Technological Disruption and the Role of the Governor: A Roundtable Discussion

As part of the 2018 NGA Winter Meeting, NGA Future brought together experts from the private sector, state government, academia and the advocacy community for an afternoon discussion on the role of governors in preparing states for technological disruptions.

The roundtable focused on how the scope, scale and pace of technology innovation will only continue to grow and how we can prepare for the future. Participants of the roundtable were encouraged to share what they see are the opportunities and challenges of the new technological revolution.

“Governors are increasingly focusing on innovation and emerging technology, and how they can harness it to solve problems,” said NGA CEO and Executive Director, Scott Pattison.

Mission of NGA Future

The last year alone has seen countless developments in emerging technologies. Cryptocurrencies are a topic at dinner tables around the country. Robots are delivering our online food orders. We’re 3D printing jet engine parts. Smart watches are alerting wearers to medical conditions. Artificial intelligence is reading x-rays and diagnosing patients. Everywhere you turn, every headline you read, heralds a new era of technological breakthroughs.

The future is now. Technology has the power to generate prosperity and opportunity across this country — in every state of the union, at a scale that was unimaginable a generation past.

But, we know this won’t be an all-good news story forever. Technology will fail. A drone will fall out of the sky, an AI-powered assistant will be biased or faulty, an autonomous vehicle will crash and criminals will manage to hack all of it.

Understanding how states can benefit from the opportunity of technology while preparing for the challenges caused by it is the mission of NGA Future and the focus of this dialogue.

The discussion identified a number of insights to guide this work. First, technology leaders see an acute shortage of workers available to invent, design and manage this technology. Second, there is a great deal of mistrust from the public about how new technologies will impact their lives. Third, there needs to be a sincere focus on ethics, privacy and security as we grow our technological dependence.

Finally, governors have a real opportunity to lead in this space, from changing the workforce, to promoting innovation, to communicating the risks and opportunities.

Workforce

“Finding and fostering talent is the underlying foundation for promoting and creating innovation,” said Gov. Snyder. “We need to think about helping people get the skills to be successful in the fields of technology and innovation.”

One of the first comments offered during the roundtable highlighted a challenge facing state government and the private sector: there are not enough qualified workers to manage the current technology revolution. There was near consensus around the table that we need a radical change in how we educate and train the workforce for an increasingly networked and digital economy.

Attendees highlighted the need to focus on skills and competencies, rather than an applicant’s specific degree or level of educational attainment. Additionally, there is a need for long-term partnership between educational institutions, government and the private sector to constantly evaluate whether graduating students are
 prepared for the current and future job market.

There was also considerable discussion around the future of work in an increasingly automated world. However, the discussion did not focus on dire prediction of automation-related job loss. The participants were optimistic that new waves of innovation are likely to lead to the creation of whole new classes of jobs, many of which we cannot predict. At the same time, the group did acknowledge that technology is likely to change much about how we work and policymakers will need to prepare citizens for a future of technology-assisted work.

For example, participants observed that as we migrate services to robots, were going to need robotics technicians. Even if robots are more efficient than the labor they supplement, they still could break down and need updates, something that humans will likely have to do. Additionally, for 3D printing to realize its full economic potential, there will need to be a marriage of engineers and entrepreneurs. Universities need to bring together the science and business schools to ensure new technology is matched up with business need and commercial realities.

Ethics, Privacy, and Security

Early in the discussion, participants raised the issues of ethics, privacy and security as being integral components of any larger technology policy discussion. Not only are they important issues of their own, but they are critical to improving individual’s acceptance of new technology.

If citizens are more likely to believe that their identities are secure, their data is being kept private and the algorithms are being designed with an ethical viewpoint, they will trust technology more.

This is yet another area where government and the private sector can work together, and the sooner they can the better. Before government can to regulate standards in this space, these entities need to work together to identify common ethical and security considerations.

These considerations are particularly acute in financial services — a sector where an individual’s willingness to trust and accept new technologies is often much harder to earn. Individuals want to know that their financial information is being closely guarded and they are going to proceed much more cautiously when weighing the convenience/security tradeoff. In this way, there are certainly lessons from banking that are applicable to government as they consider adopting more technology.

Trust and Communications

A significant portion of the discussion emphasized the need for improved communications related to new technologies.

While some Americans understand the disruption around them, and see benefits from it, many view technologies skeptically and see it as a potential engine of economic discord. This challenge presents a real need to improve how we communicate technology policy to both the public and senior policymakers.

Technologists, entrepreneurs and policymakers can seize this opportunity to work together to explain, not just the opportunities created by these new technologies, but to acknowledge the risks. There cannot be a productive conversation around disruption without accepting that people, companies and industries are going to have to adapt.

Among the topics discussed during the roundtable, the need to have an improved dialogue around technology was woven throughout many of the participant’s comments. Despite widespread use of technology in our everyday lives, there remains a great deal of misunderstanding, apprehension and outright fear about the future scope of technological development.

Opportunity to Lead

Across each issue area there was a common acknowledgement of the opportunity facing governors to lead in this space. Citizens not only trust their state governments, but they expect for them to lead.

While technology is moving at a rapid speed, many times technology policy has not been able to move just as fast. Governors will be critical in helping their states’ embrace innovation, which has the potential of transforming how governments operate.

Governors can take steps, working with industry, to prepare their states to reap the benefits of technology. This can begin with opening the state to innovation. For many, this means accepting that the world is changing rapidly and government will need to adapt and change. States should consider updating procurement rules to allow state government to experiment with new technology. However, for any of this to be successful, governors need to provide cover to state leaders looking to take a small risk or experiment.

The need for leadership isn’t just within government. Governors have a real opportunity to convene citizens and industry to promote improved understanding of how technology is changing everyday lives. This needs to be a frank conversation, focused on how people’s lives are getting better, or worse, because of technology. Governors can highlight how technology is so integral to each state economy, while preparing citizens for inevitable change.

Next Steps

We are at a crossroads with technology. The positive use cases and success stories are numerous, but the struggles of those being left behind and the potential future disruptions are real.

Government must lead and governors need to be where technology is heading, rather than playing catch-up. NGA Future is helping them get there.

Acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank the following organizations, without their support NGA Future would not be possible: Bank of America, HP, and Postmates

I’d also like to thank the following organizations for their active engagement and participation in this event: AdExchanger, Andreesen Horowitz, Bank of America, the Charles Koch Institute, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Embassy of Canada, the Embassy of Japan, Global Impact Inc., Greenfield, HP, HPE Foundation, the Information Technology Industry Council, Intel, the Mercatus Center, the National Council on Disability, Postmates, Revolution, the State of Michigan, and the University of Southern California.