October 2023 US Policy Update
House Chaos Hits Home for Devs
In early October, a band of hardline conservative Republicans voted to oust Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from his role as Speaker of the House. This group viewed Representative McCarthy as insufficiently conservative and too willing to cut deals with Democrats. Since October 4, all business in the House has largely come to a standstill as members of Congress determined who the next Speaker should be. In just three weeks, nearly a half dozen members of the House have been deemed “Speaker designate” only to withdraw their names from consideration after various GOP factions voiced opposition.
On October 25, the House elected Mike Johnson (R-LA) as its next Speaker. Johnson has been a back-bencher to date, and little is known about his policy positions devs care about. What is known is that he supports a repeal of Section 230, saying on Twitter in 2020 “I agree with President Trump that we must repeal Sec. 230…” He’s also opposed competition legislation that targeted Google, Apple, and Amazon. Beyond those two issue areas, his technology policy positions don’t yet appear to be solidified. Johnson was elected to the House in 2016 and is among the least experienced members of the House ever to be elected Speaker. He’s a staunch conservative and a key ally of Donald Trump.
Installing a new Speaker was critically important for the government and businesses alike. The longer the vacancy went, the greater the risk for economic disruption as markets would get skittish and capital for small- and medium-sized businesses would become harder to acquire. We’ve already seen that because of the House’s dysfunction, aid packages to Ukraine and Israel have stalled. This means devs and the businesses that employ them aren’t getting the help they need during this very trying time in those regions.
Closer to home, Speaker Johnson will immediately have to avert a government shutdown. A government shutdown means valuable resources like the Small Business Administration, Patent and Trademark Office, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Commerce, to name just a few examples, would all be shuttered leaving devs out in the cold. We urge the House to get back to work quickly to tackle the policy issues devs care about. This includes avoiding a government shutdown that will only end up hurting innovation, job creation, and economic growth.
On October 30, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to develop rules surrounding AI. The wide ranging order tackles everything from cybersecurity, bias, data privacy, competition, worker protections, immigration, education, and even creates new roles within the federal government to oversee AI. Specifically the order will:
- Create a White House AI Council made up of representatives from relevant federal government agencies that will be chaired by the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy.
- Build on the White House AI Bill of Rights which were issued in 2022.
- Require some companies to provide regular reports to the Department of Commerce detailing plans to protect their technologies from bad actors.
- Encourage the Federal Trade Commission to enforce AI competition and protect consumers.
- Encourage federal agencies to protect data they collect, as well as fund new research on the development and deployment of privacy technology for federal agency use.
- Direct the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to issue guidance for patent examiners and applicants on the use of AI.
- Direct the Patent and Trademark Office to consider additional steps the White House can take to tackle copyright protections for AI works.
- Streamline visa applications for highly skilled immigrants who will work on AI or other critical technologies.
- Encourage the State Department to make it easier for foreign nationals on temporary educational visas to work on AI.
As for the role Congress will play in this arena, many lawmakers have been anxious to engage on AI, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Leader Schumer has held roundtable discussions with AI leaders to discuss an array of topics, but even against this backdrop he has indicated that AI legislation isn’t likely to be introduced until next year.
If you’re into tracking the waves of innovation, you know we’re elbow deep in the AI, robotics, automation, and drone wave. What you may not know is that many scholars are also lumping sustainability into this wave. Acknowledging that sustainability has a place in this conversation is a big step forward. For too long, the hardware that users and developers depend on to make lives easier, healthier, and more prosperous has ended up wasting away in landfills or things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch drifting around the Pacific Ocean. That’s to say nothing of the greenhouse gasses that result from various manufacturing processes and the energy generation needed to power data centers and AI. And that’s why we’re so excited about the steps companies that developers rely on – like Google and Apple – are taking to be greener.
September was a highly vibrant month in Detroit. The Motor City charm and its verve was fully evident and on display. Developers and startups are playing a pivotal role in fostering innovation and reenergizing the community. With the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), Detroit Month of Design, Electrifly – the state’s annual immersive event and TEDx Detroit, the focus was on mobility, AI, electrification, augmented reality, virtual reality, parking solutions, sustainability and much more. There is a reason that Detroit is back!
The House Innovation, Data, and Commerce Subcommittee held a hearing on October 18, titled “Safeguarding Data and Innovation: Setting the Foundation for the use of Artificial Intelligence.” The hearing was an opportunity to explore Congress’ role in crafting a new privacy law and how it might affect the deployment of AI. There was bipartisan support for the idea that AI regulations can’t be put into place until a privacy law is implemented. Democrats, for their part, voiced their support for data minimization principles to be included in any privacy bill that Congress considers. There was general agreement among the witnesses that a federal privacy law must build upon what many states have already implemented. There is no timeline for when a privacy bill might be introduced in Congress, but it is notable that there continue to be hearings on the topic in the House of Representatives. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and alert you when legislation begins to move in either the House or Senate.