The Senate Commerce Committee, in approving the legislation last week and sending it to the Senate floor, significantly decreased the amount dedicated to a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF). The bill will also make $10 billion available for about a dozen technology hubs across the country.
The bill's bipartisan sponsors had endorsed $100 billion for a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation (NSF) focusing on emerging technologies, but that amount was gradually whittled down to where it now stands at roughly $30 billion. The overall bill dedicates over $110 billion in government funds to “basic advanced research” in things such as artificial intelligence and semiconductor chips so the U.S. will be better positioned to compete with China.
Despite passing handily through Commerce, Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.) described the changes as a “poison pill.”
Young, who introduced the legislation along with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), argued the changes would “highly underfund the tech directorate, hollowing it out.”
Young ultimately voted to advance the legislation, albeit “with great reservations.” And he argued the bill would have to include additional funding for the directorate to keep his Republican co-sponsors onboard.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to restore that money back to the tech directorate to maintain their support, to gain additional Republican support, to get this across the line and send a message,” Young said.
Young isn’t the only critic of the new version of the legislation. IEEE-USA, the U.S. arm of electronic and electrical engineering organization IEEE, said in a statement that t was “disappointed that the committee significantly scaled back the financial commitment in this vital bill.” The organization, the statement said, looks forward to working with the bill's authors “to restore full funding to the bill while protecting its other equally valuable provisions.”
For his part, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who introduced the House version of the bill and represents part of Silicon Valley, said he was “really excited” that the Commerce Committee advanced the legislation.
“We still ended up getting a lot of funding for the new directorate,” Khanna told The Technology 202. “We still have a massive increase in the NSF's budget, so overall I was pleased.”
All told, the legislation could be one of Biden’s “most consequential achievements in his first term,” Khanna said.
Not only could a version of the Endless Frontier Act be one of the few major bipartisan proposals to get to Biden’s desk, but it also would be a significant investment in communities across the United States, Khanna said.
Schumer has heralded the legislation as the “largest investment in American innovation in a generation.”
And there could still be some surprises. Lawmakers are working on a $52 billion bipartisan deal to boost the U.S. semiconductor industry that could be included in the Frontier Act, Reuters reported Friday.
“Our leaders and the Congress right now, both Republicans and Democrats, who get it” should be applauded, said Neal Lane, the director of the National Science Foundation from 1993 to 1998.
According to Lane, the boost in funding for research and development to compete with China signifies that “leaders are now paying attention and realize that we've got to do something bold, or we are in danger of being left in the dust.”
Arden Bement Jr., who was NSF director from 2004 to 2010, described a recent trough in funding for NSF.
“A doubling of the budget over the next three to five years or sooner would be very important to the nation as far as staying at the forefront of science and maintaining our competitiveness relative to China,” Bement said.
The importance of government investment in science and research innovations has only become more obvious with the development of the coronavirus vaccine, according to Rita Colwell, the NSF’s director from 1998 to 2004. “I think the investment that’s being made, being proposed, is very badly needed for the country,” she said.
Our top tabs
Conservative social media network Parler is back on iPhones, along with some changes to its moderation system.
The company, which has resisted putting limits on what users can post, is hiding posts labeled “hate” by its new artificial intelligence moderation system as it returns this morning on Apple's App Store, Kevin Randall writes. But Parler users who use other devices or go to the social network on the web will be able to see those posts by clicking through.
Parler's app was removed from the App Store in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. The company, which had shunned content moderation tools used by other social media platforms before adopting them, is still pushing for an option letting users see a warning label — that could be clicked through on Apple devices — for posts the moderation system deems hateful. But the ban on hate speech was a condition for the app to be brought back to the App Store.
“At Parler we embrace the entire First Amendment meaning freedom of expression and conscience are protected,” said Parler Chief Policy Officer Amy Peikoff. “We permit a maximum amount of legally protected speech.” Apple declined to comment.
President Biden’s Venmo account was uncovered by reporters, revealing a privacy and security issue.
After a story mentioned that Biden sent money to his grandchildren using the payment app, BuzzFeed News found the account after just 10 minutes of searching for it, BuzzFeed News’s Ryan Mac, Katie Notopoulos, Ryan Brooks and Logan McDonald report. The news outlet was able to map out Biden’s family and inner circle, as well as all of their contacts.
A White House representative did not respond to a request for comment. Accounts belonging to Biden and first lady Jill Biden were no longer online within hours of the article’s publication.
“The safety and privacy of all Venmo users and their information is always a top priority, and we take this responsibility very seriously,” a Venmo representative said. “Customers always have the ability to make their transactions private and determine their own privacy settings in the app. We’re consistently evolving and strengthening the privacy measures for all Venmo users to continue to provide a safe, secure place to send and spend money.”
Biden revoked President Trump’s executive order taking aim at an Internet liability shield.
Biden revoked the executive order on Friday, which Trump signed in May 2020 after Twitter labeled two of his erroneous tweets. The order encouraged the Federal Communications Commission to rethink Section 230’s scope and application, and it also sought to divert complaints about political bias to the Federal Trade Commission, among other measures.
Section 230 has allowed tech companies to avoid getting sued or being held liable for most of the content shared on their sites.
Critics blasted Trump’s order when it was signed. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who was an author of Section 230, called it “plainly illegal,” while Matt Schruers, the president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which represents Facebook, Google and other tech companies, said it was “simply setting the wheels of law enforcement and regulation in motion against a private company for questioning the president.”
Prosecutors said they would drop a Pennsylvania cheer mom’s fake-video charge, which became a symbol of tech’s dark side.
They say that although they plan to argue that Raffaela Spone “cyber-harassed” other girls on the cheer squad, they planned to drop their highest-profile claim, that she had masterminded an advanced deepfake video campaign, Drew Harwell reports.
“While investigators originally believed at least one video showed evidence of the use of so-called Deep Fake face replacement technology, police are at this point unable to confirm the video evidence was falsified,” Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said in a statement provided by his office.
“Her reputation right now is less than mud,” Spone’s attorney, Robert J. Birch, said. “They have ruined her life, there’s no question about it. … On Twitter, they have already convicted her. She’s always going to be labeled the ‘deepfake mom’ or … a ‘criminal mastermind.’ How do you dig out of that?”
Rant and rave
Within hours of one another on Sunday, the New York Times published a story on Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates's overtures to women at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the Wall Street Journal posted a story on the decision by Microsoft's board that Gates needed to resign amid an investigation into his relationship with a female staffer; and the Daily Beast published a story on Gates's “dozens” of meetings with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
(Bridgitt Arnold, a spokeswoman for Gates, disputed the Times's characterizations of Gates's mistreatment of employees and relationship with Epstein. A spokeswoman for Gates also said his “decision to transition off the board was in no way related to” the matter described in the Wall Street Journal story, and a Gates representative told the Daily Beast that its characterization of his meetings with Epstein was “inaccurate.”)
All told, the stories had Twitter abuzz. Journalist Alex Kantrowitz:
Writer and translator Subin Kim:
From a New York magazine reporter:
- A Senate Commerce Committee panel holds a hearing on protecting children online on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association, testifies before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on infrastructure funding on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- Former Texas congressman Will Hurd discusses the national security threats posed by artificial intelligence at a Washington Post Live event on Tuesday at 10 a.m.
- A House Energy and Commerce Committee panel holds a hearing on vehicle technology on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m.
- Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick discuss how to protect Americans on online platforms at a Future of Tech Commission town hall on Tuesday at noon.
- The Senate Commerce Committee meets to consider Eric Lander, President Biden’s nominee to lead the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, on Thursday at 10 a.m.