CITRIS goes to U.S. Capitol to help inform tech policy

CITRIS to U.S. Capitol to help inform tech policy

by Saemmool Lee

CITRIS and the Banatao Institute are ramping up efforts to bring technology expertise to national policymakers in Washington DC.

Director Costas Spanos and CITRIS Policy Lab Director Brandie Nonnecke joined UC Berkeley’s Advocacy and Institutional Relations Director Michelle Moskowitz of the Office of Government and Community Relations for a two-day visit to the nation’s capital in late February. They met with Congressional representatives to discuss the new Executive Order on maintaining American leadership in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and to introduce CITRIS and the CITRIS Policy Lab as resources to further tech policy.

AI is a core research strength of CITRIS, and a national conversation is underway about how the technology holds great promise yet great peril if not deployed in a way that supports society. The executive order, signed by President Trump on February 11, launched the “American AI Initiative,” focusing the resources of the federal government to develop AI to increase the nation’s prosperity, enhance national and economic security, and improve the quality of life for the American people.

The CITRIS delegation offered expertise to policy makers to learn more about both the technology and policy priorities, and discussed ways to best support future research.

“We were pleased to see such active interest in AI,” says Spanos. “We had very good conversations with OSTP [the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy], Congressional representatives and staffers, and appreciate their eagerness to learn more about this powerful new technology and how it can best be harnessed for social good. It was also a good opportunity to introduce the new CITRIS Policy Lab as a resource for future collaboration.”

“The future of AI is dependent on a workforce that can develop the technical aspects of AI, but also combining that with the social sciences and humanities, and how do we support that research in a holistic way,” adds Nonnecke. “We were calling on Congress to continue to allocate funding within different federal agencies, like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, to support this type of research.”

One of the goals of the visit was to talk with Congressional staffers about the technical developments of the technology — where it is now and where it’s expected to be in the next 20 years — along with identifying policy priorities around privacy and data security. Spanos and Nonnecke presented a policy briefing on “Harnessing the Power of AI” to nearly 50 Congressional staffers.

Topics at the nexus of policy and technology are of particular interest to members of Congress now, and as evident from past hearings on Capitol Hill, there can be misunderstandings on both sides. “Policymakers sometimes do not understand how technology works, and those building the technology might not understand the regulatory process,” says Nonnecke. “The goal of the CITRIS Policy Lab is to support collaborations between technology makers and policymakers to produce more informed decisions and make sure that the process is overseen in a way that ensures the technology develops in the interest of society.”

The CITRIS Policy Lab is designed to support interdisciplinary collaboration, not only among CITRIS campuses at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz, but also across disciplines and sectors – and at the local, state, and federal level within the public sector. “One thing that’s very promising about our DC trip is that the federal government is very open to collaboration with academic institutions to better ensure that they fully understand how technology works and how it can be applied in ways to benefit society, and what are some of the mechanisms to mitigate the likelihood of harm in deployment, says Nonnecke. “Their openness to collaboration was very exciting.”

Looking ahead, the CITRIS Policy Lab aims to bring together diverse stakeholders from academia and the private sector at CITRIS to discuss the executive order and how it should be implemented in California, a global leader in tech and AI. Next month, the Policy Lab will collaborate with Berkeley’s Center for Long-term Cybersecurity and the Future of Life Institute to host an AI policy briefing at the California State Capitol in Sacramento in April 1.

Other CITRIS departments have also engaged state and local policy makers in recent weeks.

David Lindeman, the director of CITRIS Health, presented the thrust’s research at the “Regenerative Medicine and Technology and Aging” briefing last month at the State Capitol in Sacramento, for an event hosted by the International Society of Regenerative Medicine and Wound Repair. And earlier this month, City of Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin toured the CITRIS Invention Lab and CITRIS Tech Museum, along with Councilmembers Kate Harrison of District 4, Sophie Hahn of District 5, and Rigel Robinson of District 7.

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