Can We Make Congress Less Dumb About Technology?

from the one-can-hope! dept

Earlier this week, a bunch of organizations — including Techdirt’s own sister organization, the Copia Institute — announced the launch of a new project, called Future Congress. It’s a coalition of organizations, some of whom rarely agree on anything with some of the other members. It is made up of organizations with a variety of political viewpoints and policy ideas. But, this coalition does agree one one thing: we need to stop Congress from being so damn clueless about technology.

For many years, we’ve talked about the unfortunate decision by a Newt Gingrich-led Congress back in the mid-90s to dismantle the Office of Technology Assessment (or OTA). This was the organization that was a non-partisan, careful think tank focused on providing useful technology briefings to anyone in Congress who needed it. And yet, just as technology was becoming central to our every day lives, Congress defunded it (technically, the office still exists on the books, but it has no funding and no staff). Over the years there have been many calls to bring OTA back, and every so often someone in Congress floats a bill… which always gets shot down (the latest was just a few months ago).

The goal of the Future Congress coalition is to try to convince Congress to fix this — for its own good. For many, many, many years now, we’ve highlighted how every time there’s a hearing related to issues regarding technology, nearly all of our elected officials come off looking totally clueless to a degree that is outright embarrassing. They could easily fix this — in a way that will both stop making them look clueless in front of the world and likely lead to better policy outcomes. Hopefully, they realize this.

I will note that last month there were some baby steps towards this, with Congress putting some language into an appropriations bill that fund a study of reviving the OTA while also moving to let the GAO take on some of the work that OTA used to do. It’s unclear if this will actually survive or do very much, and Congress should be willing to step up and do much more. Hopefully, this Future Congress coalition will help make it clear to Congress why it should stop being so ignorant on technology — especially when it has the means to better educate itself.

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Comments on “Can We Make Congress Less Dumb About Technology?”

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66 Comments
Gary (profile) says:

Dumb or?

"Can We Make Congress Less Dumb About Technology?"

As someone in IT I’m quite sure our leaders are technologically inept. I’ve dealt with too many people in positions like that, and they are willfully, arrogantly hostile to having their computer explained to them. (Don’t tell me what to do, just make it work!)
On top of this, our representatives are paid – and paid well – by special interests to make "dumb" decisions that are written by lobbyists. It’s their top priority.

So calling them "Dumb" is off the mark, IMHO.

E U Phemism says:

Not until you properly use "dumb" and "stupid".

Slanging in a trite colloquial mistake while implying lack of ability in others is ridiculous. If you expect to be taken seriously on an important matter, then you must at least use words with precision, if not be a precisian. — Anyone who has to look up that word, isn’t. — On other hand, the PhD papers I’ve waded through use multiplicity of syllables as a toy to rib all the other academics and/or tool to hide the paucity of thought from those simple folk whom they sneer at. — That’s even before they make up "math" that has no referent in reality. — Anyhoo, just say what you mean, and mean what you say.

As Alfred E Einstein said: "Ein Geseillschaft macht kurz der werte. TRES kurz. Mit dem choppenhalfer."

Whatever party school your parents paid for clearly had already degenerated about my high school level if let your lousy grammar pass. You reflect badly on all your teachers.


Oh, and by the way, the topic here is only vehicle to advertise your practically moribund "sister organization", the one which is "supported" by your Uncle Google and other Silicon Valley corporations to put out propaganda. — Heh, heh! "sister organization"! Good one! That’s actually just YOU, Masnick! — Another key point to convincing writing is to NOT aggrandize particularly with FALSE euphemisms. Sheesh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not until you properly use "dumb" and "stupid".

Whatever party school your parents paid for clearly had already degenerated about my high school level if let your lousy grammar pass.

This coming from the guy who just murdered grammar and the English language in the same sentence. I thought you were a "precisian"? Compared to your grammar, Mike’s looks like a candidate for a Pulitzer.

You reflect badly on all your teachers.

And you reflect badly on the human race.

Guess you’re just an admitted liar and a troll after all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Technology, progressives, stupid ideas and America

During the last two decades, a lot of new technology has entered the market. The audience gains of Facebook, Twitter, Google and others have been nothing short of astonishing. And no one doubts that democrats and progressives rule this new playing field, and that the major (and minor) news organizations have (with very few exceptions) become partisans that supports Democrats and Progressives without outrageously biased coverage.

