The Tech Policy Greenhouse is an online symposium where experts tackle the most difficult policy challenges facing innovation and technology today. These are problems that don't have easy solutions, where every decision involves tradeoffs and unintended consequences, so we've gathered a wide variety of voices to help dissect existing policy proposals and better inform new ones.

Introducing The Tech Policy Greenhouse: Let's Have Thoughtful Conversations About The Biggest Tech Policy Challenges

from the conversations-that-can-go-places dept

Today we're introducing something very new: the Tech Policy Greenhouse. This is a project that I've been working on for about two years now, and I'm both thrilled and relieved to finally be getting it out the door. It starts from this basic premise: many of the biggest issues facing technology and innovation today are significant challenges that have no easy answer. Every possible approach or solution (including doing nothing at all) has tradeoffs. And yet very few people seem willing to admit that, as admitting to tradeoffs in policy proposals is seen as a sign of weakness or giving in. But the issues facing innovation policy today are too big and too important to not have a truly open discussion.

And having a truly open discussion about difficult policy questions means a lot more than the way the media has traditionally held these conversations: pitting two sides against one another and letting them argue it out. That rarely brings enlightenment, and mostly seems to just involve everyone digging in to their previously held beliefs. Having an open discussion about big challenges with no easy answers means being willing to dive deep into details, exploring ideas that might make you uncomfortable, and testing hypotheses that sometimes seem absurd on first glance -- but then being open to the feedback, ideas, improvements, and critiques raised about the ideas.

The Tech Policy Greenhouse is an attempt to have those discussions. Think of it as something of an online symposium, where we will be bringing in a variety of experts to give their thoughts on these issues, but hopefully with the humility to recognize that what is being discussed is difficult, and understanding all of the variables at play is an impossibility. Part of this means that we'll be publishing stories that challenge us -- including some arguments that I personally disagree with -- but which we believe are being presented in good faith and for the purpose of open discussion and debate, in the hopes that whatever future policy proposals and decisions are made, they are better informed by understanding a variety of points of view, a variety of proposals, and a variety of ideas about what might work.

This does not mean that the Tech Policy Greenhouse will or should be a clearing house for nonsense or half-baked ideas. There are certainly plenty of those. Instead, the goal is to get the best minds out there, willing to discuss difficult-to-impossible problems in a way that allows for greater understanding and greater humility about the eventual policy choices that are made.

To help with this project, we are pleased that we have help from two excellent editors, whose names should be well recognized around here: Karl Bode and Mike Godwin. Karl, of course, has long been a writer for Techdirt, as well as a number of other tech, telco, and policy publications -- and has agreed to take on a more involved editorial role for Greenhouse. Godwin, of course, is so internet-famous that he has an entire "law" named after him. He was also the first lawyer EFF hired, as well as the General Counsel for the Wikimedia Foundation. His insights into all things related to tech policy are unmatched and always thought-provoking.

For readers of Techdirt, you will see the new Greenhouse posts directly in the main feed, though they will be visually distinct (you may notice they look a bit... greener). We will continue to post regular Techdirt posts and content in the regular format, but the green posts will be from various experts and will be based around a theme that we are exploring at the time. Our plan is to roll out a few themes each year (the exact pace we'll figure out along the way). There is also now a Greenhouse tab at the top, if you want to see only the Greenhouse posts.

There is one other change regarding the Greenhouse posts. While they will have our regular comment area, there will also be a separate "Featured Discussion" area, in which those who are participating in the Techdirt Greenhouse project will be encouraged to comment and discuss the other posts in the series. This is very much an experiment that might not work, but we're excited to test it out. If the panelist discussion is happening, you will see it between the post and the regular comment section.

Our inaugural topic is digital privacy, because we decided to jump right into the deep end of extremely important, but controversial, problems with no easy solutions. Karl will introduce the overall topic in another introductory post, followed by Godwin's introduction regarding his thoughts on why the privacy debate needs to be reframed. And then, starting tomorrow and over the next few weeks, you'll see a variety of Greenhouse posts from experts interspersed among the regular Techdirt content. We are also open to more such posts, so if you have expertise and would like to contribute, please feel free to contact us.

Also, I should address the elephant in the greenhouse: this project is currently sponsored by Google, Twitter, and Protocol Labs. For some, this will discredit the entire project. We set out to try to launch this project with only grants from foundations and without corporate sponsorship, but so far have not been able to find foundations willing to support it (if you know of any who might be interested, or if you happen to work for one, please also reach out and let us know). Given that unfortunate lack of interest from foundations so far, we were happy that these three companies were willing to step up and sponsor the launch of this effort which, again, is a few years in the making. From the beginning, we were upfront that the whole point of this project is to discuss challenging tech policy questions, and that if any company sponsored this project, they would probably disagree heavily with some of the content, but that we felt that enabling those open and thoughtful discussions was good for the future of innovation itself -- and all three sponsors seemed to recognize the value of the conversations, even when some of the content might go against the company's own interests (indeed, the interests of the three sponsors are not aligned with one another in many cases, and sometimes diametrically opposed).

