Duke MA Webinar with Matt Perault, Director of the Center on Science and Technology Policy

all right welcome everybody hopefully you can see our video and hear us loud and clear right now if not let us know in the chat box we’re gonna conduct most of our audience QA through the chat box as well we have got a lot of folks on the call so throughout the conversation with Matt and then at in the second half when we open it up to the audience post your questions in the chat box there should be an option if it’s not visible down in the lower toolbar and zoom with me today Matt Parral my name is Ben Shepherd I’m the assistant director for marketing and communications at the new conditioner for science in society and I’m also a candidate in the MA program myself my interests are specifically in line with the tech track so I thought I would step in and kind of have a have a candid Q&A with Matt today as I was saying earlier we’re gonna use the chat box and not open microphones since we have so many people on the call that can get a little crazy so if you have any questions post them in the chat box and when we open it up to questions afterwards we will go through them in proper order so next to me an off camera you can’t quite see is our assist associate director Madeleine little coat some of you may already be in touch with her she’s she’s the one that you’re communicating with via email she probably reached out to you regarding this this webinar and of course in just in time we’ve got some emergency going on in the background so bear with us while the fire trucks go by alright so Madeleine will be available after the discussion as well when when when Matt heads out to discuss any other specific questions about the overall program in general that can that can be how to apply tuition questions things of that nature and last last and certainly not least Matt Perot is associate professor of the practice at science and society in the Sanford School for Public Policy he’s also the director of the new center on Science and Technology Policy which you might have seen in the video as well it’s not our building I promise you should be over soon so so Matt served as director of public policy at Facebook he led the company’s global public policy planning efforts on issues such as competition law enforcement and human rights and the oversaw public policy for whatsapp oculus and Facebook artificial intelligence research as I mentioned he’s core faculty and our Master of Arts in bioethics and science policy and to be clear when you hear master of arts and bioethics and science policy that is our Master of Arts in tech ethics and policy as well we were trying to be specific when talking to our our tech audiences that we have a strong section that isn’t properly defined with the traditional word bioethics and we’re actually working on a name change with the Graduate School to make it more reflective of the content that we actually discuss so in addition to being faculty he’s going to be teaching a course which we’ll talk about he’s going to be teaching of course this spring that we’ll be talking about in our interview and he just launched a new podcast called TBD which is technology by design which we’ll get into as well you can find that on iTunes and Spotify and I believe the fourth episode is launching tomorrow it’s about peanut butter peanut butter great technology and peanut butter we’ll figure it out so first things first man I just wanted to get into some general tech policy discussions so those there’s some in our audience who come from pretty diverse backgrounds they may be scientific backgrounds technological backgrounds and there are many who may just now be considering a policy angle maybe they’re coming from an engineering background or they’re coming from bench science or something along those lines so can you just speak to the policy field a little bit is is the creation of tech policy unique compared to other policy arenas so I think if you are coming houndour the engineering on the more technical side and you were looking to add a policy component to your education in your background that would be in a really really valuable combination so a lot of the conversation now in Washington and Silicon Valley is about figuring out how to ensure that in the products that we build the products tech companies create that those products consider the the social implications of the technology that they’re developing which means that and I think engineers and scientists and people who are working on the technical side really can benefit and will be uniquely impactful in those jobs if they understand the policy implications of their work and they understand the concerns that policymakers and others have about the nature of technology products so even if you’re going into the field of engineering you don’t plan to be sitting in Washington doing you know policy work on the hill or working in a company’s policy Department just being aware of this of this that the nuances and policy

making is going to make you better at doing you’re here yeah I think it’s really important I mean I think the sort of flippant narrative now is basically we don’t want a lot of 23 year old white men sitting in Silicon Valley and building products for the world they they’re they reflect only a small slice of the population and they’re building products that work for certain communities and not for others and we need more well-rounded people creating products I think that’s a little bit of an over stated narrative but it’s also one that’s very pervasive it’s pervasive in DC it’s pervasive in any newspaper that you pick up and I think it’s one that means that if you are an engineer able to say I am bringing to the table a broader understanding of policy and ethical issues that will help you to stand out on the engineering side I think the the inverse of that is also true so I didn’t have the luxury of being someone who had deep understanding of product when I joined Facebook I understood the policy side I had a law degree I had a policy degree I didn’t understand the specifics on the product side and I think understanding more about how products work makes you more effective in a policy job it makes you more effective at a company because you can give real when you can tailor your advice to people who are actually building products it will make you more impactful within a company by trying to figure out how to tweak the products in ways that are better from a policy perspective it would make you also I think