January 16, 2022

IGP paper on TikTok makes waves

On January 9 IGP released a threat analysis of TikTok that debunked claims that the popular short video app is a national security threat. Until now, the “ban TikTok” debate has never been subjected to critical scrutiny, and no one has bothered to ask the 90 million Americans who actually enjoy using the app whether such an action is justified. But our report turned the tables. In Rapid City, South Dakota, a draft of the IGP report helped to kill a City Council motion to ban the app. Rapid City Council member Laura Armstrong stated, “I’m glad our council came together and demonstrated leadership so we don’t have to participate in media McCarthyism or digital protectionism.” Meanwhile, Auburn, a state-supported university in Alabama that banned TikTok from campus WiFi networks, generated protests and resistance from students. Predictably, anti-TikTok partisans offered no counter arguments or rebuttals to the IGP threat analysis. The only responses we saw tried lamely to paint the Georgia institute of Technology (which receives hundreds of millions in R&D grants from the U.S. Defense Department) as tools of the Chinese Communist Party. Right.

Will AI disrupt online search?

Firms working with generative AI and large language models (LLMs) are ushering in a new wave of innovation in the search engine market. For example, OpenAI’s freely available API makes possible integration between its GPT model and search engines, allowing applications like ChatGPT to provide more detailed responses to natural language queries and data incorporated from specific sources such as web pages.  Work on integrating “better” (factual, current, less toxic, etc.) data into a LLM has actually been going on for some time at OpenAI (and now at competitors) with mixed results. One recent implementation, enabled by an extension to the Chrome and Firefox browsers, supplements the LLM, allowing ChatGPT to return an answer based on real-time data pulled directly from sources indexed by Google. Relatedly, various reports say that Microsoft is planning to integrate OpenAI’s GPT technology into its Bing search engine. Reports suggest that Microsoft hopes to use ChatGPT’s contextual and conversational replies to user queries to attract users to Bing and challenge Google’s dominance in the search engine market. Other upstart search engines, like Perplexity.ai and You.com, seem to be pursuing a similar strategy, differentiating from Google by providing AI-enhanced search results, and also providing better privacy for its users. While it’s too early to tell what the market implications are for search, it is clear that structured, curated knowledge data is a complementary input to generative AI platforms.

Internet Policy & Politics conference

IGP’s Dr. Karim Farhat and doctoral candidate Vagisha Srivastava will present preliminary work on the political economy of currency digitization January 21 at the Internet Policy & Politics Hybrid Conference at Oxford University. The 118th US Congress is poised to create a comprehensive regulatory framework for stablecoins and is mulling a US Central Bank Digital Currency (CDBC). A comprehensive overview of the financial policy drivers and political economic ramifications of digital assets policy is needed. What monetary or financial policy problems are most likely to motivate Congressional action, and to what extent can the various digital asset technologies be accurately characterized as solutions to these problems? Farhat and Srivastava show how calls for financial inclusion, system efficiency and clearing speed, and the need to preserve the US Dollar as global reserve currency, straddle the line between convenient rallying cries and real financial policy problems.

The Internet Policy and Politics Conference aims to promote interdisciplinary conversation about the implications of the Internet and related technologies for public policy. The event is co-sponsored by the Policy Studies Organization, the Policy & Internet journal, the Global Security and Intelligence Studies journal, the American Public University System (APUS), and the APUS Center for Cyber Defense (CCD). Attendance is free and open to the public, so tune in to participate in the debate. Links to the program and registration are available in the conference homepage.

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