Tech and Government Talk Innovations in Silicon Beach

October 3, 2017 - 17 minutes read

It’s an understatement to say that we live in exciting times. Technological innovation is barreling forward at breakneck speed, improving our quality of life in many respects. With breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and the thriving mobile technology landscape, humanity is achieving things that even the most optimistic among us would have thought impossible a decade ago — and we are poised to accomplish so much more in the years to come.

On the flip side, headlines about issues like the Equifax hack or Elon Musk’s fears about an artificial intelligence apocalypse create a sense of dread about the future among the general public. A lot of these emerging technologies seem like stuff straight out of sci-fi, so who’s to say that the dystopian futures we see on TV or read about in books aren’t becoming increasingly more plausible?

Many of our politicians are just as confused by the big issues in tech as the rest of the public — which can make passing tech-friendly legislation a challenge. But lawmakers are as curious about the future of tech as anybody else and have long lists of questions about how innovation works, where it’s headed, and how it can help us all. But who is going to answer all those questions?

Tech and politics meet at Innovations in Silicon Beach

“The technological innovation we’re witnessing is poised to send shockwaves through every facet of society. Our nation’s political and business leaders have a limited timeline to come together and overcome the challenges ahead of us.” – Dogtown co-founder and CEO Marc Fischer

This past Thursday, Dogtown Media had the great pleasure of presenting a mobile app developer’s perspectives on some of the hottest issues in tech to government officials as part of the Innovations in Silicon Beach event. We hosted several political leaders for a wide-ranging conversation covering AI and the future of humanity, cybersecurity breaches like the Equifax hack, and the ways in which design and behavioral psychology influence how we consume technology.

Facilitated by our colleagues at ACT | The App Association, a D.C.-based public policy group that lobbies for app developers’ best interests, this summit gave us a chance to share our informed views on tech with lawmakers who have the power to encourage innovation — or to stifle it.

There’s a misconception that Silicon Valley is filled with a bunch of libertarians who want to keep the government’s mitts off their innovations. It’s not that tech leaders hate regulations so much as they just want smart regulations that will push innovation forward and keep technology working for the greater good of humanity. We believe that these tech- (and humanity-)friendly policies are only possible through education and open dialogue between the tech world and D.C.

Innovations in Silicon Beach was a perfect opportunity to share big ideas with a distinguished lineup of counsels, legislative directors, and other government officials from across 7 congressional districts and 5 major federal committees (including the committees on the Judiciary and Ways and Means). We’d like to think that everybody walked away with a clearer picture of what the future holds and how we can best shape our common destiny.

Tech fortune telling: Is the future bright or bleak?

Of course, there is no crystal ball that can tell us what the future holds, but we do have experts like Dogtown’s co-founder and CEO Marc Fischer to provide us with informed opinions on what we can expect in the coming era of technological innovation. In addition to being at the helm of one of the top mobile app developers in Los Angeles and one of the top 500 fastest growing private companies in America, Marc is an educator, creative technologist, and advocate for smart tech policies.

Innovations in Silicon Beach gave him the chance to share his passionate and clarifying take on the future with an audience that can actually help shape it. His presentation, Tech Fortune Telling: Is the Future Bright or Bleak?, breaks down the opportunities, challenges, and solutions that come along with exponential innovation.

What do we mean by exponential innovation? Consider the app economy, which really got rolling ten years ago with the advent of the original iPhone. Now the app economy is a $1.3 trillion dollar industry that employs some 1.7 million people. But this is only the beginning: leading analyst firm App Annie predicts that the app economy will increase 380% by 2021, bringing its total value to an astonishing $6.3 trillion.

Consider that sort of explosive growth one of the opportunities Marc is talking about. Accelerated technological advancement will enable major cost savings, generate huge revenues, and allow new businesses to thrive. And that’s not to mention the vast improvements to our lives technology brings, whether it is just making simple tasks more convenient or adding precious years to our lives.

But with these leaps forward come difficult choices and real dangers. Advances in artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics are already helping businesses by keeping costs low and improving efficiency (how do you think Amazon pulls off two-day shipping?). But this incredible progress poses a threat to millions of jobs: according to consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, 38% of American jobs will be disrupted by automation by 2030. What are truck drivers, hospitality workers, administrative assistants, and fast food workers going to do when they are replaced by machines?

Fortunately, we can start to make decisions now that will steer society away from catastrophe. If we act wisely today, we can prevent a future of devastating economic fallout and robot overlords by promoting solutions like better workforce training, STEM education programs, industry engagement, and smart regulations.

Inside the Equifax hack

More immediate than the dangers of AI gone awry are the cybersecurity breaches that have been popping up in the headlines with alarming regularity. The Equifax incident is only the latest in a long line of hacks. There was the WannaCry ransomware attack back in May, reports of hackers targeting nuclear power plants, and, of course, the Russian interference into the 2016 election. And those are just a few examples.

