought in today’s society.

While cancellation may seek to stifle speech, it causes social and economic destruction as well.  It projects permanence and public shame for its targets whether deserved or not.  And it promotes a kind of techno tyranny against which we all should be vigilant.

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Ending the Media Versus Police Tumult

Whatever happens with police reform legislation in Congress, there is no reason to expect that protection of reporters and media will figure into the proposed “best practices” of how journalists should be treated during tense and often violent situations such as we’ve seen in the past month.  Generalized protections already exist in the First Amendment, but as the brutal incidents of the past month show, law enforcement officers can recklessly bypass those enshrined barriers.

A slew of reports – some of them admittedly self-pitying – emerged in recent weeks with frightening details about how print and electronic journalists have been attacked by law enforcement officers.  It appears that sometimes reporters were singled out as they sought to cover the protests and demonstrations that erupted around the world after George Floyd’s death-by-knee in Minneapolis.

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Big Media’s Now Moment

Amid the deadly coronavirus and unfolding social justice movement, America stands at a momentous crossroads.  Following the tragic death of George Floyd at the knees of the police, a multiethnic, multigenerational mass of righteous protest is demanding police reform in cities across the nation. 

Captains of industry, in response, have hedged their corporate reputations on hefty pledges to promote African-American economic equality.  In stark contrast, the president remains defiant to convention and defensive of status quo law and order.

Chronicling it all in real time for the world to see has been the mainstream media.  Broadcast and national cable, in particular, have experienced a renewed relevance and a reborn sense of mission as the justice movement gains more sweep, scale, and seriousness.  This has been especially meaningful for local TV, which needed to burnish its credentials with American viewers.  Like many in America, journalists have discovered what heretofore has been absent from countless reports of black death-by-police.  Transparency.  Equity.  Empathy.

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Deploying U.S. AI Leadership for COVID-19

Among the cutting-edge technologies being employed by public health experts to map various aspects of COVID-19 both at home and abroad, artificial intelligence (AI) faces a test under life-and-death circumstances.  The ability of AI systems to undertake pattern detection and predict the spread of the pandemic and its treatments is promising.  The benefit of machine learning includes its powerful ability to analyze historic data to find key variables.  This task is dependent upon humans, however, specifically in the ability of data scientists who can work on creating data sets that supercomputers then can model.  On a global basis, this will require pooling both technical and human resources.

Given the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, historic data inputted for AI analysis may be of limited value.  Real-time data comparing growth curves in countries around the world, along with population and demographic information by neighborhood, may prove to be a better vein for producing actionable data anywhere and everywhere.  Automated machine learning also may improve the efficiency of data scientists, enabling them to focus on new data generation while relying on computer-to-computer analysis of massive-scale number crunching.

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Can Big Tech Be Reined In by Rules It Consistently Breaks?

Well informed observers of the tech industry have cautioned against two things: economic downturn and government regulation.  Each had a palpable sense of the inevitable – not a matter of if, but when.  As we enter 2020, the conditions for both are present, if not altogether ripe.

Dire predictions of a global recession have been hovering over the economy for several quarters.  But low interest rates, strong consumer spending, and investor confidence have kept the economy buoyant.  The new China trade deal and record-high NASDAQ belie economic woes.

If this election year turns out like others, the economy will hum along through the first two quarters, then decelerate as we head into November.  If an economic slowdown were to occur, it would owe as much to politics as to recessionary pressure.  And even that might recede if the president gets re-elected.

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The Challenge of Harnessing Change in a Global Economy

As the news media know better than anyone, the great story of our times is change – dramatic, accelerating, and often disruptive change.

The key question is whether our economy, our educational institutions, and our system of democratic self-government can harness this change for everyone’s benefit – or whether the tidal wave of change will overrun us.

To meet the challenges of change, we must think big and act boldly.  Our growing divisions, however – our self-selecting news bubbles, the tribalization of our politics, the noxious contempt each side has for the other – are making it harder to solve big problems.  The environment is certainly not conducive to serious dialogue or to constructive problem solving.

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An Independent Press: Essential to Our Democracy

We are living in challenging times for those who depend on the work of a free press.  Every day, journalists across the globe encounter censorship, harassment, and violence.  In every part of the world, authoritarian rulers are increasing their grip on the press, trying to prevent reporters from holding the powerful to account.

The Washington Post is sadly familiar with these attacks.  Our reporter Jason Rezaian was arrested and held inside Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for 544 days, even though he had committed no crime.  We are grateful that he is now free and back at The Washington Post, where his writing often focuses on the importance of press freedom.   

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The 5G Privacy Opportunity

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Sept. 16 that it would be granting experimental licenses for companies in New York City and Salt Lake City to test new advanced technologies and networks in specific geographic areas.

This initiative, dubbed Innovation Zones, will be especially useful in testing various technologies in real-world settings that will support 5G wireless networks.  These networks will offer a range of advanced wireless services nationwide, with initial rollout in urban centers where spatial and population density makes technical and economic sense.

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The Price of Privacy on the Potomac

In case you haven’t noticed, privacy – meaning the protection of your personal data and information – is all the rage today.  In fact, privacy has become very big business not only in America, but also in Europe, where the General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) mandated sweeping privacy protections for consumers and strict restrictions on how companies can use personal information and data. 

Doing business in this new era of privacy comes at a price, mostly for compliance.  Compounding this is the lack of clear rules in the U.S. where there remains no comprehensive federal privacy law.  It is no wonder that many companies have come to the privacy table kicking and screaming, forced to abide by a growing patchwork of inconsistent state laws with no federal preemption in place.

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Don’t Let Huawei Control 5G

President Trump has taken a firm stand against Huawei, the Chinese telecom behemoth – and for good reason.  Huawei is not your garden-variety Chinese company in the same vein as Tencent, Alibaba, or Baidu.  By many credible accounts, Huawei is a corporate extension of the Chinese government, replete with Beijing back channels and generous government support. 

In a report released by the U.S. Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence back in 2012, Huawei and ZTE Corp., another Chinese company, were described as potential threats to U.S. security interests precisely because of Chinese government involvement.  Last month, the U.S. Navy reported it was under intense “cyber-siege” by Chinese hackers.  These follow a litany of allegations that have Huawei engaged in spying, commercial espionage, and intellectual property theft over many years.

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