“This isn't a rush to pretend politicians know a lot more about these problems than we really do. It's an acknowledgment that there are some big problems and challenges in this area, and prudence and humility and transparency are the best way to begin.”

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Video of Senator Sasse’s comments is available here or by clicking the image above.

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, delivered the following opening statement at today's hearing on the benefits and challenges of algorithms.

Full transcript is available below.

Chris, I want to applaud your opening statement. It is too easy in DC for us to take any complicated issue and reduce it immediately to heroes and villains and whatever the regulatory or legislative pre-determined tool was to then slam it down on the newly to-be-defined problem. And I think you underscored a number of really important points; the simplest one is: algorithms, like almost all technologies that are new, have costs and benefits.

Algorithms can make the world a better place. Algorithms can make the world a worse place. And one of the most fundamental questions before us as a people, isn't first and foremost governmental, or legislative, or regulatory--though those issues do exist--the first one is: in the new digital economy, or the attention economy, the old adage holds that if a product is free, you are probably the product. And the American people need to understand we - parents and neighbors need to understand - access to these unbelievably powerful tools that can be used for lots and lots of good. And in most cases, because it is free, there is somebody who would really like to capture our attention, shorten our attention spans, and drive us into often poisonous echo chambers. 

So, algorithms have great potential for good. They can also be misused and we the American people need to be reflective and thoughtful about that, first and foremost. To the tech companies who've showed up today and to those of you who are also adjacent to the Silicon Valley conversation, thank you for your interest in it, attention to this conversation. I think it's very important for us to push back on the idea that really complicated, qualitative problems have easy quantitative solutions, in some hearings that are not narrowly on this topic but other technology-related big tech hearings that we've had over the course of the last two or three years in this committee. Sometimes really hard, meddlesome problems we've wrestled with, we've been told that as soon as the super computers were better they would solve these problems. The truth is we need to distinguish between qualitative and quantitative problems.

But, I appreciate the Chairman's perspective on the way we're beginning this hearing, which this isn't a rush to pretend politicians know a lot more about these problems than we really do. It's an acknowledgment that there are some big problems and challenges in this area, and prudence and humility and transparency are the best way to begin, and I'm grateful for the Chairman's leadership of this committee and this particular hearing.