It’s an incredible time to be alive. As new technologies transform the world, innovations that seemed impossible just a decade ago are part of everyday life now. But in this time of disruption, many people are understandably concerned about the challenges that come with such rapid change. Some are calling to block new technologies, impose harmful restrictions on current ones, or otherwise limit the pace of innovation. We seek a better way: a culture and policies that embrace innovation and new ideas while working together to adapt to disruption rather than holding back progress. Let’s ensure the incredible progress today is just the beginning.
We embrace innovation and new ideas. We seek to meet the challenge of disruption in a way that empowers all people to experience the benefits in their everyday lives.
“We stand on the cusp of the next great industrial revolution and developments that could vastly enhance the welfare of people across the planet.” –Adam Thierer, technology scholar
Life-enhancing innovations can come from anywhere. The first airplane was built in a bicycle shop. Many tech leaders started in garages. Norman Borlaug – who’s credited with saving over 1 billion people from starvation – began as a scientist in a small town.
Now we are on the cusp of innovations that can take our standard of living to a whole new level. For example, an innovative hospital is offering high-quality heart bypass surgery for $2,000, compared with the usual $100,000. OpenStax provides college students with free, peer-reviewed digital textbooks – eliminating the barrier of unaffordable textbooks that limit people’s learning.
Of course, innovations have always come with disruptions. The car replaced the buggy. ATM machines replaced the bank teller. Robots are replacing workers. The list goes on.
These transitions are never easy for those whose jobs are at stake. It’s why we support more than two dozen local workforce development programs that help people learn the skills for new careers – groups like NPower, which is helping people in underserved communities launch tech careers through free training programs in coding, cloud computing, cyber security, and more.
Throughout history, people have not only adapted to these sorts of disruptions – they’ve thrived. In fact, nearly 70% of people say life is better now than in past generations because of technology and 92% say innovation is a key part of American culture and history.
We’re working to ensure people can continue driving innovations that enable human progress – as unimaginable as they might seem today.
“The future will be as grand, and as particular, as we are.” –Virginia Postrel, The Future and Its Enemies
America has long led the world in innovation. We’re currently home to 14 of the 20 largest internet companies in the world. There have been four times as many successful tech startups here than the European Union. And the total valuation of tech startups in the U.S. is double that of Chinese firms.
This leadership has created millions of American jobs and brought life-enhancing innovations, once reserved for the wealthy, to the masses. However, that leadership is on the decline, due in large part to unnecessary and counterproductive public policies.
For starters, many innovators must get permission from the government before they can try something new – or even bring something to the U.S. that’s been developed abroad. For example, it took the federal Food and Drug Administration from 2010 to 2014 to approve a treatment for a fatal lung disease – even as it was saving lives in Europe, Canada and Japan. There was no other treatment at the time, and 150,000 patients died during the wait.
In other cases, powerful industries use regulations to shut down competition. For example, telemedicine – an emerging technology that enables people to receive health care over the internet – has already been proved to lower some costs by as much as 90 percent. Yet in state after state, the hospital and physicians’ lobbies seek to limit their expansion.
Of course, many regulations can play a productive role. But they also stop good things from happening. The approach adopted by the Clinton administration for the internet is a great example of how to strike the right balance. Rather than tightly control what people could do, the government established a legal framework that gave people space to try new things.
The result: a renaissance of innovations that benefit every person today – from e-commerce to global communications to ridesharing – and it should be a blueprint for innovation policy elsewhere.
“We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity.” – John Barlow, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace
At no point in human history have more people had more opportunities to express themselves – anyone with a smartphone can instantly reach hundreds or thousands of people on issues that are critically important to them and our country. As our conversations continue to move online, it only makes sense that the legal rights and obligations of traditional speech carry over as well.
That’s largely been the case since passage of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in 1996. Section 230 – aka, the First Amendment of the internet – ensures people are accountable for their actions online. It also ensures tech innovators such as Pinterest, Etsy, Yelp and countless others are not required to regulate the speech of the billions of people who use their services.
Yet today, some policymakers are trying to change that, seeking reforms that would effectively force innovators to censor speech or face ruinous lawsuits. As Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, noted, “Section 230 is the law that made today’s Internet possible… Today’s most popular social websites would never have taken off and the internet would look basically like cable. The debate about Section 230 is almost entirely about political posturing rather than ‘fixing’ anything.”
To be sure, the internet comes with risks and challenges that must be dealt with. And people who commit crimes must be held accountable – whether they’re committed in the digital or physical world. Individuals should be liable for their actions.
But keeping people safe and protecting the freedoms of speech and association is not an either/or proposition. We can, and should, have both.
Technology can improve all of our lives, but it requires a policy environment that allows for experimentation and a culture that embraces innovation.