Emerging Technologies Washington Update

August 15, 2019

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This Week: Changes at Department of Transportation could impact AV, drone policy development, NIST releases artificial intelligence strategy, new report details opportunities and challenges for cryptocurrencies and blockchain in energy sector.

Week in Review

Congress remains in recess through September 9. While members of Congress are away from Washington, many congressional staff attended two days of presentations this week on new developments in current and emerging technologies at Georgetown Law’s annual Tech Foundations for Congressional Staff event. Topics covered ranged from “New Developments in Privacy-Impacting Technologies” and “Realities of Implementing the GDPR and CCPA” to “Data, Inference & Algorithmic Fairness,” “The Use & Impact of Facial Recognition Technologies,” and “New Approaches in Content Moderation,” among others. In the meantime, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) and Ranking Member Mike Rogers (R-AL) announced on Wednesday that the Committee has subpoenaed 8chan owner Jim Watkins to testify on September 5 as part of “ongoing oversight work on countering extremist content on social media platforms.”

On Tuesday, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) announced that the Administration will delay until December 15 a new 10% tariff on certain Chinese-manufactured products, including cell phones, laptops, and certain clothing, among other goods. The tariffs were originally set to take effect on September 1. USTR will also create an exclusion process for other goods.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced late last week that its new Technology Task Force (TTF) is seeking a Technology Fellow to support monitoring technology markets. Specifically, the fellow will play a key role in investigations into claims of anticompetitive behavior in markets where technology is a particularly important dimension of competition. Meanwhile, the FTC hosted a workshop today in Atlanta focused on truth-in-advertising and data security compliance in collaboration with the Office of the Georgia Attorney General, the State Bar of Georgia Antitrust Law Section, and the Better Business Bureau Serving Metro Atlanta. The day-long event marks the first in the newly launched “Green Lights & Red Flags” series in which the Commission hosts workshops with regional partners to address social media marketing, data security, and other timely marketing topics.

Looking Ahead

Amid ongoing protests in Hong Kong, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said this week that the House will move to take up the bicameral and bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act when it returns from recess.

On Monday, the Office of the USTR will hold a hearing on France’s digital services tax as part of its investigation into whether the tax is “discriminatory or unreasonable and burdens or restricts United States commerce.”

Vice President Pence will travel to Iceland, the United Kingdom, and Ireland the first week of September. Meetings in the UK will focus on the US-UK economic relationship post-Brexit.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced this week that it will hold its annual Spectrum Policy Symposium on Tuesday, September 10. This year’s event will focus on “Looking to America’s Spectrum Future” and will serve as an opportunity for NTIA to provide updates on efforts to develop the National Spectrum Strategy as required by the Oct. 25, 2018 Presidential Memorandum on “Developing a Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America’s Future.” Speakers will include representatives from the White House, various federal agencies, and the private sector.

Changes at Department of Transportation Could Impact AV, Drone Policy Development

The Department of Transportation (DOT) confirmed on Monday that National Highway Traffic Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) Acting Administrator Heidi King will step down on August 31. NHTSA, which plays a key role in autonomous vehicle (AV) policy development, has been without a permanent administrator since January 2017; President Trump nominated King for the role and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has twice advanced her nomination, but she has never been confirmed. DOT Deputy General Counsel James Owens will lead NHTSA in an acting capacity starting in September. With Owens at NHTSA, Senior Counselor for Regulatory Reform Christina Aizcorbe will serve as Deputy General Counsel, while General Counsel Steven Bradbury will also fill the role of Deputy Secretary in the wake of Jeffrey Rosen’s transition to the Department of Justice, where he now serves as Deputy Attorney General.

The announcement coincided with Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao swearing in Steve Dickson on Monday as the first permanent Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) since January 2018. In her remarks, Chao noted that DOT helping to develop a proposed framework for remote identification of drones, which FAA has said it will publish in September. Former Acting Administrator Dan Elwell remains at the agency as Deputy Administrator.

In the meantime, DOT confirmed late last week that it has terminated the Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation (ACAT), which met once in January 2017. ACAT was to make recommendations on such issues as “the development and deployment of automated vehicles, and determining the needs of the Department as it continues with its relevant research, policy, and regulations,” according to a statement announcing its formation. It was co-chaired by General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

NIST Releases Artificial Intelligence Strategy

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released a report last Friday on US Leadership in AI: A Plan for Federal Engagement and Developing Technical Standards and Related Tools. The report was prepared in response to the President’s February Executive Order on Maintaining American Leadership in Artificial Intelligence (AI), which directs the Secretary of Commerce, through NIST, to develop The EO directs the Secretary of Commerce, “a plan for Federal engagement in the development of technical standards and related tools in support of reliable, robust, and trustworthy systems that use AI technologies.”

The plan identifies nine areas of focus for AI: concepts and terminology, data and knowledge, human interactions, metrics, networking, performance testing and reporting methodology, safety, risk management, and trustworthiness. In order to accelerate the pace at which the United States can continue to develop reliable, robust, and trustworthy AI technology, NIST recommends that the federal government commit to robust AI standards development specifically aimed at 1) bolstering AI standards-related knowledge, leadership, and coordination among Federal agencies to maximize effectiveness and efficiency; 2) promoting focused research to advance and accelerate broader exploration and understanding of how aspects of trustworthiness can be practically incorporated within standards and standards-related tools; 3) supporting and expanding public-private partnerships to develop and use AI standards and related tools to advance reliable, robust, and trustworthy AI; and 4) strategically engaging with international parties to advance AI standards for U.S. economic and national security needs.

New Report Details Opportunities and Challenges for Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain in Energy Sector

A new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report out this week focuses on both the opportunities and challenges that cryptocurrencies and blockchain present to the energy sector. While “mining” some cryptocurrencies can create increased demand for power, potentially increasing electricity rates, others require less energy. Meanwhile, the energy sector could stand to benefit from utilizing blockchain – the technology behind cryptocurrencies – to support energy and financial transactions on a smart grid. As the use of cryptocurrencies increases, public and private sector stakeholders are evaluating potential solutions for the resulting increased demand for energy, though some state and local governments have sought to attract mining by offering reduced electricity rates.

While rules and regulations related to the sale of electricity are typically set by state public utility commissions, CRS notes the importance of maintaining safety and reliability across the United States’ electrical grid and outlines a number of potential areas of involvement for the federal government to improve energy efficiency in cryptocurrency mining, including establishing minimum energy conservation standards, voluntary energy efficiency standards, and data center energy efficiency standards.