5 Questions for Susan Delbiny

Welcome back to Regular Friday, The Future in Five Questions. Today we have Rep. Susan Delbiny (D-Washington), who represents Washington’s first congressional district. DelBene is the chair of the New Democrats Alliance and a former CEO of Microsoft, who has worked extensively on technology policy since her election to Congress in 2010. DelBene also helped found the “Reality Caucus,” a bipartisan group of lawmakers formed to advance understanding of virtual reality technology in Washington .

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What is the big idea being taken lightly?

Telehealth. One silver lining to the pandemic has been the broader adoption of telehealth technology that makes it easier for people in rural communities, workers with atypical schedules, and low-income Americans to access essential medical services. The more we can do to increase the use of services, the faster providers can detect and treat health problems.

What technology do you think is overrated?

metaverse. I’m a huge supporter of VR, augmented, and mixed “XR” technology but the hype around the metaverse quickly shifted from excitement to jargon. Consumers, businesses, and government must continue to focus on the real-world medical, educational, and workforce promises of XR technology. I started and led the House Reality Gathering to help educate my colleagues and the public about how this technology can help people.

What book most shaped your perceptions of the future?

The biggest thing that shaped my concept of the future was the time I spent researching biology and technology. I have spent a long career in companies large and small. I saw breakthroughs from email to smartphones and vaccines that were revolutionary at the time. If you could see how they looked in their initial form, you would hardly recognize them. What is important to remember a lot of these ideas and especially the people who developed them is that they did not come from the usual suspects at the time.

The best book summarizing some of these breakthroughs and ideas in technology is Walter Isaacson’s The Innovators. It paints a rich picture of the digital revolution and how the myths in technology we think of today began.

What can the government do about technology when it is not?

Pass the National Privacy Act. Privacy is very fundamental to everything related to technology. We’ve made more progress on that front in the last few months than we’ve ever done in any Congress before, but that doesn’t mean anything until we get something across the finish line. After the horrific Supreme Court decision revoking the right to abortion, many women realized that app data, geolocation, and search could be used against them because there is no federal privacy law. I’ve been working for years to change that because we’re already way behind on that front.

What surprised you the most this year?

Bipartisanship of the CHIPS and Science Act. Passing this law will help boost American manufacturing and reduce our over-reliance on foreign-made semiconductors. A global shortage of these components is driving up costs for families as they power nearly every modern device from smartphones to washing machines. I am glad that Congress was able to finally come together and this bill crossed the finish line.