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tv   After Words Rep. Ro Khanna Dignity in a Digital Age - Making Tech Work...  CSPAN  April 11, 2022 9:03am-10:01am EDT

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i'll stay behind these black gates. >> presidential recordings, find it on the c-span now mobile app or wherever you get your podcast. c-span is c-span's on-line store. browse through our latest collection of c-span products, apparel, books, home decor and accessories. there's something for every c-span fan and purchase supports our nonprofit operation. shop now or anytime at c-span now, on book tv's author interview program after words, democratic congressman ro khanna of california talks about the digital divide in america and offers his suggestions how to close the gap. he's interviewed by founder and editor in chief of the markup, julia angwin. after words is a weekly program
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with relevant guest hosts, interviewing top non-fiction authors about their work. >> congressman, thank you for talking about your book, "dignity in a digital age". >> thank you for having me. >> a pleasure. i think it would be easy to put together the political vagueness how we should live in peace and harmony, but you interrogate in your own interesting way and fact check your results of the job training programs that you tout. you take positions on things the right to repair that likely don't make you friends in your district with apple. it's a brave book in that respect and it made me think about what was your general philosophy writing this? you know, we share a bit of history and both went to university of chicago. i grew up in palo alto, which is not your district, but a few miles away and those are libertarian, free market places, right? and you do have a strain of that in your book.
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you really do believe in free enterprise and education, but you advocate for robust government intervention, in mergers, privacy protection, jobs creation, and i would love to hear from you, our overarching governmental philosophy and how you square it with sometimes libertarian views of your district. >> i appreciate the time you took to read the actual book, which is not always the case. i would say two things, one on the book itself. my theme was, how do we have more democratic accountability for technology, that technology, both in terms of the impact on the economy and in terms of the impact on the public sphere has been disconnected from my point of view, led to concentration of economic opportunity on the economic side and it's led to an insular decision making on the public sphere side and the
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thesis is how do we democrat advertise that. >> in terms of more governing philosophy, i remind tech leaders that they started out on third base, i mean, it was darpa and-- gps was at darpa and i deeply admire the entrepreneurship and innovation of a lot of the silicon valley leaders, but i don't think that they should forget the government spending and investment that went into it and the government certainly has a role to make sure that people have equal access to participating in that market. as i often say you may have a competition on the football field, but everyone has to have helmets and uniform and the government is trying to do that and not everyone has basically the fundamental equipment to succeed in a market economy.
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>> well, that is-- i'm interested to know what you hear from your, the they can leaders when you remind them of that. in my experience as a journalist, they don't always hike to be reminded. >> some of the ones that are more thoughtful get it. i mean, i think the-- what offends, the many people of techling know, the bravado, you utopianism, and look, we've traded these platforms, social media and we didn't anticipate the harms. that wasn't the approach. we've completed these platforms and peace and-- if it's that easy why would you
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need political philosophy and you'd just put up a platform and everyone talks and have equality and dialog, then you wouldn't need 200 years, thousands of years of political thinking, and so, i think the same thing is true about the point of the government origins. i don't think that anyone nis that elon musk isn't a talented entrepreneur or steve jobs or others, but if they acknowledged the debt. elon musk got loans from the treasury department from tesla and he prepaid fast and he didn't want the government, and that's not illegal, but instead say everything is because of me. >> a good lesson of humility that's rare in silicon valley. i want to talk about concentration of economic power which you mentioned is one of the top themes in your book.
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you, it's a hot topic in washington right now, anti-trust, if feels like one of the few issues with bipartisan support. in your book, you layout four anti-trust principles that you say could prevent big test while not destroying what they want. rules to-- right to repair, limits and mergers and you want to stay clear of overbroad measures like breaking up big tech. you opposed to the bill that passed out of committee last year and said it was poorly drafted and now the senate has just passed committee legislation containing similar principles. i'm curious where you stand on the current anti-trust legislation and what you want to see more of. >> i support largely senator klobuchar's approach and i think the senate version is better than the house version. there are still certain tweaks i would make, but let me give you the overall philosophy.
