Sunday, January 28, 2018

After Hurricane Harvey struck southeast Texas in August, a network of Good Samaritans who call themselves the Cajun Navy took to social media to help organize relief efforts. Airbnb’s Homes program connected hosts with people in need of emergency shelter. And Lyft added the American Red Cross to its Round Up & Donate feature, letting riders contribute to relief efforts.

Following the mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival in October, Facebook activated its safety check feature, the city’s police department took to Twitter to help families locate missing loved ones, and a GoFundMe account created by Clark County Commission Chair Steve Sisolak raised more than $11 million for victims and their families.

In the wake of disasters, natural or manmade, technology has the power to make things better. Americans recognize and appreciate the value these tech tools present. In fact, most Americans like social media services and credit technology with improving lives. And according to a recent Pew study, Americans say technology will be the most important factor in improving their lives in the decades to come.

There’s good reason for their enthusiasm. The American tech industry — the crown jewel of our economy — is one of the strongest in the world. Not only does its combined direct, indirect and induced economic activity account for ten percent of our GDP and more than 15 million U.S. jobs, it is a source of many remarkable international partnerships.

Every year at CES, the world’s largest tech event, which took place earlier this month in Las Vegas, I meet international executives keen to partner with or emulate U.S. companies. I also meet innovators from around the world who travel to CES to pitch their ideas, share their strategies and forge business partnerships. To bash the tech industry is to bash a major economic driver and source of cooperation and diplomacy.

Government leaders and the tech industry should work together to strengthen personal cybersecurity challenges and national security, solve consumer problems, improve our world and fend off bad actors. Technology needs flexibility to innovate — and government shouldn’t impose burdensome rules that stifle industry.

The answer is not to stomp out the tech that fights terrorists and criminals — it’s to develop savvier tech to outsmart these bad actors. America’s greatest strengths are its freedoms — freedoms that draw innovators from around the world to our shores for study, for business and for CES.

To defend these freedoms, startups are offering the next technologies to help combat terrorism. For example, Israeli tech startup Beyond Verbal developed an app that can hear a voice and recognize emotions. This and other technologies could be used to identify deception in our airports and at our borders. More, innovations in biometrics — such as advanced facial recognition and fingerprinting software — can play a huge role in counterterrorism efforts, thwarting future attacks and securing our borders. And predictive analytics technologies harness the power of big data to help law enforcement infer when and where criminals strike.

If we want to preserve our freedoms, we have to strike a difficult balance. On the one hand, we must defend ourselves from those who use innovation and technology to destroy our freedoms and hold accountable bad actors who abuse that innovation and technology for selfish and sinister reasons. On the other, we need to ensure that in defending our own freedoms we don’t wind up compromising them.

Only by working together — across sectors, industries and parties — can we protect our birthright and uphold our beliefs on the global stage.

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,200 consumer technology companies, and owner and producer of CES, the world’s largest tech event. Shapiro is author of the New York Times best-selling books, “Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses” and “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.” His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.

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