Earlier last year, the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) put out a call for public comment on criteria for identifying emerging technologies that could potentially be subject to future export control regulations. The tech industry responded in full force, providing recommendations for how the federal government can ensure U.S. competitiveness in the global market while supporting the development of emerging technology (read comments submitted by McAfee here).
Emerging technology poses an interesting challenge for tech companies and federal regulators alike. In many cases, technologies that BIS designates as “emerging,” such as AI and machine learning, are already in widespread use around the world. Other technologies like quantum computing are very much in the research and development phase but have the potential to alter the course of national security for decades to come. Many of these technologies are difficult to define and control, and many are software-based, which greatly complicates the development of regulation. Software technologies, by their very nature, are fundamentally different from physical items and physical process technologies. Their intangible, readily-reproducible character makes software-based technologies inherently difficult to define and control.
This task is enormous and must be handled cautiously, as history has provided countless examples of how overregulation has the capability to hamper development. A poignant example of overregulation at the cost of progress is the automobile industry. According to Deloitte, although tough restrictions on automobiles were nothing but well-intentioned in the late 1800’s, regulation greatly hampered research and advancement. The early days of the automobile industry should serve as a cautionary tale when it comes to regulating new and innovative technology.
The U.S. is in a unique position to act to protect our technological interest and secure the nation’s position as a global leader. The U.S. secured a pivotal tech leadership role, having spearheaded the development of the internet in the early 1990’s. The nation has immense power and potential to take the mantle on emerging technology, and the stakes are high. Some of the country’s greatest accomplishments have stemmed from empowering the private sector and encouraging innovation. For example, tremendous strides in private sector space exploration have been made possible due to the support and administration of empowering legislation. Companies like SpaceX and Boeing are creating next generation space technology, working each day to ensure that the U.S. maintains competitiveness.
Cybersecurity is another area that requires particular attention. Given the global availability of cybersecurity tools, many of which make use of the emerging technologies under review, McAfee understands that great care needs to be taken by our government before imposing additional export controls on American cyber companies. These rules can have the unintended and harmful consequence of stunting the growth and technical capabilities of the very companies that currently protect vital U.S. critical infrastructure, including federal and state government infrastructure, from cyber-attacks. As a leading nation, it is critical to stay ahead of threats by criminal actors. This is only possible if cyber companies have the ability to access global markets to fund the research and development needed to keep pace with rapid innovation. Controls should be implemented with a great understanding of the need to stay competitive in global innovation, particularly when it comes to cybersecurity.
Overregulation could cause great harm, and the U.S. government must tread carefully in administering a carefully-crafted, targeted approach. Rather than burdening U.S. software companies with new and substantial export control compliance costs, the U.S. should seek to empower these companies. Any controls deemed essential by the government should be as narrowly tailored as possible, especially given the broad range of current and future companies and technologies. A multilateral approach to export controls on emerging technologies is vital for U.S. companies to remain innovative and competitive in the global marketplace. This cautious approach would ensure alignment between the private and public sectors, ultimately allowing for emerging technology to be front and center. Providing an ecosystem in which the technology of tomorrow can flourish is essential to the U.S. continuing to blaze the trail on emerging technologies.