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i mean, i do think that certain cases breakup are justified on facebook, where they've acquired instagram and whatsapp and i think you should have an unravelling on that company. and we want to have a ban on mergers that are acquiring competitors, but i don't think you want to ban, or be overly reflective on all mergers, there are a lot of startups that have that as an acquisition strategy as their exit. so i think that klobuchar says-- senator klobuchar says over $5 billion they should change the default setting and debate whether it's 5 billion or 1 billion and that seems to me reasonable. you want to make sure, in my view, that companies shouldn't be able to discriminate against sellers. so, let's take amazon or apple, and if i or you or someone else wants to sell on there, i think they should have a duty to allow that. they shouldn't be able to
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discriminate against selling because they are such important platforms. but what i do say, there has to be a balance. if they don't want, for example, parler or some app that violates their fundamental values or violates their security, they should have that ability as long as they can show that and i argue basically for a balancing test. where i thought some of the house bills didn't go, weren't drafted well enough is there wasn't this balancing test. there wasn't a sense of, okay, well, if you are discriminating against the seller, but you can show why it's a good reason like in my view on parler, you should be able to do that stuff. if you have that balancing test, i would be fine with the legislation. >> you had mentioned last year that you were going to maybe work to craft an alternative, anti-trust bill in the house, is that something that you're working on? >> well, i want to work on where people are at, because i don't want to do some alternative that has no
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momentum and then doesn't get through committee so what i've said to the drafters of those bills is i'm happy to work with them. i understand where they're coming from to help bring them to a point where they can pass and i do think the senate efforts were promising. i think that some of the tweaks laid in the senate bill with balancing and we could get there with the house. i've kept an open mind on the legislation. >> and i imagine it's tricky for you a little bit. google is one of your top campaign contributors, they're in your district and they put out a blog post that appeared to be opposing senator klobuchar's anti-trust bill, not stating what they were opposing generally that congress's anti-trusts tax were going to harm small businesses and privacy and didn't provide
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a lot of specifics about what legislation or proposals they were attacking, but i'm curious what you think of their blanket denunciation of the congress. >> they're in my district, while i don't take direct pac money, but a lot of people or tech leaders at google and other tech companies who have supported me and i'm proud of the support of having innovators and technology leaders, but i have been critical of the company in a number of places, including in the book. i say that the deal that they have with apple in terms of being the default browser is, in my view, too exclusive and that apple should offer more choices for people in terms of what browser, i mean, what type of search engine this use. and i have criticized on maps, for example, that google should
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offer other services on maps. so, i guess, there are places on data collection. obviously, the internet bill of rights, a lot of provisions which they may not like such as having a collection of data only after you opt in consent. the point is that i'm not a person who reflexively says that technology and apple and google are bad. i don't think that. i think they provide to civil society in terms of disinformation being spread out and people having access to information, in terms of communication. but i think there needs, smart, well-crafted regulations and i certainly wouldn't have a broadside against the senate bill as a weakening national security or whatever else they said. i mean, i think there has to be a specific concerns of whether the legislation is thoughtful or not, not sort of a, just a broadside press release.
