The talk was mostly about high-tech innovation, with some veiled and unveiled references to tariffs, at the Consumer Technology Association's 14th Annual Digital Patriots Dinner in Washington Tuesday night (April 17).
That was the same day CTA issued a warning about the impact of the Trump Administration's proposed 25% tariff on TV's from China, saying it would increase the cost of TVs to U.S. consumers by most of a billion dollars next year.
CTA CEO Gary Shapiro did not explicitly address the hot-button issue of edge-provider scrutiny, or at least not by its most familiar name in Washington over the past couple of weeks, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, but he talked generally about the D.C. climate for those innovators.
"Some of our headlines today, sadly, question the promise of technology," Shapiro said, "but the fact is, this scrutiny of innovators is not new."
He suggested it goes with the territory. "They're the ones who dare to pursue solutions that no one before has thought of," he said, noting that those new ideas challenge the status quo."
Among all the querying around D.C., he said, the fundamental question is how technology can improve the human condition and "harness technology as a force for good."
He encouraged governments to pursue policies that promote innovation.
Honored at the event were Reps. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee; and Judiciary Committee member Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Brooks co-founded the 5G caucus and the Women's High Tech Coalition, while Jeffries has championed patent reform, as the cosponsor of the Patent Litigation Reform Act, and has promoted ride sharing.
Jeffries, whose district is home to Kickstarter and Etsy, told the crowd at the National Portrait Gallery that when he first came to the Judiciary Committee, he was unfamiliar with the term patent trolls, and thought the term was "a little bit rough." At least until he sat through a hearing with expert witnesses talking about the problem of patent assertion entities (PAEs), and they used terms like "blackmail artists," "extortionists," and even "terrorists." He said he realized "patent trolls" was actually a “kinder, gentler” phrase.
Jeffries emphasized the value of diversity, and said when that diversity is combined with the booming innovation economy, it is "a phenomenal thing to see."
He talked about protecting trade secrets from hostile foreign actors and the effort to "push the CLOUD Act over the finish line" in an effort to strike the right balance between protecting both privacy and innovation and competition.
Jeffries said patent disputes "should be resolved on the basis of the merits of the underlying claim, not based on the high cost of defending frivolous lawsuits," a comment that drew audience applause.
And, in a comment on the general tenor of Congress these days, said he hoped to be able to soon use the "thumbs up" emoji more.
Brooks said technology was about "making people happier." She said that at the end of the day, that is what her audience did.
She pointed out that she was from the generation that grew up with The Jetsons and its fictional robot dog, Astro, which today is a reality--she saw it at CES last year. Brooks asked for patience from her tech-savvy audience and acknowledged that some in Congress still needed some schooling on tech issues, as last week's Facebook hearings in the House and Senate demonstrated.
"We're catching up, so please bear with us," Brooks said.
She said that whether it is a biometric credit card or an IoT washing machine -- tech she saw at the CES on the Hill event this week -- "this is about making my life happy."
Brooks also put in a plug for rural broadband deployment as key to avoiding a world of digital haves and have-nots. She said it is not just a rural issue. "We have to make sure this technology is not leaving anybody behind."
The Austrian ambassador Wolfgang Waldner -- who was among a quartet of ambassadors in attendance whose countries were being saluted for their tech-forward policies -- briefly brought up its trade surplus, then averred, in one of those veiled tariff references, that perhaps "we should not brag about too much these days."
Among the attendees was FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, fresh from her surprise announcement earlier in the day that she would be exiting the commission, though it was a surprise only in timing since her departure had been a subject of speculation for months.
The proceedings were paused for a moment of remembrance for former First Lady Barbara Bush, who died Tuesday at 92.