more compelling in non industry careers so make you more powerful as an advocate I think if you are looking to work for an NGO for instance I think it would make you more powerful as an academic I think one thing I’ve noticed in coming into academia is there are few people I think particularly in the policy in law legal realm who really have a deep understanding of how products work in the business models and I think would make you more impactful in a policymakers office so I think relatively few policy makers actually understand how the products work and there are I think they increasingly recognize that that’s the case and so there are programs like I think it’s called like the Congressional tech policy fellow program or something along those lines where they actually try to bring in practitioners to serve as advisors in member staffs offices to try to provide guidance on how the tech products actually work yes so what I’ve learned in being in at Duke as well is that sometime in the past decade maybe two decades there’s been a pretty strong shift where as a cadet academia policy in tech kind of code didn’t really interact a whole lot academia I was off doing their research policy they weren’t they weren’t playing well one of the reasons science and society was created was to kind of start to bridge that gap yeah I’m kind of anticipating this need and that was a decade or so ago can you speak to some of the challenges that we’re facing now why is it important that we don’t have engineers who are just heads down focused on the work that you’re doing or less less in your experience but same thing with scientists doing bench research where we’re trying to emphasize how important it is that they be engaged in the public discourse that they read on the hill yeah so I can speak a little bit more on the tech side I mean I think the basic idea is you don’t want people who build the perfect products for 15 year olds or one in a mall but it would be incredibly destructive if it was used in a context of religious strife in India for instance and I think that’s been you know that’s like obviously an extreme example but that I think has been the the issue that sometimes the tech companies have confronted they’ve built products that work really well in certain use cases and in others raise real problems that doesn’t necessarily mean that the product needs to be completely redesigned or that the fact that it that there are bad use cases I don’t think that necessarily is fatal to whether products should be able to exist in the world but I think it is increasingly really difficult to try to be credible in industry and in the nonprofit world and in the policy making the world and not see multiple different sides of what tech products do in the world and having a good feel for that and I think having a really tangible understanding of then how to translate that into what people build or into an advocacy strategy or into a legislative agenda is really really important so I think one thing that’s unique about what we’re trying to achieve in our program is I think it’s not just about asking hard questions and saying that from the Academy’s perspective we look down on industry and we say industry is just unethical and they need to figure out how to do things more effectively about breaking things exactly it is figuring out how to take an understanding of what a company is trying to achieve and what’s good for society and how to marry those things and how to do them from the perspective of someone who works in public policy either on an industry side or for government yeah so you were recently in the media specifically talking about political

advertising on social media for everyone that may not be aware Twitter just recently adjusted their policy on the way they handle handle political ads you know and I think that’s a good example of kind of what you’re talking about where it’s very easy to have this knee-jerk reaction to it to what is a an issue worth considering but perhaps Twitter responded to the wrong kind of pressure yeah I think I think that is fair I mean what I saw in that case was Twitter responding to pyaare to public relations pressure into policy pressure but in making a decision that I think is bad for its users and bad for politicians so I think cutting off political advertising is gonna result in fewer voices being heard and the voices that are less well heard I think we’re going to be traditionally more disempowered voices so that that I think is likely to be political challengers rather than incumbents people with less money to spend rather than more so on all the advantages of having easy access to advertising are going to affect those it could be an activist group it could be yep yeah that’s a that’s a good that’s a good way to frame it and I think my point in criticizing Twitter isn’t to say and there should be and any political ads should be allowed to exist we have no concerns that that’s not that’s not my my desire I think my approach my view of it is that the conversation I think has been somewhat simplistic in sort of making the case that trying to first of all I think identify Facebook and Twitter as diametrically opposed I don’t think that’s at all I don’t think that’s at all the case Facebook doesn’t have a wide open ads policy Twitter and Twitter still permit some types of political advertising but try to figure out what is an approach that actually does recognize the benefits of political advertising and Kure encourage some of the abuses and so in the in the work that we’re trying to do in the center and in the course that I that I will teach starting on Tuesday with actually exactly this example we will be exploring what are the right approaches to political advertising and what are the potential downsides for companies that are looking to maintain how few companies think about maintaining a viable advertising platform for revenue purposes and for free expression purposes but also curbs and abuses so in your time at Facebook and understanding that you may not be free to share all the details we might be interested in what did that team look like the team what what did a policy team look like who might try to tackle a question like that so it looked so it actually didn’t look monolithic and that was a challenging thing I I lived in the same house for the first like basically like six I lived in basically I lived in the same neighborhood anything for 16 in my first 18 years I was accustomed to minimal change I started into Facebook there were 1,300 