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>> yeah, and i imagine that your-- internet bill of rights, i wonder if you could outline, you have, i think, 10 principles, you doane have to go through them all, but interested to hear your bill of rights. it reminded me of the obama administration, they propose a consumer privacy bill of rights. i don't know if you ever looked at it, it was interesting. that one had seven sort of principles and focused around on what individuals should have a right to expect. and yours is a little more specific around solutions, like opt-in consent or net neutrality. i'd be interested in hearing your solutions versus principles and also the principles themselves that informed you. >> i think that president obama, you're obviously very well informed on the topic, made a good start with this and todd park who is in the obama administration is someone i consulted and meghan smith in
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drafting this. and when i came around to doing this, it was after the cambridge analytica scandal and having the right to know what was happening with your data, basically the orientation of the obama framework, seemed insufficient. the challenge when these companies get our data and if they use that data to create intricate social profiles and then target us, that's allowing for a lot of manipulation. i mean, there is no doubt in my mind that q-anon is growing on facebook, on youtube, on other social media places because of these companies basically taking data and targeting people who would be susceptible to their message. then you look at instagram and the challenges that it posed particularly for teenagers, for teenage girls in terms of anxiety, and depression, and worst of junior high amplified
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on social media. what the bill of rights at the core says we've got to restrict the access and use of data. that the data should not be used to manipulate people's agency. this means first opt-in consent and data minimalization, that people shunting using data in ways that isn't necessary for the core function and as jack writes and i quote him. sort of a fiduciary duty between people who have the data and the well-being of consumers. and i think that we can restrict the use of this data, we would do a lot in restoring people's confidence that they can be free agents, free thinkers, and not subject to manipulation on these platforms. >> you say in the book that if you could choose one law that would improve the on-line experience, and only choose one, you would choose opt-in consent for data collection and transfer and use, anyone who
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has been by the accept cookies prompt on the website, it's easy to opt-in if you harass the user enough. if you think back to the fight for seat belts this cars, you would have to say that opting in is not good enough for basic safety standards. given what we know about the harms of data collection, tell me why you think that opt-in is good enough standard? >> it's not sufficient, but i think it's necessary and can move the needle. the reality is that you're right, with dark patterns, gdpr in europe had opt-in consent and the tech companies figured out how to have the right type of sizes on the website. the right type of boxes where basically they were getting many people to consent. so, you need real opt-in consent which mean you need the ftc to be enforcing efforts to manipulate that and you need regulations to show that you have clear, simple to
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understand guidelines for people to opt in, that it should not be something that's happening 20 times every time these boxes are popping up, but the first time or second time, you're choosing a service, that you could give clear guidelines on what you want and what you don't want, and that people aren't being manipulated. and that's not going to solve the entire problem. partly people, they're constructing profiles as i mentioned in the book, based on other people's data. they're able to get your profile through inference. so we need more than opt-in consent and we need data minimization and fiduciary responsibility, but i think that opt-in consent is a good first step to help with some of the worst abuses. >> and i don't know if you've seen what they do in france, but the regulators there are so strict on opt-in. so when you are in west france and you surf the web, it
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literally says i accept cookies or i do not and it's actually the most fun kind of video game and keep saying no and you still get to see the whole website. so it would be nice if opt-in could be enforced in that way like you're describing. what do you think about though, there's more, you know, aggressive proposals out there, your league congresswoman anna eshu, represents palo alto, to ban advertising, which would force advertisers to return to the old techniques based on content near the ad or the geography the user is looking in. some say it could be a good way to break up the duel in on-line, and some say it could destroy the industry. do you support her bill? >> i'm not for a total ban because i think there are certain uses of targeted advertising that are fine.
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for example, if i'm living in fremont, which is my home, and i want to have pizza, it's fine that the pizza places that are advertising to me are near fremont and not in washington d.c. or in chicago. and a lot of small businesses, actually, rely on targeted advertising. a lot of ironically, smaller newspapers, rely on targeted advertising because they can't pay bulk rates. and so, just to ban all targeted advertising strikes me as overbroad. but i do think this is where if individuals can say, here are things that i don't want to be targeted for, and my data shouldn't be used in these ways, then you could come to some medium and of course, if people are being targeted on categories of race, or gender, or religion, we, you know, that is the pace where he think you should have broader regulations and prohibitions.