And yet, with all that technology at their disposal, and with all the message amplification that comes with controlling that technology, Trump was elected. And even with every news channel blaring that Kavanaugh is a gang-rapist and sexual-predator and blind-drunk, all the recent polling shows that Republicans, and not Democrats, are becoming more committed than ever to supporting Trump and his agenda, and the American values abandoned by Democrats.

Democrats and progressives all but own the technology of communication. And yet their support has been, and continues to be, evaporating. Witness the ACLU and their ridiculous commercial comparing Kavanaugh to Cosby. Effective? Yes. To bring out Republicans to contribute and vote against guilt by association.,

America is Watching. Integrity Matters to Americans. Americans will Vote their will again, Kavanaugh will be confirmed, and Republicans will gain in both the House and the Senate.

Technology does not help stupid ideas. Watch and see.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 “Stupid ideas and stupid comments speak for themselves.”

Well, even you would have to agree that Trump is POTUS, there seems no real way to get around that fact. Even with all the attacks on his hair, his hands, is character, his bluster, (whatever), he is POTUS.

Soon, there will be very little doubt that Kavanaugh is a member of SCOTUS.

Sometimes what this crazy behavior of the Democrats (as well as your stupid retort) reminds me of is how much I love this country. America, uniquely in the world, accepts the premise that letting idiots and liars speak in public has it’s good side. When they embarrass themselves, repeatedly and publicly, it is a much more forceful condemnation than anything anyone else could ever say.

Speak on, friend. I’m really interested.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 “Stupid ideas and stupid comments speak for themselves.”

letting idiots and liars speak in public has it’s good side. When they embarrass themselves, repeatedly and publicly, it is a much more forceful condemnation than anything anyone else could ever say

I fully agree. The judge took one look at your drivel and decided that the inventor of email could not be defined. Great job.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3

“When they embarrass themselves, repeatedly and publicly, it is a much more forceful condemnation than anything anyone else could ever say.”

Goddamn you’re on a roll tonight! Most of the regular trolls don’t have the awareness to self criticise so accurately. Keep it up bro, the truth will set you free.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Hey did you see Lindsey Graham on the news? He’s on a roll, too.

In fact, it looks like Congress is on a roll, Grassley calling out fake news, Tom Cotton accurately calling out the Anarchists, Mansion (I always liked him) about to vote for Kavanaugh. I guess we will see in a few days.

That would be something, woudn’t It. Rolling right over the crazy liberals, both here, in the Senate, in SCOTUS, and then at the Polls.

Roll On, Baby!

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5

I wonder what it feels like to live with a mindset of absolute certainty—to think that you know the truth of every matter better than God, to believe that your way is the best way and your thoughts are the best thoughts and your dick is the best dick.

I wuold ask Donald Trump, but considering his busy schedule, I guess I will have to settle for you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

And are certain of few. For example, which sex you are, or which sex you prefer.

But as an American, you can be certain about the Constitution. As long as good men will stand up for what is right (like Trump, Graham, Cotton, Grassley and others), due process will be a certainty in the US. Presumption of Innocence will be a certainty.

Just imagine how much fun Kavanaugh is going to have on the court after this fiasco. He will make it a life mission to right the wrongs he and other good Americans have been subjected to, here, in the News, in the Senate, and other places.

MAGA. Confirm Kavanaugh.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

As long as good men will stand up for what is right (like Trump, Graham, Cotton, Grassley and others), due process will be a certainty in the US. Presumption of Innocence will be a certainty.

Oh yes, like all those thousands of innocents that were prosecuted for rioting who didn’t actually riot. Or the millions of people who visited a protest site the DOJ wanted to be exposed and prosecute. Or the blatant lying and ignoring of facts surrounding the NN repeal. Or the continual railing against due process in the Russia investigation, threats to fire them, pass executive orders to make it stop, etc… I could go on. Yes, due process abounds in this administration.

Just imagine how much fun Kavanaugh is going to have on the court after this fiasco. He will make it a life mission to right the wrongs he and other good Americans have been subjected to, here, in the News, in the Senate, and other places.

Oh? And how is he going to do that. He can’t make laws, he is only one voice, and he can only overturn laws that are clearly unconstitutional (if a majority of the other justices agree).

