Published: Feb. 10, 2020 By

In the middle of another industrial revolution, lawmakers and thought leaders are grappling with massive new problems, and often disagreeing about solutions. 

Should pharmaceutical companies be banned from delivering pop-up advertisements to doctors in the middle of a patient appointment? Should cities be banned from using facial recognition until the technology stops misidentifying people?

Panelists debate the future of technology at the Silicon Flatirons 2020 conference.

Panelists debate the future of technology at the Silicon Flatirons 2020 flagship conference. (Jordan Altergott/CU Boulder)

Questions like these came rapid fire during the University of Colorado Law School’s Silicon Flatirons flagship conference in the school’s Wittemyer Courtroom Sunday and Monday. Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra, Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Anne Toth, CEO of Privacyworks, and Lisl Brunner, AT&T’s director of global public policy, all spoke at the conference, among others.

“One of the solutions is that there may not be a solution,” Amie Stepanovich, executive director of Silicon Flatirons, said as she kicked off Monday’s portion of the technology and entrepreneurship law center’s flagship conference.

The event’s theme was “Technology Optimism and Pessimism.” Most of the keynotes and panelists expressed a mix of both.

Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly delivered a keynote highlighting the potential benefits of new technology, while also questioning the role his agency has in regulating it.

“Once limited to Star Wars and Star Trek, holograms and 3D communications are not far away,”O’Rielly said.

It remains unclear is how much oversight the FCC, originally created to referee radio companies, will ultimately end up with when it comes to these high-tech communications. 

“I recognize that unless Congress changes our authority, most of these debates will not be in the FCC bailiwick, and that’s OK,” he said.

Panelist Chris Lewis, president and CEO of Public Knowledge, a company advising public agencies on technology, disagreed, saying the country still needs the FCC.

“We’re in the awkward adolescence of online technology,” Lewis said. “The hallmark of being an adult is personal accountability.”

That accountability is something Lewis said should be present for large companies, too. 

While there may not be clear solutions, having these debates is worthwhile, the speakers said.

“There are very few opportunities like this. Some other institutions do some of this inside Washington, D.C., but not a lot outside,” O’Rielly said. “This is incredibly valuable to pull different perspectives together to debate these issues.”

Stepanovich said that’s the big idea of the conference.

“Productive engagement on important issues in tech, law, and entrepreneurship requires honest engagement and a comprehensive consideration of a wide diversity of positions and opinion,” she said. “Silicon Flatirons prioritizes convening folks from different backgrounds, political spheres, sectors, and experiences, and because of this, we have become a place to catalyze progress on some of the most pressing issues facing society today.”

O’Rielly agreed.

“It’s incredibly important. Silicon Flatirons has been a complete success from my perspective.”