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>> and your bill does allow, by the way, targeted in fremont and attempts to do some sort of battling of that line. it's hard to know where that line is. i mean, we, as a journalist, i've been writing about facebook's discriminatory advertising forever. and once they take out one little targeted thing like, okay, you can't target based on race, then people use zip codes. there's always a way to use a proxy variable, unfortunately so it becomes very hard to draw that line. >> i think on issues of race, i mean, if there's disparate impact, meaning if you're targeting to a zip code that prior to race, that that should be legal. my sense is that that's legal under supplemental law, to make it clear, that that's illegal, we should. and i haven't studied anna's bill in detail, but if it has
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sufficient balance, where you could still have small businesses and local papers use targeted advertising to build their businesses, but that you're getting at the most egregious types of targeted advertising, then i'd be supportive of that approach. >> one thing about the issue that we call privacy which i call data exploitation, is that the massive collection and use of personal data is also a monopoly issue. and the biggest have the duopoly in on-line advertising and in the ai race. do you view it data collection also as a monopoly issue in addition to a surveillance or privacy issue. if so, how would you address it? >> yes, no, i think it's a challenge. the challenge is how do you address it without violating privacy, right? so one solution would be, well, if you give other people, other
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companies access to that data. but then that doesn't seem right if people are giving their data with consent to a few companies to say that their data may be now used to other companies, for other companies, in-- without their consent. so, it's a very challenging conundrum. one possibility, if longer term, there are sources of ai that are now emerging that i write briefly about in the book that don't require troves of data. for example, when a young child learns a word, a cat or a dog, we don't show a young child thousands and thousands of pictures of cats and dogs, they kind of intuitively figure it out. and jeff tanenbaum is working on that, if the technologies merge that minimize data's value, that would be helpful. but, you know, i think in terms of google or apple or
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anti-trust issues, there are plenty to anti-trust. i'm open for data and balance for privacy and have to think that through. >> speaking of ai, you do have a five-point plan for addressing ai in the book and i just have to add, it's definitely giving, i have a plan for that vibe from your book. so, you suggest we need government audits for the ai system and the bias through bias impact statements, federal investments for the job loss created by ai. federal regulations for those who do the grunt work, and many control in ai weapons systems and finally, a strategy for making the lead in ai compared with china. there's a lo the-- there's a lot in there. i wanted to start with job loss created by ai. there was a time when we thought workers were going to be replaced by robots and
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recently, it seems like managers are going to be replaced by robot. and all of these workers, the gig workers work for an algorithm. and amazon workers effectively for an algorithm. it turns out that having a human boss is an advantage. and we've been working with an algorithm about the ways that people are scammed, the post mates for instance, calling and saying they're calling from the main office. how would they know, they've never spoken to a human and then they get their account drained. and so when you're talking with investments and job losses created by ai. what kind of jobs do you see being lost? for instance, we want to bring back the human managers, is it middle management really the place we're going to want to reinvest? >> no, it's a great question and i certainly don't believe we're headed to a jobless
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future by any stretch. i mean, i think, you know, one of the poents points i make, where i call for a $15 minimum wage and oh, if you have a higher wage you'll have more robots and they're going to displace workers and turns out amazon hires over 800, 900,000 people. they often don't have the dignity in their workplace and often surveilled by these technology driven machines. so i guess i would say two things on the displacement that i was talking about. it is the case that things that are largely routinized tasks can be done with ai or technology and i would just say that we have to make sure then that all workers still have a dignity and have incomes and
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have more to their contribution than just the parts that can be robotized. and so, how do we do that? how do we make sure that they're learning about the technology, using the technology, and also learning the skills to contribute? and that's, i think, it's less about the aggregate job loss and more about it doesn't improportionally impact. and the boss who you work for, that's a thoughtful point that you want to have human discretion still there and you want to have workers having more empowerment at the workplace. at one point, i make in the book and josh cohen was a really thoughtful philosopher at apple computers. in a democracy we often talk about our freedom as citizens, but so much of our time is at a
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workplace. if we don't feel free there. if we suffer the indignities of a boss or robot. what does it mean for freedom in society? so i believe, definitely, that whether it's a robot or not, the workers need more of a voice in shaping the 21st century workplace, which certainly at amazon warehouses they don't have. >> absolutely. the amazon warehouses, as you know, they've been advocating for the right to take bathroom breaks, that's a little bit of a long road from there to human dignity in the workplace. let's talk more about ai in china. you talk about how we need to make sure we're going it win the arms race against china and you quote john mayersharmer, one of my favorite professors from our alma mater, university of chicago and talking about letting china get ahead of us.