people I think and now there are like 40 or 50,000 yeah and the policy team I was the eighth person in the DC office the DC office is now a couple of several hundred people so it was constantly evolving there was no status quo everything was changing and that again I think is something that actually is important for students to learn because in order to be effective in tech policy it’s a world that’s removed very rapidly and being able to to surf those waves as opposed to crash into them is a really important the basic structure of the policy team the policy team even as it grew had the same I think kind of core elements which were a lobbyist team and I know lobbying is a dirty word but it’s a pretty important practice I kind of think of it as the ability to get shit done as opposed to just sort of think abstract things about deep think deep thoughts write long papers the lobbyists are the people who when India threatens to turn off your service they got on a plane and they make sure your service stays up that’s an unbelievably strong skill set to have and so that’s kind of the core of any policy team there was then an issue expert team and that team started small but the function grew over as we had more and more size to our team overall yet you don’t hire an issue expert as your first hire on a policy team but that that grew and then we had sort of two teams that I guess were unique to Facebook given the nature of the product one was a product policy team so basically the team that set the policies for the Facebook product itself so sometimes when people say Facebook’s policy right exactly so sometimes when people say policy at Facebook they say like are you gonna permit nudity or not and that was one segment of what we did there was a team that worked on are we gonna prohibit nudity or not and if we are what is that prohibition look like and at Facebook world it gets into like lots of nuances like you have a baby the

baby’s butt crack has exposed is that a violation in a diaper is having a violation of the nudity ban or not there are you would think you don’t have to develop policies for that sort of thing and it turns out that you do and then the other team that I think was a little bit unique to Facebook was a politics team and so that was a team that was focused on helping politicians to use the product so I think every every company is gonna have slightly different structure to their team to match the product that they produce in the world and that applies that’s not just a tech issue that’s Exxon that’s any company see if we’re getting are we getting drowned out by this for a second not too bad sorry to cut you off guys when I was going I don’t know why all the fire trucks are coming out during our 45 min window but it’s excellent because we are on fire so so I think any any team would have you know some of those unique elements to match what the product is and and so you know Facebook is a platform that politicians used and so we sort of in addition to a lobbying team which would be advocating for the interests of the company we had a team that just basically was kind of customer service for politicians you know they had content taken down they didn’t think should be taken down they got locked out of their account right I bet all that stuff yeah okay so I want a venti when we open this up to the to the audience I’m curious myself and I call and I hope a few in the audience will be as well in your time there did you see any type of cultural change in as this evolve because Facebook didn’t set up set out to be what they are today and as you already said that the technology changes every six months like there’s yeah there’s new issues right so Facebook Mark Zuckerberg didn’t realize the the how the stakes would change a decade and a half later right how did the cultural change from your perspective within the company over the past decade and again what I’m really looking for is just what is what is going on not just as far as I need goes but as far as what young people are looking for when they go into a space like that yeah I actually think he probably did recognize what he was creating I mean he anticipated all the specifics of the good and all the specifics of the bad but like I think he anticipated he was creating impactful technology and so when when I when I started to Facebook and there were people who are like oh you’re going to work for the company that pokes people like that kind of stuff that was always a sort of I thought that didn’t that didn’t reflect it not yeah and it didn’t reflect that but what the company viewed it was a platform for for people to connect in new ways in expansive ways and there were gonna be a lot of there gonna be a lot of good people are great and people are awful a company that facilitates interaction and connection sharing will have amazing components of it and horrible components of it so I think that that was kind of always the case I think the issue now in in tech is trying to figure out how much room there will be for companies to release products that are impactful for the planet in a positive way against a backdrop that is very skeptical of tech companies yeah and so I’ve been it’s we’re coming up on the 10th anniversary of Hillary Clinton’s Internet freedom speeches or first Internet freedom speech so I was rereading her initial and at least as I read it I think there are people now who would say it was naive about all the benefits of Technology and didn’t anticipate the harms but it actually talks about both I was struck in reading it not I thought I would see it I thought it would be very naive and I would read it as just talking only about the good things and instead I actually read it and was like why don’t we talk at all about the good things yeah now and the kinds of use cases that she talked discusses are you know people using mobile phones in Africa to sort of make their voice to lobby their governments to advocate for certain approaches to different things for banking and all that stuff I think still exists it’s not that that just went away all that stuff exists in all those use cases like the spec just by the fact that now we kind of take it for granted like oh of course there’s gonna be payment on kind of low-end mobile phones and emerging markets instead of sort of taking but now we sort of take it for granted and we just only think about the downsides and it seems to me like it like the real challenge in this world is to hold both things strongly there there are really problematic things when you enable people to interact more easily at scale and there are amazing things and I think we’ve kind of lost sight of a lot of the value proposition and lost sight in a way that I find to be kind of it kind of sucks it sucks a lot of creativity out of the process to only scream about how

