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The future of technology is here. Congress is not ready for that


“It’s still there Many Senators Who Don’t Even Use Email – If you don’t use email, how are you going to understand some of these other tools? We need people running for office who understand these things.”

That was an invitation from Will Heard, a former congressman and author of the upcoming book The American Reboot: The Perfect Guide to Getting the Big Things Done, during WIRED’s virtual CES headquarters on Wednesday. Heard called for issues of cybersecurity, privacy, and responsible artificial intelligence during his term in Congress from 2015 to 2021. In a conversation with WIRED this week, he stressed the need for the US government and local and state legislatures across the country to hone their understanding of the role of technology such as disinformation The misuse of data and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly influential in domestic affairs and geopolitics.

A year after the Capitol Rebellion on January 6, 2021, Heard says the United States is no more prepared than it was 12 months ago to deal with the ways in which misinformation spreads on social media platforms and fuels violence.

“I don’t think we are better prepared to prevent this kind of insurgency from happening, and no better prepared to deal with any insurgency if it does,” he told WIRED magazine. “When it comes to Congress looking at and providing insights into how these tools are used, we haven’t seen much development from there. It’s an overly partisan fight. … We haven’t been able to have a realistic conversation about how these tools are being used to radicalize people.”

Heard argued that the platforms need to continue to expand community standards and enforcement policies. He discussed the importance of developing clear and fair liability policies, perhaps similar to the standards for journalists and television networks. He stressed the challenge in the United States of dealing with disinformation and conspiracy theories now that they have captured so much public discourse.

“These messages and this misinformation, misinformation and outright lies are being pushed and amplified by society, so a handful of elected officials are not ultimately going to solve this broader problem,” he said. “We need to educate the population about how these tools are supposed to be used and be able to separate fact from fiction.”

Heard says the stakes are high both within the United States and internationally. He noted that adversaries such as China and Russia are adept at weaponizing disinformation against the American public and have fanned the flames of conspiracy theories.

“Our opponents are exploiting some of these fissures to undermine our standing in the rest of the world,” he says.

Of course, Heard noted, few, if any, necessary changes are likely unless Congress can overcome ideological polarization to introduce long-overdue legislation. If the US has been slow to act on social media platforms that have been around for more than a decade, it appears unprepared to tackle the challenges ahead, from the metaverse to cryptocurrency to the proliferation of artificial intelligence.

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