— Here’s what caught our eye this week: Silicon Valley’s political reckoning has reached tech’s biggest trade show, but the event was light on industry criticism. Plus, why lawmakers should be on the lookout for the rise of wearables. — Q&A with Nevada Sen. Jacky Rosen : The home-state Democrat dishes on how tech companies…
— Here’s what caught our eye this week: Silicon Valley’s political reckoning has reached tech’s biggest trade show, but the event was light on industry criticism. Plus, why lawmakers should be on the lookout for the rise of wearables.
— Q&A with Nevada Sen.
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— Fort Worth mayor not sweating HQ2 bid: Betsy Price, one of several local officials to partake in this year’s summit, has no regrets about the region’s unsuccessful campaign to land Amazon’s second headquarters, despite critics’ complaints that the tech giant is receiving too many taxpayer perks.
IT’S FRIDAY IN VEGAS, where your hosts — Nancy Scola and Cristiano Lima — are far too tired post-CES to make the most of what the city has to offer. (Though the Strip’s 550-foot High Roller Ferris wheel looked neat. Next time!) We appreciate you reading our first ever POLITICO pop-up newsletter live from CES. (You can look back through our on-the-ground reporting here.) We’re headed home to Washington but hope you stay in touch at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @nancyscola and @viaCristiano.
TECH POLICY TAKEAWAYS FROM CES 2020 — Looking at the week through our rear-view mirror, some key trends and storylines emerge. Here’s a look:
TECH’S SELF-RECKONING LACKED TEETH — The industry’s biggest trade show flashed signs of the political introspection occurring in Silicon Valley, including at Thursday’s first-of-its-kind panel on whether the biggest, most powerful companies should be broken up. But the policy-focused discussions were in the minority — and largely lacking those critical voices that have fueled the tech backlash.
— Politicians calling for breakups? They weren’t here. “It would have been even more lively if a ‘break ‘em up’ advocate was also on the panel,” said Information Technology & Innovation Foundation President Robert Atkinson, who spoke at Thursday’s session on the topic and argued against breakups. Groups calling for Congress to revisit the industry’s online liability shield, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act? Nope, not onstage at CES. Regulators contemplating ways to rein in the industry? Some appeared and spoke, but with a few exceptions, most held back their fire.
— Asked about the dearth of congressional representation in particular — no lawmakers and only two aides were listed as speakers on the event website — Michael Petricone of CES’s organizer, the Consumer Technology Association, said in a statement, “Policy discussions are a critical part of the CES program,” but noted that “we set the dates for each CES years before a given congressional calendar is released.” (Late into the conference today, Rosen and fellow Democratic Nevada Sen.
— To be sure, the conference did boast speeches by and discussions with a number of powerful and high-ranking federal officials, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Michael Kratsios, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joe Simons and Ivanka Trump, White House adviser and daughter to President Donald Trump. But many stuck to scripted remarks.
PLUS: OUR LATEST DISPATCH: “Washington is one American power center. Silicon Valley is another. But if any national policymakers entertained the idea that most of the tech industry lives in constant dread of D.C. — with voters complaining about privacy and CEOs forced to testify before Congress — they would have gotten a wake-up call at this year’s CES.” Read the full report here.
THE WEARABLES ARE COMING — Washington has largely stayed away from making real moves on the regulatory implications of wearable tech, mostly nibbling at the margins of what body-worn gadgets mean for privacy and more. But one lesson from CES 2020? The industry isn’t waiting.
— Wearable tech made up a huge slice of the innovations on display, from advances in fitness trackers to the offering of one Shenzen-based company: a colorful smartwatch for kids that promises parents the ability to “real-time locate.” If the show’s any guide, federal officials are probably going to be giving a good deal more attention to those sorts of products in the years to come.
NEVADA’S TECHIE SENATOR ON BOOSTING STEM DIVERSITY — Rosen, who has a computer programming background, dropped by to tour the show floor this afternoon. Earlier this week, Cristiano caught up with her on the phone to talk tech policy, including her push to boost diversity in STEM and what she thinks Congress needs to do to improve its tech literacy.