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what are you worried about them getting ahead of us in. and we hear them using ai to repress and replace their citizens and atomics weapons systems. are these things that-- >> certainly good uses of ai and bad uses of ai. we don't want to them to develop in space or submarines or underwater, a capacity that puts us at a disadvantage. i believe, for example, that we have to make sure policies on taiwan, that we don't want in any way china ever to consider invading taiwan, but more broadly, the use of ai, the use of emerging technologies, could propel productivity. could propel economic growth. could propel wealth generation and those are things that we want in the united states and precisely to your point. we want values of liberty and
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values of privacy embedded in these platforms and not values-- and not a society that doesn't necessarily value, have those values in their technology. >> so what do you think it will take for us to win the ai race with china? >> well, and i advocate in the book that i think we need-- we're doing a lot in terms of the private sector investment. we're 8-1 on china. but the government, really, hasn't been involved. and i think the government needs to be involved for two reasons, one, the type of transformative ai, the private sector may not have an interest for the reasons you mentioned earlier. it may be in the interest of tech companies to have ai dependent on data because it gives them a lot of advantage. that doesn't mean they're going to try to kill the innovation that's trying to be data, less ai, but they may not be investing there, but the government could. we could look at universities,
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and types of ai that may not be as data dependent and that we should be looking at the investments into broader education and training of folks to be operating in this world. one of the biggest disservices that people have done, in my view, when they say, oh, you know, if you want to have a digital job, a tech job, you have to learn how to code. and i talk about computer science education and it's so intimidating. i know you learned how to code at a young age. most of the people say i don't want to do that math and science and technology. it turns out as technology advances, actually it becomes more usable. i know little about a car and my dad knows everything about the car, how to open the hood and fix things. i don't need that, the technology is so advanced and the same thing is with computer, the technologies and advances makes it more accessible and there are millions of these jobs na that
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if you have a basic proficiency of understanding machines, people will be able to do without a college degree. and part of the book is to demystify what the jobs are. >> i would be remiss because, a lot your book is about job creation and i haven't actually touched on that yet. let's talk about that. you have a lot-- you're really passionate about bringing jobs to places outside of silicon valley and the ideas for how to do that. it's an interesting question because some people-- a lot of people are also advocating for we need to build more affordable housing in silicon valley and other tech hubs and bring people to there, right? so there are different ways to view these issues, bringing the people to where the jobs are now, or bring the jobs to new locations. it seems like you've staked out a position on the latter. >> well, both. i'm for building more housing in silicon valley just for the
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internal equity and as you know, there's a lot of inequality in the valley and i represent a district with over 11 trillion dollars of market cap in the surrounding areas, and yet, in east san jose and parts of san jose, people are usually rent burdened. 50, 60% of their income going direct. so from a perspective of the valley being a more equitable place to live, we've got to build more housing and more affordable housing there and overcome the nimby-ism of the community. but that's not going to do enough for the rest of the country. and there are a lot of people who don't want to move to fremont or palo alto. and we underestimate their attachment to their hometown and the sense of value that they may place under tradition and their culture and how people actually may be more reluctant to move now, given the costs, given the need for
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child care, and given the changing in the country. there's a familiarity of staying put. so the promise of the book in some sense is new job creation without cultural displacement. what if we could bring more economic prosperity to communities without asking you to move if you don't want to, and without asking your kids to buy a one way ticket out, and i think that post covid forced remote experiment actually makes it possible. i was one of the critiques, i had an essay on my book in the wall street journal and one of my friends in the valley said, ro, we don't need your policies because we're already doing this, we're recruiting all over the country and recruiting in the african-american communities and latino communities and rural america and having companies everywhere. maybe they're doing more than in the past, but we've got a long way to go and i think we can have policies that accelerate that. >> what is the key policy that
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would make that transition happen? >> i would argue two things, first, a significant investment in our land grant universities, our hbcu's, our smaller private colleges. in partnering with the private sector, to give people a credential or skills in what a digital job looks like. and a lot of these things, we don't have the proper training in a lot of the places right now and we haven't really funded it. and i believe if you do that, you would provide a pathway to many people having these jobs. and actually it was google to do that in rural communities and in hbcu's, and there are a couple of models and we should scale that. and the second thing for government contracts require percentage of these tech companies to have a work force that's rural or african-american, latino, to