terrible things are and to not think about what are the things what are the what is the value proposition for technology that we got back so let’s talk about the center a little bit then what are some of the goals that you that you’re striving for to kind of tackle that issue that maybe maybe find more balance there and more productivity well so I guess there are a few different ones I mean one is trying to focus on concrete policy development to actually introduce more policy solutions into the equation and to try to do it from the perspective of holding those two things firmly throughout holding on to the fact that technology is not perfect and technology is not evil and horrible it is it is human and I think can be managed and harnessed in the way that there’s tremendous good and the the kinds of knee-jerk approaches like banning all political advertising I think will eliminate a lot of important positive use cases and I think they’re more subtle policy solutions that will preserve more of the good things than an outright ban would so that that’s one of the things and then I think the other and this is like really the gift for me and moving from industry to academia is looking for some creative ways to tell new stories about experiences that people are having in in technology so part of the purpose of the TVD technology by design podcast is to talk with people who are working in the field and really understand what it’s like for them and to get a sense of their experiences what they think works well what our challenges and kind of try to move beyond the I’m a terrible industry sellout or I’m an NGO advocate who has a monolithic worldview or I’m a policy maker who screams loudly but has no understanding of technology and trying to sort of move beyond I think what the where people often end up kind of falling in the debate and actually see if we can unpack more just a sense of the humans who work in this field and what their experiences are and what their aspirations are and I know the senator is new in and this is certainly going to change over the coming year but how do you see students getting involved speaking to the master’s program we have we have undergraduate students we have students across Duke in various capacities but in this case to our to our master students yeah so I think that’s us that’s something that’s gonna have to watch to figure out over time because the so I I started like two and a half months ago and then had a baby so we’re over in the automated it made clear exactly for my wife I’m just a dad so it’s to be determined but I think so um I’m a Duke alum I care a lot about the institution and for a long period of time I saw other schools doing more in tech than Duke was doing and that broke my heart so Stanford is kicking ass in tech Harvard’s kicking ass in tech Georgetown standing up at Tech Policy Center less well-regarded institutions that are that that are that are still strong but less well-regarded institutions are starting tech policy centers to I’ve friends a variety different places who are doing really good interesting exciting work in tech Duke has been slow and I have has frustrated me because Duke has this unbelievable potential to be incredibly impactful in technology Research Triangle Park is not so convey but it’s not the middle of nowhere either it’s a hub of significant large companies that are impactful globally and Durham has an amazing startup scene Durham has great interesting dynamic startup businesses that are using technology and interesting ways even if they’re not technology businesses so that’s what we’re trying to get at with the nut butter company podcast that will be released tomorrow for instance Duke is a day trip from DC you can you can leave in the morning and you can go and have a bunch of meetings with Senate staff and you can be back that night so Duke has this potential to be impactful and what I’m hoping for with the center is that I think it’s a reflection of of the emphasis that Duke is now placing in technology and has it which has been growing in the last couple of years and really building out this component of what do can do and one thing that I saw as a student is that when Duke decides to be great at something it becomes great at if its resources behind it it invests deeply in students and it will make its voice heard and so I think the sort of main thing from a student value perspective is that want this to be a community or I want to make my contributions to this community because there are other people working in tech who are trying to do sort of similar things I want my contributions to be having a vibrant tech policy discussion at Duke and having do part of a vibrant tech policy conversation that happens elsewhere and so those so I

think in terms of the campus component that will mean trying to have more speakers here it will mean offering more courses so I’ve been meeting with tons of people at different places throughout the throughout the area but throughout the country as well and trying to get people to be interested in adjunct teaching and then I in my class in the spring I have its 10-week class we already have two confirmed guest speakers who are kind of leaders in the field we’ve probably will have one two three additional people who will come each time they’ll come they’ll be involved in class but they’ll also talk to students about careers they’ll do lunches and vessel events right yeah they’ll do some lunch events to talk through what they’re experiencing in the tech policy world so I’m hoping that there will just be a lot a lot more opportunities to be engaged generally and so we’ll feel in tech policy just like it feels in lots of other things where Duke is a leader that there’s a really vibrant conversation on campus about the issue yeah I think the timing is great since you were a student there’s been other programs that have popped up kind of in preparation for this as well the North Campus right the data plus program mids a couple other comes to mind that yes show that Duke really does recognize there that that was lacking that they can prove and that there’s opportunity in this location that isn’t available say up in the north north east or the west coast so yeah awesome well you