— Rosen has some advice for tech: The senator, who over the holidays saw her bill to boost young girls’ early education initiatives in STEM signed into law, said the industry should follow that playbook and team up with schools if it wants to boost diversity in the field. “I think what they need to do is partner down at the elementary school level with teachers and principals in schools,” she said. The goal, she said, should be to “excite young minds who are open before … maybe someone has told them this job wouldn’t be for them.”
— What about tech education on Capitol Hill? Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have at times drawn groans over what many onlookers see as a lack of understanding about the inner workings of Silicon Valley. Rosen, a rare lawmaker with STEM expertise, said part of the answer needs to be diversifying the backgrounds of staffers in Congress. “Any one of us is not an expert in any area but that’s why we should be sure that our teams are diverse, from their backgrounds, from their expertise, from their age, their education, whatever that is,” she said. “Then they can inform us and help elevate what we know.”
‘I’D DO IT AGAIN IN A HEARTBEAT’ — Price, Fort Worth’s Republican mayor, was one of several local and state officials to speak on stage this week, participating at a Monday panel titled “Crawl, Walk, Run: Scaling Mobility Ecosystems.” Today, she spoke to Cristiano about why she’s not looking backward on North Texas’ campaign to land Amazon’s HQ2 and other tech topics popping up for cities across the country. Here are some of the highlights:
— She has no qualms about the HQ2 bid: Despite critics across the country arguing that cities and states offered too many tax incentives and perks to land Amazon’s coveted second headquarters, Price said she has no regrets about her city’s own package. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was a tremendous experience,” she said. Price said the process of competing helped ready the region for future development. “We laughed and said, ‘It’s like a dress up, pretend for a wedding,’” she said. “Everyone’s getting ready for it and had to rehearse what they were going to do.”
— Plus, advice to lawmakers on turning cities into smart cities: Price, who discussed local efforts to foster “smart cities” as part of her session on Monday, said she has a message to regulators and lawmakers in Washington on how to achieve that goal: Don’t get in our way. “They have to continue to get the dollars here, but they can’t overstep the boundaries and put barriers in the way that would help us in developing that,” she said.
— Don’t hold your breath for a facial recognition ban in Fort Worth: Price shot down the idea of banning local agencies’ use of facial recognition software, which she said is vital to an array of services. “You have to be careful with it, but I don’t think you can ban it because I think it’s going to have too many uses,” she said.
Here are some other equally memorable — though far less consequential — moments from our time at this week’s summit:
SONG DU JOUR — The thumping bass-line intro of Billie Eilish’s megahit “Bad Guy” blared through the speakers at the top of many of this week’s panel sessions, often startling your hosts and other attendees. (Eilish had the last laugh, enjoying warmer temperatures while reportedly vacationing in Hawaii this week.)
IF I HAD A CRYPTO-PENNY… If one were to devise a bingo (or drinking) game around the phrases heard most often throughout the week at CES, CTA president and CEO Gary Shapiro shouting “Are you CES ready?” at the beginning of events would surely be one of them. (Your hosts, admittedly, were only somewhat “CES ready” for the craziness this event brings.)
And now a final word from our colleagues at Protocol:
As CES wraps up, Protocol’s David Pierce and Janko Roettgers are looking for 2020’s next big thing. One contender: foldable devices. Huawei and Samsung are making phones; Dell and Lenovo are making laptops; even LG’s TVs are getting flexible. Several executives told us these are the devices of the future — but admitted that getting software to work right will take time. Plus, everyone says they’re still waiting for Corning to sell flexible glass.
Then there’s the quest to find new types of content for all of our screens. Quibi has its 10-minute clips, there are TVs that display art when not in use, and there are new interactive formats for fitness, cooking and more. “It’s still super early,” Amazon Vice President Marc Whitten told Janko, “but creators are getting comfortable being on these super smart devices.”
One thing that’s definitely not a 2020 trend: The World’s First Smart Potato. We’re not making this up. It was advertised as a not-so-serious way to turn root vegetables into personal assistants, with the tag line “Make Potatoes Great Again.”
The question “does CES still matter?” comes up every year. In 2020, the answer’s still yes. Designer and technologist John Maeda told Janko why: “Gatherings like these are like the Olympics,” he said. “The camaraderie is a big part of it.” That remains true even though Apple, Google and Samsung all announce new products at their own events. “Even though there is professional football, we still like the Olympics.”