Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Prof. V returns from Washington

I've had an intense and exciting day and a half here at "politics camp", otherwise known as LISPI. Many thanks to the CRA for organizing this event. It's been an eye-opener in many ways. I've come away from this meeting with a new appreciation for the kind of lobbying efforts CS folks undertake in DC to make sure we can continue to do research and live in our little bubbles. 

One of the "homework assignments" that we were given yesterday for today morning was to practice a 3-4 minute pitch to a staffer for a representative/Senator on a topic of our choosing (about the importance of NSF funding, about a specific issue we think is important, etc). Our "panel" consisted of former Hill staffers who've been on both sides of the pitch table, and each of us had to do a "Shark Tank"-like pitch to them.

It was surprisingly nerve-wracking. I had prepared a pitch on recidivism and the importance of fairness when using data-driven predictors, and having to reduce it down to a few minutes of intelligible speech took some effort. Luckily, the panelists were very constructive in their criticism.

Outside the presentations and discussions, there are some serious issues bubbling up in DC right now that kept cropping up during the workshop. 

Firstly, the 2007 America COMPETES Act is up for reauthorization, and the House Science committee is attempting to  take an axe to NSF funding for social sciences and geosciences. In a move that would have made the British Raj (and all computer scientists) proud, they dangled a classic divide-and-rule trick over the head of the NSF by increasing the budget of CISE, engineering and MPS as a "compensation". This level of detailed guidance for budgeting is apparently unprecedented and the NSF (and the CRA) is fighting it. 

Secondly, there's a big debate going on about backdoor encryption and whether it's technically possible and/or desirable to allow government backdoors into encryption on devices like iPhones etc. I'm not particularly competent to weigh in on these issues, but there were a lot of security folks at the workshop who brought this up as their major concern during our morning pitch session. 

In any case, it's away from the US and onto Canada, for SDM 2015 in Vancouver. 

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