September 12, 2013

University of Washington Launches Interdisciplinary Tech Policy Lab with $1.7 million Founding Gift from Microsoft

University of Washington Launches Interdisciplinary Tech Policy Lab with $1.7 million Founding Gift from Microsoft

SEATTLE, Washington – September 13, 2013 –The University of Washington announced today the launch of a pioneering laboratory designed to examine cutting-edge issues such as cybersecurity, consumer privacy and online censorship, and to improve national policies on new technologies. Leaders from the UW unveiled the lab at a ceremony last night at the University’s campus. They were joined by Microsoft Executive Vice President and General Counsel, Brad Smith and Microsoft Corporate Vice President & Head of Microsoft Research, Peter Lee in announcing the company’s founding gift of $1.7 million.

The new Tech Policy Lab brings together experts from the UW School of Law, Information School and Computer Science and Engineering, and serves as both an intellectual hub and resource center for both policymakers and technologists. Research will focus on complex policy issues emerging from 21st century technology, including online privacy, piracy, big data, public records access, and wearable technology, and on improving technology policy outcomes.

“In a nation where technology moves at an ever-rapid rate, policymakers can lack the technical knowledge they need to address how networks, devices, and software operate, so the Lab’s deeply interdisciplinary approach to addressing these issues marks a creative, critical step forward,” said Ryan Calo, Assistant Professor at the UW’s School of Law  and one of the lab’s three founding directors along with UW Associate Professor Tadayoshi Kohno, from Computer Science and Engineering, and Professor Batya Friedman, from the Information School.

Lab teams comprised of both students and faculty will identify, test and examine new technologies in order to provide policymakers with a rigorous research base and evidence-based recommendations for decision-making.

“Right now, technology shoots ahead often leaving a huge policy vacuum, and then policymakers run to catch up,” said Friedman. “How do we figure out how to co-evolve technology and policy so that we don’t experience these vacuums? It’s a fascinating challenge.”

To address these and related questions, the founding directors hope to create publications, training sessions and suites of tools to enable policymakers to better understand what the technological implications of regulatory decisions might be. Reciprocally, the lab will help technologists understand how their technical decisions interact with current policies and provide tools to support dialog between technologists and policymakers. The lab will also service legislative staffers, academics, counsel and press working on technology issues.

“The brilliance of this Lab – perhaps the first of its kind in the world – lies in bringing computer scientists and engineers together with legal and policy experts to help improve technology policy,” said Smith. “The Tech Policy Lab will help policymakers keep up with the pace of technical innovation.”

“Very often you have computer scientists focused only on technology, legal scholars focused only on policy, and social scientists focused only on social issues,” said Kohno. “Very rarely do you get all three types of people in the same lab working together to solve important problems for our society.”

Any corporate funds received will be unrestricted gifts, with no contractual agreements and no promised products, results, or deliverables of any kind.

Press Contact
Contact: Alison Jones
Media Relations, University of Washington School of Law
Phone: (206)543-1245