It can be hard to know what to make of these attacks without an expert on hand, which is why we’re glad to have Rob Pope on our team. Rob isn’t just our co-founder and CTO, he’s our resident cybersecurity expert, with more than 10 years of invaluable experience in the field. During Innovations in Silicon Beach, Rob presented his analysis of the Equifax hack, as well as some preventative measures that we can take to prevent more of these breaches.

In this day and age, data breaches are not uncommon, but when they involve sensitive data like Social Security and credit card numbers, they are not to be taken lightly. During the Equifax hack, 143 million Social Security numbers were compromised and 209,000 credit card numbers were accessed. It is now recognized as the worst data breach in America to date.

Making matters worse, there was a sizable gap between when the breaches took place and when those breaches were actually reported. Hackers first exploited a vulnerability in the Apache Struts web server software that Equifax uses back in March. Despite the fact that a patch for this vulnerability was released on March 8th, hackers were able to exploit the same vulnerability again on July 29th.

Yet reports of these massive breaches didn’t go public until September 7th. The company is now facing heat for its lack of transparency and failure to patch the server before another attack. In the aftermath of the hack, Equifax’s chief information officer, chief security officer, and CEO have left the company. (To find out if you were affected by this hack, click here).

After presenting the facts of the Equifax breach, Rob’s presentation moved on to a live hack in order to demonstrate how hackers exploit vulnerabilities in a system. These live hacks are something of a Rob specialty (check out the video of his “botnet in a box” hack below). They help to demystify hacking and to underline how susceptible our data is to attack.

But that doesn’t mean we should walk around in fear that our data is about to be scooped up by bad actors. These sorts of attacks can be prevented with the right measures. Rob proposes the following preventative measures:

  • Technology. There is technology available that can both instantly detect data loss and stop it. Organizations need to take advantage of this technology.
  • Cybersecurity education. There’s a short supply of cybersecurity experts out there (and as a result, they don’t come cheap). We need educational programs to prepare the cybersecurity experts of tomorrow — because we’re going to need a lot of them.
  • Policy. It is necessary to put structure in place to punish organizations that keep breaches like this under wraps.


A crash course in design thinking and user research

In addition to educating our guests on technological innovation, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity, we wanted to invite them into our process and show them the thinking behind our app design. Designer Kim Calderone and Director of Business Development Marc Feder are two of the user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) gurus on the Dogtown team. Their presentation to the Innovations in Silicon Beach crowd emphasized the human element that is at the core of our approach to design.

Dogtown Media adheres to the principles of human-centered design thinking all throughout our process. At the root of this thinking is a simple question: what are the needs of the people involved? Rather than tackling a creative problem from an abstract angle, human-centered design thinking encourages us to remain focused on the goals, psychology, and comfort of the people who will be actually using the product.

For us, that means approaching app design from the perspective of the user. After all, isn’t the goal to make a product that people find useful, intuitive, and satisfying? Maybe it sounds a little gooey, but human-centered design results in apps that people can integrate into their lives — and that’s good for business and humanity.

We utilize user research to find out what our users require. Through a series of tests (it’s a lot more fun than it sounds), we interact with people to determine their backgrounds, motivations, pain points, and goals. It is also important to circle back and see what features in an app they value most. What meets their basic needs? What satisfies them? And, perhaps most interestingly, what delights them?

With this data we are better able to tailor our apps to the needs and desires of our users. At the end of the process we have an app that meets the user’s goals and needs and gives them an enjoyable experience.

The principles of human-centered design thinking extend outside the tech sphere. They can be used in management, the sociological sciences, and really any framework where creative, empathy-based problem solving is needed. Think about what gridlocked Congress could accomplish if they applied these ideas to the problems our country faces!

The road ahead

We are already building the world of tomorrow whether we like it or not. If we want technology to work for humanity (and not the other way around), we have to take smart, conscientious action now. (It helps to apply the lessons of human-centered design by always keeping the needs of humanity in mind.)

But in order to build the framework for a society where technology boosts humanity to new heights, the nation’s innovators and lawmakers need to be on the same page. An event like Innovations in Silicon Beach bridges the gap between technology and government and gives our lawmakers the tools necessary to navigate the challenges ahead. The more lawmakers know about the opportunities and drawbacks of technology, the more capable they are to write the kinds of policies that spur innovation.

During our time together, our guests were enthusiastic, receptive, and full of questions. It was clear that everyone present wanted a better understanding of where tech is heading — and how we can get there together.

We were only the first stop (and what an honor it was to set the tone for the rest of the event). After us, the government officials moved on to our friends at AirMap, Cross Campus, SpaceX, and other bright lights of the Southern California tech community. It was a whirlwind couple of days.

It’s hard to think of two bigger forces for shaping tomorrow than tech and government. That’s why events like Innovations in Silicon Beach are so important. The only path forward to a bright future is if the tech world and government can talk to each other.

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