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TPI Tech Policy 2016 Year In Review

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***SPOILER ALERT!*** For those of you who were cryogenically frozen during the year 2016 and want to watch it on your DVR later, proceed with caution.[1]

Some people think that 2016 was the worst year ever, which can’t possibly be true considering 1348. The tech sector, however, was more balanced, with small rays of light to bolster our optimism and crushing disappointments to keep us off-balance.

Arthur C Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Or fraud.

To start, consider Stanford drop-out Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos.[2] She claimed that her magic black boxes could, despite the limitations of biology and statistics, accurately diagnose various conditions using only a drop of blood pricked from a finger.[3] Turns out that’s like trying to determine what Donald Trump believes based on one Tweet. Unlike his tweets, her black boxes didn’t work, and now she’s worth nothing and is facing millions in lawsuits. This terrible story has a bright side. It isn’t about Holmes, but the bad-ass Stanford grad/whistleblower[4] who proved a giant ego can’t crush science. We hope.

In another hopeful moment for humanity, Facebook tried to give rural and poor communities in India access to free limited internet services via its FreeBasics program. Even though corporations are people, my friend, few thought the program was pure altruism. Still, it had the potential to get millions of people online. In response, India banned FreeBasics, because nothing says “I care about the poor” like not giving them free stuff.[5] But then a billionaire came along and gave everyone free internet anyway, at least for the rest of 2016. Maybe billionaires really can solve all our problems.

Meanwhile, despite being one of the sunnier cities in the U.S., Austin went through a bit of a dark spell this year. The city banned Uber from its streets like the FCC unlocked the box – without analysis. Austin’s ban on ride-sharing is like prohibition’s ban on drinking alcohol: both activities continued, but underground and unregulated. But the city wasn’t about to let a prohibition-style Austin Outfit develop. No, its sense of justice demanded that it run a sting operation to catch citizens red-handed in the act of giving each other rides. And when drunk driving increased, things seemed dark indeed.

Now that there’s no ride-sharing in Austin, Tad is spending more time behind the wheel. Don’t worry about oncoming traffic, Tad, it won’t get in your shot.

But just as light finds its way through the clouds, the private sector will find its way around the regulations. Uber and Lyft left Austin because they didn’t want their drivers to be fingerprinted. Not only did Uber give Austin the finger, it decided to get rid of fingers and the drivers they’re attached to. Uber launched its self-driving car pilot in Pittsburgh[6] this year, with the long-term goals including reducing accidents and traffic-deaths and making robots feel the existential pain of being stuck in traffic.[7] Clearly, Uber is on a path to success, further exemplified by operating self-driving cars in San Frannever mind.

While Uber hit some roadblocks,[8] we were pretty sure Apple wouldn’t disappoint. When the FBI wanted Apple to give them the power to unlock any iPhone whenever it pleased, Apple said no, and California and US Senate defeated anti-encryption bills. See? Everything worked out for the best, and Apple released a new iPhone, and everything was go- WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT DOESN’T HAVE A HEADPHONE JACK?!

Nothing like a toasty fire to keep you warm during the holidays.

Admittedly, my patience for heroes from 2016 is running dry about as fast as NBC’s patience for Heroes. Because not only has society been figuratively exploding due to ‘post-truth’ and fake news maybe influencing elections via social media echo chambers, but our gadgets are LITERALLY exploding. Phones, e-cigarettes, phones, washing machines, misleadingly-named hoverboards, rockets, and more phones – it’s like we’re stuck in a Michael Bay movie.

And just like that, the sun refused to shine any further. You won, 2016. This period of 366 consecutive days[9] was the Death Star trash compactor to my hopes and dreams. We can only hope that 2017 goes through significantly more bug testing before it’s released.

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[1] The author would like to thank Scott Wallsten for able humor assistance. He is a kind and just ruler. A thousand blessings upon him.

[2] This is what I imagine Elizabeth Holmes’ thesis defense might have looked like had she actually attempted to graduate.

[3] Though they never specified whose. And anyway, Scrubs already taught us the one way to diagnose all that ails you.

[4] Stay in school, kids.

[5] Yes, I know it’s more complicated than that. But another thing about 2016 is that everyone was sick and tired of talking about net neutrality. So I won’t.

[6] Stop drunken autonomous driving. End the ethanol fuel mandate.

[7]Do I exist only to wait in lines behind others who exist only to wait in lines? IS THERE NO END?!”

[8] Better than hitting people.

[9] Of course the misery lasted an extra day.