Looks like he’s probably not going to have much fun, even if he is confirmed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 “Stupid ideas and stupid comments speak for themselves.”

Well, even you would have to agree that Trump is POTUS, there seems no real way to get around that fact.

Yes, and I called he would win when he first announced it. Why? Because he was a "throw the bums out" vote. He came out of nowhere, not from within the typical parties and originally ran as an independent. He started off his whole campaign with his "drain the swamp" slogan. Of course he won. People are sick of the status quo, Trump was an alternative to the status quo. A bad alternative but an alternative nonetheless.

That’s the only reason he won. Not because he would actually be good at being POTUS, not because he had some magical quality that everyone rushed to, no, he offered the American people an alternative to a bad situation. The fact that most couldn’t recognize that that alternative was rushing from the frying pan into the fire didn’t matter to the voters.

When they embarrass themselves, repeatedly and publicly, it is a much more forceful condemnation than anything anyone else could ever say.

Yep. And Trump has done that in spades. He may be POTUS, that doesn’t mean he’s very good at it, or that he will win a second term. America has had just about all of him they can take.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 “Stupid ideas and stupid comments speak for themselves.”

It is my belief that was simply because nobody could say for certain what he would do once in office and people failed to account for the “throw the bums out” effect vote.

Now that he’s had a chance to fall flat on his face in the mud, his chances of re-election are slim. If even his own party is abandoning him, I doubt he’s got great chances in the next election. Even if he did somehow manage to get re-elected, he’d be a lame duck since I think other parties would sweep the rest of the docket.

Anonymous Coward says:

For best results...

I think the way to get the best results here is to elect actual scientists and engineers – they have generally stayed out of it for various reasons compared to lawyers but that should be a powerful incentive. One is thoroughly trained at dealing with objective reality (or a good proxy of it at least), the other is thoroughly trained with telling people what they want to here based on selective consistency with what was said in the past. Congress has already practiced willful ignorance because it interfered with pleasing their lobbyists – electing people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: For best results...

Scientists and engineers make progress via co-operation, while lawyers make it big if they win their conflicts with others in courts.So guess which group thinks they are best suited to ruling society. Also, the scientists and engineers I need to research that does not play as well with reporters as a politicians the answer to the problem is.

TDR says:

What I would like to see is a Congress of everyday people as the Founders intended, a Congress of teachers, plumbers, carpenters, doctors, engineers, scientists, etc. Ordinary people whose income both before and after office does not exceed six digits and can be as low as five digits. Also, remove extra terms. With only one term, there is no need to fundraise for re-election and so lobbyists and special interests lose their power.

Anonymous Coward says:

Everybody has their favored approach to getting things to work–bigger hammer, faster microprocessor, more guns, more hypergolic compounds, slicker blather, more refined logic, whatever. Ideally, people gravitate to a job where their favored approach works.

The short answer is, most engineers, chemists, and mathematicians don’t WANT to do what it takes to make congress work (and wouldn’t do it well if they tried.) Instead, lawyers, insurance salesmen, and life coaches gravitate to those offices–and, when they know what the right thing is, and care to do it, they are able to do it.

Congresscritters DON’T (and never will) hire “intelligent” or “knowledgeable” people. They will always hire people they trust–close friends, long-time supporters, people who (they KNOW) will help them. And, for a fast-blatherer, intelligence itself is an untrusted thing–the intelligent blatherer could be a faster blatherer–thus, a superior rival rather than a help.

And a blatherer type doesn’t WANT an intelligent answer. He wants a quick answer that won’t hurt his friends–very much.

I don’t have the solution. Mike has had good success becoming a resource for congressional aides. And that’s perhaps the best thing a nerd can do.

The rest of us help best by keeping the conversation civil and nonpartisan. Mark down the trolls, gratuitous insults and offensive language–AND partisans of all flavors; NEVER reply to them. There are lots of toilets online; let this site be a safe drinking fountain instead.

Anonymous Coward says:

Looks like a good group. Except for a few bad apples.

TechFreedom, R Street, FreedomWorks, the ITIF, and the Institute for Technology Law & Policy are pro-business mouthpieces that actively benefit from Congress being technologically illiterate. Who the hell let those corporate shills into the group? If there’s ever a Congress in the future that’s well-versed in technological matters, it wouldn’t be listening to those organizations, that’s for damn sure.

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