The reasons behind all of those governmental task forces on tech

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The reasons behind all of those governmental task forces on tech

New York now has a law mandating a task force on digital currency, as well as a panel to study artificial intelligence and robots.
November 8, 2019

Before city and state agencies can take advantage of emerging technologies – and before lawmakers can regulate them – the government has some catching up to do in understanding both their inner workings and their potential impact on citizens. While the public sector gets a bad rap for falling behind on the latest in technology – a reputation at least partially earned – agencies and lawmakers are attempting to stay ahead of the curve with pilot programs and tech accelerators. 

A time-honored governmental approach to new technologies is with task forces – teams of experts from academic institutions and the private sector assembled to study the effects of these new technologies and recommend plans of action for how they should be considered, utilized, and regulated. New York now has a law mandating a task force on digital currency, as well as a panel to study artificial intelligence and robots. Those commissions are mandated to report on their findings by 2020. 

Historically, some tech task forces have stalled, including a New York City group convened to study AI. At City & State’s Collaborative Technology Conference on Thursday, Assemblyman Clyde Vanel, who chairs the Subcommittee on Internet and New Technologies, said that the broad issues that must be considered with a topic like AI – from algorithm bias to automation’s effect on workplaces to privacy and data protection – require a task force. “I think that an ongoing task force, an ongoing group of experts to help us figure this out is important,” Vanel said. John Katt, director of technology, development and data at the New York City Public Advocate’s office, added that task forces give government “in-house experts” on which to rely. 

Still, the risk of these groups is that they never move beyond the study phase and into the action phase. “There is the inherent weakness of the task force, where there’s a lot of fanfare when you’ve launched a task force and everyone loves it, and then it dies, there’s no progression after that,” Katt said. “It happens over and over again.” Vanel said that risk is mitigated with the state’s digital currency and AI task forces by the fact they’re required by law to report to the Legislature.

For the rest of today's tech news, head over to First Read Tech.

Annie McDonough
Annie McDonough
is a tech and policy reporter at City & State.
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