The policy problems with Facebook and self-driving cars

Over the past twenty years we have seen advancements in artificial intelligence that policy-makers and regulators have been hard-pressed to keep up with. These advances represent real problems for policy-makers and governments … How do we create the regulatory conditions for technological advances without putting the public at risk?

The Cambridge Analytica/Facebook debacle is a pointed example.

When Facebook was developed, its potential as a means of mass manipulation of voter opinion was not anticipated. That such clever technology allowed for this manipulation did not form part of the regulatory environment that surrounded its development and introduction. Indeed, lawmakers at the United States Senate inquiry seemed at a loss to ask Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, relevant questions. They struggled to even understand how the technology worked. How could policy-makers have developed sensible policy at Facebook’s inception, when the potential to use Facebook as it has been used was not anticipated or understood?

Driverless cars are similar conundrum for regulators and policy-makers.

Automotive companies have already said that their self-driving cars will protect the safety of their passengers first. This makes sense. Who would hop into a car that made a decision less advantageous to themselves as passengers?

But, the decision made by the vehicle may not necessarily be the same as the decision a human driver would make. For example, if a driverless car needs to avoid potentially harming its passengers by swerving to miss an object but, in doing so, runs over a group of school children, what should it do? Who should the car protect? This real life example of the trolley dilemma raises serious policy and regulatory considerations for government. Current laws and road safety policies almost certainly don’t account for a driverless car’s decision-making abilities.

The implications of technology being under-regulated opens up the potential for unacceptable risk or harm.

One thing is certain: advances in technology give policy-makers new and complex policy and regulatory problems to deal with and policy-makers will need to be well equipped.

If agencies are to design, develop and implement complex policy and programs that meet these changing needs, two requirements must be satisfied. First, officers must have the technical and operational skills to create and implement good policy and programs. Secondly, officers and teams must have the strategic skills that enable them to develop solutions that can be approved and implemented in a complex and dynamic environment.

Our solution for policy professionals

Policy skills is an integrated just-in-time program that builds technical, operational and strategic policy skills across five key areas. Our workshops include:

Core concepts

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  • Introduction to policy
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Policy research and analysis

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  • Economics for non-economists
  • Analytical and critical thinking skills

Policy design and implementation

  • Evidence-based policy
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  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Governance and accountability
  • Stakeholder engagement
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  • Core concepts in regulation
  • Risk-based regulation

Communication and engagement

  • Writing briefs and policy documents
  • Writing Senate Estimates
  • Writing Cabinet submissions
  • Presentation skills
  • Turning stats into stories

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