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bid on these contracts and i think that would incentivize them to diversify their work force and same with gender. there are huge issues, and that old chapter on the gender and racial exclusion of the valley. >> absolutely. look, i grew up in silicon valley and i thought i was going to go into technology and work in hewlett-packard and there's a reason i'm not there and i went into journalism because it wasn't a culture that was very receptive to women. >> i think it would be okay and-- pulllizer prize winning finalist books and i think your career worked out. >> i'm doing fine, but silicon valley is still very white and male still and it often teams that that is reflected in their products. a lot of the products are things that men want like, you know, viagra delivery to your home and i'm still waiting for them to build me a robot to fold laundry and that's my big
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dream for technology. but you have a proposal in your book about, sort of the diversifying silicon valley which has to do with giving the d.c. firms, tax credits and black and brown women entrepreneurs, and i want to hear about those firms that are savvy getting tax credits and i'm always concerned about these big companies getting more tax credits. >> look, right now, the people who are writing the checks, as you put it, are largely nondiverse, and by nondiverse, it's not just that they don't have women or african-americans, they don't have people from rural communities, they don't have people from many parts of the country so what i say is, if you are going to be writing checks into funds that primarily fund women
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entrepreneurs or african-american entrepreneurs, there have to be funds for adventure capital for doing that. while i'm win to gain the tax rate, if you have a lesser rate if you're actually putting the money into that are funding african-american entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, you look alt the statistics and i was shocked. about 120 billion of venture capital and less than 1% of it is going to african-american or latino founders, and it's a staggering, less than .5% going to women of color. so, you know, it's a huge, huge disparity and if you don't have some government programs to fix that, i don't think it fixes organically. >> you also have proposed -- you have the endless frontier act which is now included in the infrastructure bill. >> the innovation bill, yes.
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>> innovation, sorry, can't keep track of all those. >> and you're basically talking about boosting federal funding for all sorts of research from nsf and also innovation that i think would be directed to also more diverse groups, is that correct? >> correct. i mean, it would be directed towards the middle of this country, the south, towards and greater gender and racial inclusion and the largest investment in our country's history in science and technology. and it's-- we're hoping to pass in the house actually in february. and it would be enormous for semiconductors, creating semiconductor manufacturing which would be deal with the semi chain. intel in my district announced in ohio. and those are the types of
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things that i think really can move the needle. i mean, if we can have a significant investment in advanced technology and manufacturing and we're spreading that out around this country and it's creating new economic opportunity. you know, at the heart of the book is the sense, well, you had the deindustrialization of so many places in this country. you've had the lack of economic opportunity in places, and these are proud places. i mean, cleveland was the silicon valley of the time in the 20th century as was detroit. they don't want just all of those silicon valley millionaires making money and having a handout. they want to participate with pride in the economic production of the 21st century. i think the road map to doing that and providing the road map for people to work on the coast may help reduce some of the bitterness, some of the division that is plaguing our democracy and really, that was the motivating factor for
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writing the book is how do we have technology in the service of democratic ideals as opposed to divorce from democratic ideals. >> and interestingly, it does involve the government really steering the ships and forcing a little bit of redistribution. it's an interesting and it reminds me a little bit of the space race. you know, where we got all mobilized to beat the russians in space and that did spur the last sort of big government spending on research in science and technology and you're kind of proposing a similar thing, no? >> similar to the space race and of course, i'm grateful for that because that's how my parents came to the united states. my father is an engineer and there were two things that basically changed the law so he could come from india, one was dr. king and the civil rights momentum that led to '65
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immigration reform act and the space race, we want engineers and scientists in this country. and what i'm saying is yes, let's have that investment, but let's have the distribution of opportunity and here is where i think it's important to have the distinction, this is not redistribution post economic production. though we need higher taxes on billionaires and millionaires, that's after production, the harder challenge, how do we have distribution prior to production. there's a book in the head of the london school of economics and she makes this whole point how the progressive left, the democrats need a vision that empowers people before-- to participate in the productive capacity of the economy and this book is trying to do that in the digital space. >> very ambitious agenda. you do have answers for everything so i want to talk
