The Center for Data Innovation hosted the conference “How Can Policymakers Help Build the Internet of Things?” on December 4, 2014 to address the impact of the Internet of Things on consumers, cities, and the private sector and to highlight the ways in which policymakers can help lay the groundwork for innovation. The event was held in conjunction with the release of the Center’s new report, “10 Policy Principles for Unlocking the Potential of the Internet of Things.” Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA) delivered keynotes, touching on the role policymakers play in fostering partnerships with the private sector and building public awareness of new technologies. Sen. Fischer described how technological advancement in data collection and connectivity is both “consumer empowering” and economically beneficial, calling for smart, modern policies that avoid unnecessary regulation. Sen. Ayotte discussed methods of letting innovation thrive, such as by exercising regulatory humility and by partnering with private industry. Rep. DelBene drew upon her own experiences creating common message systems for email to discuss the importance of interoperability and communication protocols and engaging in a discussion with technologists to create policy that will remain relevant in the future. Sen. Schatz stressed that the sheer scope of the Internet of Things requires iterative policymaking.
The first panel, “Smart Homes and Smart Devices,” featured Neil Chilson (Attorney-Advisor to Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Ohlhausen), Chris Irwin (Smart Grid Standards and Interoperability Coordinator , Department of Energy), Vineet Shahani (Head of Commercial and Product Legal, Nest Labs), and Ohad Zeira (Director of Global Product Management, Belkin). Panelists highlighted the value that the data collected from ubiquitous sensors will have in generating actionable insights for consumers. They also discussed how policymakers should take the time to observe how the market can resolve issues but intervene when there is clear authority to do so and the need is sufficient.
The second panel, “Smart Cities and Infrastructure,” featured Hilary Cain (Director of Technology and Innovation Policy, Toyota), Dan Hoffman (Chief Innovation Officer, Montgomery County, Maryland), Alan Roth (Senior Executive Vice President, US Telecom), and Tonnetta Oubari (Business Development and Strategy Manager, Verizon). Panelists discussed the importance of connected cities and methods of overcoming the challenges of modernizing public infrastructure by integrating the Internet of Things. Topics included the need for increased education and early engagement of users, vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure protocols, and how aggregating data from sensors on vehicles, traffic lights, bridges, light posts, and more will benefit public safety. Several panelists noted that the United States lags behind countries like Japan in adoption of smart technologies due to factors such as privacy fears and a lack of education. Panelists noted that while cities should lead the adoption of the Internet of Things by demonstrating its effectiveness with pilot projects, there will still be a need to leverage capabilities from other entities, such as private sensor networks, to fully deliver the benefits of the Internet of Things to the public.
The third panel discussed “Smart Industry” and featured Kate Jackson (Knowledge Expert, McKinsey Center for Government), Alexa Marrero (Deputy Staff Director, House Energy and Commerce Committee), Eric Miller (Vice President of Policy, Innovation, and Competitiveness, Canadian Council of Chief Executives), and Sokwoo Rhee (Associate Director of the Internet of Things and Cyber-Physical Systems, NIST). The main topics of discussion included the potential for the Internet of Things to introduce transparency into business-to-business relationships and thus reduce costs, the huge economic potential of the Internet of things, the need for data science education, and how the consumer interfaces of Internet of Things devices, or lack thereof, necessitates new thinking on regulations for data collection and use, particularly with medical apps and devices. Panelists also discussed the idea that the future industrial impact will likely be driven by the analytics and services derived from sensor data. One panelist suggested that it is crucial for government policy to provide a “playground” in which standards, products, and solutions –often not interoperable– can compete to allow common protocols and effective tools to emerge.
Overall, the conference offered a multitude of perspectives on how the Internet of Things will have a transformative impact on many important aspects of the economy and society.