Startup News Digest: 5/6/2016

Our weekly take on some of the biggest stories in startup and tech policy.

White House Exploring Artificial Intelligence Issues. Ever since scientists first developed the idea of artificial intelligence, experts have routinely predicted that its full scale deployment is a decade or so off. But, new developments in machine learning and AI research suggest that prognosticators may actually be right this time. Artificial intelligence capabilities are fast-approaching and policymakers are starting to take notice. The White House recently announced a series of workshops to discuss the policy implications of new AI technologies. The four panels will cover topics ranging from the social benefits of AI deployment to how AI may cause massive disruptions in the labor market. Given the incredible potential value of AI, it’s important to ensure that the technology is being deployed in a safe, effective way and that policymakers understand the implications of the technology before attempting to create rules around its deployment and use.

Bad Bills in Michigan and Missouri. This week wasn’t a good one for startup friendly legislation at the state level. On Monday, a bill was introduced in the Michigan State Senate that would punish anyone who hacks a car with life in prison. On its face, the bill aims to address an important safety concern as the threat of car hacking grows. But in practice, the bill would actually make drivers less safe by preventing white hat hackers and legitimate security researchers from looking for vulnerabilities. Then on Wednesday, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a transportation bill that included an entirely unrelated provision limiting municipal broadband efforts. Laws like this provide no public benefit and only serve to protect local cable monopolies, suppressing competition and raising broadband prices for entrepreneurs and startups.

Drone Developments for Students. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced Wednesday that it will be loosening its requirements on students flying drones for academic purposes. Under the current FAA framework, pretty much anyone who wants to operate a drone for non-recreational purposes has to obtain a special exemption from the agency. But under this newly announced framework, students looking to use drones for education or research purposes won’t have to (as long as they follow existing guidelines for hobby aircraft). At the same event, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta also announced the creation of an advisory committee to assist the FAA in fully integrating drones into the national airspace. You can read more about how government policies and regulation impact drone innovation on our FutureTech publication here.

Ellen Pao’s New Diversity in Tech Group. Earlier this week, Ellen Pao, whose gender discrimination lawsuit against her former VC firm highlighted just some of Silicon Valley's diversity problems, along with a coalition of leading women in tech, unveiled Project Include. The new non-profit aims "to accelerate diversity and inclusion solutions in the tech industry" by providing resources to early to mid-stage startups to build more inclusive companies. Project Include will also help participating companies track key metrics overtime including employee salary, status, and equity. Why startups? They're where "we believe change is possible and can have a broad impact even beyond the industry," Pao explains.

More Trouble for Uber. Two weeks ago, Uber reached a settlement in a pair of class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts. But the fight isn’t over for the company. While the settlements in both of those cases sidestepped the issue of employee classification, new cases filed in Florida and Illinois this week ask the court to address the alleged misclassification of Uber’s drivers as independent contractors specifically. A ruling that the drivers are in fact employees would be a devastating blow for Uber (and many of the other gig economy platforms that classify their workers as contractors). A settlement, on the other hand, would be significantly positive for the company, as class-action status in either of the cases could collect all remaining U.S. Uber drivers together. We’re tracking.

Tech Industry Releases Presidential Platform. Some of tech’s largest trade associations published their Presidential Platform this week. The document highlights important issues such as strengthening the tech workforce, reducing excessive patent litigation, facilitating access to spectrum, and developing an Internet of Things strategy.

How the Last Standing Candidates Score on Tech. Now just three candidates remain in the presidential primaries. How do the last standing candidates rank on the issues most important to the nation’s tech community and startups? According to Engine’s analysis, Clinton and Sanders still lead with a B+ and B, respectively. Trump scored the lowest among his Republican contenders and still trails: he received an F based on his knowledge and stances on technology issues including encryptions, STEM education, and broadband.

Tech:NYC Launches. New York City’s tech companies and startups have a new advocate. Tech:NYC, led by Engine’s president and former executive director, Julie Samuels, will work with the city of New York, as well as state and national policymakers on issues that impact the city’s growing number of tech startups. There’s no shortage of issues to tackle: from for-hire vehicle regulations to taxation. In addition to working on policy issues, the group aims to “attract tech talent and jobs to NYC, to support the growth of the technology sector, and to increase civic engagement by leaders of the New York tech community.”


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