Still, if this concerns you, I only ask that you judge the content on its own merits. The whole point of this project is to take us all out of our comfort zone. I hope that people everywhere, no matter how they feel about various tech policy questions, can at least recognize that thoughtful conversation and debate are important to coming up with better policy overall. I look forward to this inaugural discussion on privacy -- and I hope everyone here will welcome it.

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Filed Under: greenhouse, tech policy

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  • icon
    Brian O'Leary (profile), 27 May 2020 @ 9:11am

    Good luck

    I appreciate your effort, and I look forward to the conversation. Quoting someone close to me: Presume good intentions until proven otherwise.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 27 May 2020 @ 9:25am

    As one TV kids show always quipped
    "Information is ammunition"

    And as my science teacher at the time added
    "Don't shoot yourself in the foot".

    I'm looking forward to the exchange either way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2020 @ 10:34am

    artificial intelligence is the most likely technology to extinct humanity

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    tz1 (profile), 27 May 2020 @ 2:04pm


    Such a discussion is very important and I fall on the libertarian side of things. But I don't think that is what you want if your other articles are any indication. What is the point of yet another "Orange Man Bad!" forum? Expert echo chamber? My opinions are orthognal to both sides on most occasions, and more subtle. I usually find my self burned as a heretic. Consider "privacy". I posted about Anonymity. But that would interfere with targeted ads. Google (and Apple) maintain IDs, and I trust neither, but they don't fund the EFF to create a cryptographic persistent pseudonym system. Instead they use web bugs, javascript fingerprinting and other tracking. (TD - I really like some of the products you email me in your deals, but instead of any page or any easy way to find them on your deals site I get a tracking site; the cost to my privacy is too high a price). I go back to the PGP export wars during the 1990s on that (I go back further, but we are talking privacy). There are both legal and technical challenges. And they could be worked out. I don't think anyone really wants to do so if it will give "the other side" an advantage, or will demonitize Google who decided to be evil - Avarice is a deadly sin - and go full China but under a layer of virtue signalling.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2020 @ 2:42pm

    Avoid Wastes of Time

    "...recognize that thoughtful conversation and debate are important..."

    Let us hope to reject early and often attempts to introduce "teach the controversy" arguments.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Upstream (profile), 27 May 2020 @ 3:01pm

    Greenhouses let in sunlight

    The Tech Policy Greenhouse is an excellent metaphor for this project. And Mike is a highly qualified gardener, with an exceptionally green thumb. I look forward to watching the project flourish. With any luck, from this embryonic seed, a mighty policy oak will grow. Or possibly a crop of healthy ideas to nourish future policy-makers. But to plow this metaphor further into the ground, I have to wonder what part the sponsors will play. Will they be rocks in otherwise fertile soil? Will they constitute an over-abundance of fertilizer, and burn the projects roots? In any case, I look forward to future visits to the Greenhouse.

    Inch by inch
    Row by row
    Mike, I hope your garden grows!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 May 2020 @ 5:24pm

    "this project is currently sponsored by Google, Twitter, and Protocol Labs. For some, this will discredit the entire project."

    And that would be a shame, but about par for the course.
    Oh because they touched it we have no chance of it being anything other than PR for them... (said by people who have never read a single fscking word on TechDirt & somehow missed that everyone ends up with their feet in the fire at some point).
    It is an easy excuse to throw out to avoid having the conversation at all, well I will have lost before I even tried so why bother. Let me label it as bad, scream how bad it is, but never ever check for myself.

    For people playing the home game for the first time, this comment is REALLY damning about peoples preconceived notions of things coming from me.

    See if you read the bio written by the cartels:
    I am a criminal mastermind, out to make everything free, and murder puppies & kittens to make sure I can watch pirated movies all day.

    But if you actually look at what I have done yourself:
    Helped expose the largest copyright trolling operation to go down (so far). Highlighted how the law was being abused & offered up simple answers to correct problems (not the wholesale destruction of the law). Tried to offer balance to the completely lopsided law that treats citizens as a nuisance to corporate interests, rather than customers they need to serve.

    But then some people won't take me serious because I swear, because of the trendy avatar & name, because I don't seem serious while making hyperbolic examples even the slow reading group can get. And oh well... I am not here to be loved but ignore me at your own peril. I have unique views that aren't what the hype tells you they are, give them a read & see for yourselves.

    The greatest trick the cartels ever pulled was making you believe pirates were stealing from you... when they steal much more from society & our shared culture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Celyxise (profile), 28 May 2020 @ 11:08am

    This sounds very cool. if the comments are going to span multiple posts, I'll have to make an account to keep track of them. :)

    Hi everyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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