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CVD 2024: Opening Minds

By Matthew Conti

Coming Together

Participating in the 2024 IEEE-USA Congressional Visits Day (CVD) was refreshing, with an opportunity to partner, expand and implore discourse, while acclimating Members of Congress and their staffers to the IEEE-USA way of thinking about public policy today.  These visits involve contemplating norms, both new and old, and ensuring qualitative legislative strategy within meaningful acts of applied innovative engineering.

During CVD 2024, a group of national cohorts assembled, tasked with answering big legislative concerns with some of the U.S. government’s most needed priorities, in support of national interests.  It all started with leaders from local regions gathering for this two-day event in the heart of the nation’s capital, Washington D.C.

We were set out to supercharge national public policy with a powerful narrative of engineers.  We first started the morning with an amazing breakfast with IEEE President Tom Coughlin, talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Breakfast of Champions

At breakfast, Tom Coughlin and I engaged in an in-depth conversation about how we currently societally perceive the term “Artificial Intelligence,” versus how historically it has been applied in the most traditional sense.  Using examples such as analog calculators, alarm clocks, and spellcheck for a word processing software, we could help policy makers understand the future of AI, by thinking of it within the context of such historical precedents.

Tom presented a tangible argument about the significance of proper data usage and data rights associated to the current application of Artificial Intelligence.  Too much of the data being used is not being fact checked, cited or even properly assessed for quality.  There was a need to explain how current AI policy does not mean we are changing any current understanding of how we do things, per se, but rather how AI should be using some of the aforementioned quality assurance techniques.  If there isn’t a reference point of where the starting point can be, you can’t associate the right kind of connections in applied policy legislation.

Driving Change

After the breakfast concluded, we got together with our regional teams to further plan for our interactions with the legislators who influence these big policy decisions.  When we got together with Fellows and others from our shared regional senatorial offices, we addressed these concerns.  There has been a lingering fear amongst workers that this is something we’ve never seen before, but with enough historical context, they would begin to understand that horse-drawn carriages are now cars.  Horsepower for instance, is emblematic of a horse, like a Ford Mustang.  A horse without a brain cannot produce power, so in respect to innovation, this is an Artificial Intelligence.

I showed legislative staffers a photo of Curtis Priem, a Cofounder of NVIDIA, and me, which segued nicely into a discussion about the CHIPs and Science Act, and some of the issues we are facing today with workforce talent.  Also, the fact that chips now have AI built into them sparked a national security conversation about AI-powered cybersecurity, and new national threats of AI-backed cyber warfare, such as AI-powered viruses.  IEEE members brought a holistic expert perspective to the world of the national defense posture.

Senate Coffee Shop

Our team had downtime break at a coffee shop in the building of our next meeting, where we discussed the implications of AI, current economic innovations, socio-cultural behaviors in technology landscapes, and how we should leverage tools to solve seen or unforeseen threats.  This framing was to shape a narrative that would illustrate how the United States could maintain its status as a global leader in innovation.  .

These were all significant asks, so, as a distributed group of national experts in various fields, we really wanted to tailor a truly heartfelt message to communicate during our interactions with Members of Congress and staffers, helping them realize the importance of why these were our specific requests.

It may have been a tall glass of water for some, but thankfully we had the coffee shop to discuss, plan and hone our messaging.

Meeting of the Minds

When we sat down with the House and Senate offices, we shared our backgrounds and stories, giving context to what we do and what we aspired to have happen by the end of our meetings.  During preparation for CVD 2024, I spoke with Lara Sayer, the former Deputy CFO of SOCOM and now Executive Director of the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution (PPBE) Reform Commission, who was working with the Honorable Ellen Lord, the former U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.  I had provided feedback on the PPBE and they reached out to me when the Final Report was created for planning, programming, budgeting, and execution reform for the Department of Defense. During my CVD visits, they wanted me to share Section V on Fostering Innovation, which I did, and it was well received and flagged for further review.

During our visits, I also shared examples of how a calculator is a form of AI, and how we invented the exact same chips that we exported to other countries to build with.  We also discussed foreign students coming over from other countries, getting PhD educations, but being unable to gain the appropriate visas necessary to stay in the United States because of a visa lottery process.

Our hosts appreciated all of the great insight we offered, and felt my calculator example could help lawmakers understand how Artificial Intelligence is not what they thought it was, and how it might be used in creating efficient public policies going forward by creating a better understanding of AI in the congressional space.

CVD 2024 was overall a great experience, filled with memories, stories, and ideas worth spreading.

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Matthew Conti

Matthew Conti is a recognized Pioneer in Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques currently at ICF Next as a Senior User Experience Architect.

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