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about a few things that you touch on, some hot buttons, so fake news. everybody has a solution for fake news, although there's no solution, also, at the same time. yours is sort of an innovative approach, i think if i understand it correctly, people choosing their own algorithm that they use to carry it out and that's in some way open source. it seems like an interesting idea. i wanted to hear more about it and it seemed like it might be easy for malicious actors to game it. >> it's a challenging situation, especially with the first amendment and you don't want the government to be the arbiter of truth and most people don't want zuckerberg or dorsey being the arbiter of truth. how do we get better conversation. >> the two protesters have a study that shows if you actually crowd source what people listen to, republicans and democrats converge on 20 sites that they think all would
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be good sources of news, and now, that includes in there fox and msnbc, but it doesn't include some of the real farout stuff. and what i say, is if you had an option of streaming where you could stream sort of a crowd sourced option, then at least maybe we'd start to build a common vocabulary, but the point of it is is not that particular insight or a proposal. there's another proposal i have which says, you know, if someone is pro choice or pro-life and you give a time pro choice and i send someone who is pro-life an article who says why they should be pro choice. they're not likely to move into their decisions and move or deliberate. if a friend sends them that, they may reconsider. why not using the alternative perspectives that your friends have? that would be a simple tweak that could move the needle. my point is that there's not
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sufficient reflection in the social media companies about their responsibility to democracy. what they could do to be innovative to improve democratic liberation and you know, they should probably go to the political science faculty and hire, you know, 50 of these folks to think about experiments about how they can be stake holders in democracy, but they first have to admit that that's part of their role, and it's not just profit maximization as a company. >> just to play devil's advocate. like a lot-- most companies don't see their mission as anything other than maximizing profit. there's an argument out there, that these companies that basically govern our speech, of the political discourse that we have. most of them take place on the platform that they should be utilities. because then there-- they will be forced to be neutral and then, we wouldn't
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have them optimizing for profits because that's what shareholders demand and then they would be forced to have a public mandate. what do you think of that argument? >> let me address both points. i don't think a lot of media companies are simply about profit maximization. i think that a lot of companies are-- care about profits, but let's say, i don't know if you're still at the new york times or journalism, or if you've worked there. they care about, they've had a sense of, yes,we've got to sell newspapers, but we also have to care about what we're contributing to the public debate and i think that some of these companies have to identify themselves as partly media companies. yes, they're private companies, but they're media companies with some obligation. i'm reluctant to have these companies become utilities for a couple of reasons. first, i think that that hurts in part the innovation. and there's a guaranteed rate
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of profits and the companies not allow other companies to emerge. and there's certain types of speech. a public forum that's a public station that's important, and one contributor to speech, but there are a lot of speech forums that we want that may not be as sanitized as a public forum that the government sets the reasonable rules of debate. you may want to protest language of anger so what i'd rather have is a multiplicity of the forms by having good competition law and then hope with good privacy laws, with the internet bill of rights and that you see social media ethics emerge just like a journalistics ethics emerge. well, that's an interesting point. i think that journalists, these companies have resisted wanting to become media companies for all sorts of reasons, largely because of the liable: they don't want to be liable
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for what they publish. as a journalist, i worry about liability and being sued and being accurate in what i say. this is a hot button issue, but where do you stand on section 230 and liability for the tech companies. should there be carve-outs, more carve-outs for the immunity that they've enjoyed so far? >> yes, there should. for example, let me give you the most egregious example. facebook according to the ugly truth, the book recently published by two journalists the new york times, knew, the private security knew before january 6th that there were going to be threats on the vice-president pence's life and threats on members of congress' life, with concrete detail. there was a decision that facebook made not to share that information with law enforcement and just to sit on it. that, in my view, is outrageous, section 230 should be amended at the least to say
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if you have speech on your platform that doesn't meet the brandenburg test, incitement to violence or illegal conduct, you have to remove it, you could require a court order to do it, but that, i think, would clear these platforms of some of the most egregious content and public health and safety on these platforms. do i think that they should be responsible for every single post, millions of posts? no, i think there has to be, again, a balance, but there certainly can be certain reforms to 230 and a good start of it would be to have court ordered speech removed which violates brandenburg. >> one of the more intriguing proposals i've heard about section 230, the companies
