High Value and Low-Cost Infrastructure Improvements

“Infrastructure” is a constant refrain mentioned by elected officials in Washington DC.  Traditionally, they refer to fixing roads, ports, rails, flood control, potable water systems, and airports.  The topic of infrastructure is less contentious than that of broadening health care coverage.  Old-style infrastructure projects normally call for construction labor and pre-cast cement, steel shapes and cables.  These infrastructure investments stimulate the economy and employment.

The private sector is poised to rejuvenate infrastructure and build new infrastructure of different kinds, notably high technology projects such as driverless vehicles, intercity rail, 5G networks, space shuttles, and bulk commodity transport such as ships and pipelines for transport of crude, gas and liquefied natural gas.

In its Lost Economy study, The American Consumer Institute’s Center of Citizen Research details private sector investments and the government regulations that impair their arrival and viability.  The Lost Economy proposes government actions that do not cost taxpayers a dime.  Instead, the study illustrates how ill-advised regulations increase costs and delay projects.

Certainly, government can play a constructive role in traditional infrastructure, but there are also some high-tech arenas where government involvement would be beneficial and be very low in cost.  For the most part, those involvements harness government’s role as an honest broker that can avert suspicions of antitrust behaviors by private sector committees in standards setting contexts.

It is wise to broaden our understanding of infrastructure to include investments beyond steel and cement bag projects.  For examples, consider creating an accepted paradigm for privacy, creating a more effective cyber-security practice, and establishing an accepted foundation for AI ethics.

Cost containment is always welcomed, but it is especially germane today when our national debt exceeds $21 trillion and there are competing high ticket projects such as broadening health care coverage, helping with flood and fire recovery, and replacing worn out bridges.  In contrast, the following will be low-cost projects by Congressional standards.

Driverless vehicles will require standardized communications protocols that competing vehicle makers use to monitor and control their operating vehicles and coordinate with other vehicle operators. Compliance to standards is needed avoid a high-tech Tower of Babel that would jeopardize public safety, or thwart innovation.

Privacy “rights” in the U.S. are in tatters and they need organizing by an accepted authority.  Consumer privacy may be jeopardized on websites that sell private browsing and buying behavior information to third parties.  Some consumers understand they are pushed into a tradeoff of lost privacy in return for value from use of a website.  Others do not agree to the tradeoff but have been unable to navigate the screed of legal boilerplate that alleges they have assented.  People are not well served by a unique thicket of arcane language at each website describing which privacy expectations they are abandoning.  Government should standardize the informed consent language and put limits on what the personal information collector can do with the information.

Likewise, government should decide on what warrantless surveillance law enforcement can conduct during pursuit of a suspect.  The wait for a warrant can give the perpetrator a head start from which law enforcement cannot recover.  Unless Congress wants to capitulate to the European Union’s (EU) regulations on privacy, it will need to establish privacy suited to the U.S.  For example, the EU’s preposterous “right to be forgotten” would be correctly regarded in the U.S. as a right to distort the truth or hide misdeeds.

Great progress in artificial intelligence (AI) has been made. AI devices are designed to grow in capability and some are intended to design and build other AI devices – in effect self-altering.  An AI device could be given decryption skills needed to hack inter-bank financial transactions. An AI device could be programmed to set itself up as a clone of an existing person — leading to huge mischief.  The public needs protection from AI misuses.  There needs to be ethical restraints on AI device capabilities, and government is most appropriately situated to set AI ethical standards.

Government has legendary cyber resources (e.g. NSA, CIA, FBI, NIST) for establishing and enforcing security.  Despite the cyber-dream team, government websites are too often breached, and our reaction times are so slow that the perpetrators can usually slither away and practice their trade again.  Government is in a position to advise the private sector on what cybersecurity practices should be used.  Government might achieve an upgrade in security through the tactic of requiring the right types of cyber tools to be embedded in anything the government purchases.

The above standards-setting infrastructures will be a great value to consumers, industry and government.  We encourage Congress to give government the mission and authority to take on these low-cost infrastructure improvements.

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