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should be liable for content they choose to algorithmically, if they're boosting them or promoting them in people's feeds then they've kind of involved themselves in the content and that they then should be liable. >> you know, i'm open to that in terms of if that is content is illegal you're saying under certain standards and then they're amplifying that and then they become a publisher in some sense of that content. that's something that i would certainly look at. and it seems to me consistent with the first amendment because you know, they obviously would have the first amendment right to amplify it, but they don't have the first amendment right to amplify defamation and then they're actually involved. so, some-- that's another place where we could look to have reform. >> so let's talk about something that i don't think is
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in your book that much, but it's so hot these days, which is crypto, web 3, whatever you want to call it. it seems to me like you mention it as a cool innovation in the book. i guess you've pushed for some amendments recently that the crypto industry wanted clarified in legislation, but as you probably know, right, there's just enormous amounts of fraud in the crypto space. i think that the ftc said $80 million worth of scams just in the past six months of crypto. and so i'm just curious, what do you think about this industry? is it innovative or a ponzi scheme? what does it need to be done to rein it in, if anything? >> well, i definitely think there's some baseline innovation to block chain and the baseline innovation, as i understand it, to block chain,
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it allows you to transfer your money, a quicker way, things settle quicker and eliminating without a middle person, and so you're basically saving on transaction costs for remit tenses overseas or moving money from one place to the other and allows you, for example, to engage in contracts without needing niece necessarily a third party verifier, so you could have smart contracts and textbooks distributed this way where everyone gets a token, who wants to read a college textbook, reducing the cost of distribution of books or of-- while keeping intellectual property. so, there are definitely, in my understanding, a value that's being created and here i have a respectful disagreement with professor paul krugman, it's digital gold. yeah, it could be partly digital gold, but partly value
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added, but there's no doubt that there's been a lot of fraud and no doubt that something under the howie test, a famous sec case, is something that's seeking investment for appreciate should be regulated under the sec law of securities. and if someone is actually doing that and seeking investment that that should be regulated that way. now, there may be needing new laws of what a digital asset is in terms of how to regulate it, because a digital estimate may have some sense of decentralization where the company isn't as involved so perhaps if it's deemed a security. what would be more helpful instead of 10k's and 10q's, to learn more about the block chain itself and see what the regulatory frame work looks like, but there definitely needs to be a regulatory frame work in place. >> we have only a little time left so i want to end on an issue i think that everybody
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cares about in one of the most emotional issue in tech, children and screen time. during pandemic, all of us parents, i think, have given up the fight and i don't know, maybe just me, and sometimes it's on the screens. and you talk about how there should be like flagrant violations of copa and you argue the on-line children's privacy act and that companies should face the basic liability and kick off, kids under 13 and use maybe ai if people are lying about their ages. and think more about what you think can be done there and whether it's too late. if the horse is out of the barn. every kid is already glued to a screen. >> first, i think it's a hard time to be a parent in this age. and i say that as a father. and so, we have to figure out how we support parents in making decisions that allow
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kids to still reflect and think and play outside and not just be glued to their device, that the dirty secret in silicon valley, a lot of tech leaders keep their tech gadgets away from their kids, and how do we ensure that. and what i write about in the book it's always struck me as absurd, these companies can't figure out if the kids are too young in the platform. if the algorithms can determine what ads they might see and you can't tell if someone is under 13 on your platform. one, we should raise copa, 15, 16, and raise liability. and for teenagers, it's appalling. and they have data knowing that they're creating more depression, more suicidal thoughts amongst teenagers and how does that--
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how do we accept that? there ought to be consumer protection laws to make it illegal and the kid shouldn't be having likes and shares if that's the result. even if you want to have likes and shares for adults, you have to make sure that for minors, there are greater protections and i write about, you know, where i think some of the things can be sent and senator markey is leading in the senate and that has bipartisan support and could become law. >> great, well, i'll leave it at an optimistic moment that maybe we'll have some protection for our kids and thank you very much for taking time to discuss your book. it was a real pleasure to discuss all of this with you. >> i really appreciate the opportunity. >> after words is available as a podcast. to listen, visit
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