GovTech360: Blockchain, Broadband from Space and Biased AI

In this episode of GovTech360, the Rapid Round format offers quick hits on a new blockchain hire for Colorado; a space-based solution to rural broadband; and a new, gender-neutral take on virtual assistants.

by Lucas Ropek and Paul W. Taylor / June 4, 2019

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On a GovTech360 Rapid Round, we begin in Colorado where the state has named a dedicated blockchain architect to bolster its cybersecurity stance and guide it into the future. From there, amid all the 5G excitement, we look up to low earth orbit for the future of broadband. And if your agency is using AI voice assistants, is it at odds with your inclusion policies? A new UN report says Alexa and Siri have gender-bias baked in — but there is a gender-neutral alternative. Hear it for yourself on this episode.

Audio Index (Time Stamps):

  • Colorado names dedicated blockchain architect @ 0:47.
  • Space-based broadband connectivity @ 2:11.
  • UN report claims implicit bias hard coded in AI voice assistants; “Q” offers gender neutral alternative @ 4:22.

Transcript (Edited for Length and Clarity):

[Opening Billboard]

GovTech360: The Intersection of Government, Technology and the Future. On this episode:

  • Putting someone on point for blockchain in state government
  • Looking beyond 5G to low earth orbit to get rural America up to speed
  • And speaking of inclusion, do public agencies using Alexa have an implicit bias problem? Q it up!

[Body]

Paul: From the Market Navigator Studios, I’m Paul Taylor with three stories — about 60 seconds each — to give you a 360-degree view of government technology.

[Voice over: Thing One]

Paul: We have been tracking the emergence of an expanding suite of chiefs in government IT. We’re at 24 C's and counting. A CBO — or chief blockchain officer — could well be next. Exhibit one — Colorado just named veteran IT hand Thad Batt as its first blockchain architect. GovTech’s Lucas Ropek, this was your story, what is he up to?

Lucas: Thad is going to be in charge of quite a diversity of things, but the main thing that he is going to be focusing on is using blockchain and advanced ledger technology to basically amp up security for state data. He's also going to have other roles including promoting blockchain throughout the state and building up the blockchain infrastructure for Colorado. In a broader sense, this is a signal that Colorado is really trying to be a leader on this issue that makes sense for a lot of reasons. I mean, blockchain is an issue that's important to many state governments across the country. It's viewed as a method whereby officials feel they may be able to transform and simplify their processes while at the same time I think they're also trying to understand logistically what the potential actually is.

Paul: Thanks, Lucas, a link to your full story is in the show notes at govtech.com/360.

[Voice over: Thing Two]

[Actuality: Sound of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket launch]

[Actuality: Launch Announcer: “Man, I have said this before but there is nothing like a ticking clock and rocket behind you to get your heart going. Guys, it's time to go to space. Let’s get ready to rumble, New Shepard.”]

Paul: With some 3 million new jobs and $500 billion in economic activity at stake, 5G is taking up most of the oxygen in the discussion of our connected future. Our co-host Dustin Haisler is here to remind us we should take a breath and remember the promise of space-based telecom.

Dustin: Most people think about how 5G is now coming into play, it's going to enable all kinds of crazy speeds. But we still have issues with rural America and connecting people that don't have cellphone towers near them. In fact, 5G actually requires cell towers to be closer together and the infrastructure to be closer to the ground. So it actually increases the amount of infrastructure required to support those speeds. Now space and what companies like SpaceX and what Blue Origin is doing, basically space in low earth orbit is now a new platform for delivering Internet. And when you think about Internet from space, we often have kind of the bad memories of some of those vendors, that I won't name, that would provide Internet through a satellite dish, and it was basically dial-up for your home.

But now with low earth orbit satellites, and new technology embedded into these satellites are using lasers and a variety of other means, you can now pull over a gig from these constellations. And in fact, SpaceX has already launched over 60 satellites as a part of theirs. Their ultimate buildout will be well over 3,000 — Blue Origin expects to launch over 2,000 themselves. And these will become a platform for connecting not just the rest of the world, but also connecting rural America that's been left behind or that's not more economically feasible to connect from a fiber-in-the-ground standpoint. They'll now be accessible through these constellations of Internet connectivity.

Paul: Dustin and our company CEO have been thinking and writing about space as the next platform for state and local government. We’ve got a link to their story in the show notes.

[Voice over: Thing Three]

Paul: Alexa, are you female? 

Alexa: I’m female in character.

Paul: Alexa, is AI female?

Alexa: No, artificial intelligences are not female people. 

Paul: Alexa, should AI be gender neutral? 

Alexa: Sorry, I don't know that one. 

Paul: But the UN says it knows. A blistering new UNESCO report says AI voice assistants suffer from not-so-implicit gender bias that is hard coded into the likes of Alexa, Siri and Cortana. Claiming that they are "docile and eager-to-please helpers," the authors conclude that “the female gendered voices we speak to are programmed to be submissive and accept abuse as a norm.”

Now, public agencies that have deployed AI voice assistants to enhance the user experience with their government may risk being at odds with their own inclusion goals. 

But there may be a tech alternative ...

Q: Hi, I'm Q, the world’s first genderless voice assistant. Think of me like Siri or Alexa, but neither male nor female. ... [M]y voice was recorded by people who neither identify as male nor female and then altered to sound gender neutral, putting my voice between 145 and 175 hertz. ...

You can hear Q — as in the letter "Q" — and alter their voice across that range on an experimental site we’ve linked to in the show notes. We’ve also linked up the UNESCO report —  it is called I’d Blush if I Could.

[Voice over: We're out of time. Bye, bye.]

Next time out on the podcast, the survival of the state CIO — it's a companion piece to the magazine story by Ben Miller. Nobody would have dreamed when it all began 50 years ago that these tech guys — and they were and remain mostly guys — would end up at the cabinet table. Ben has the story and the data to prove it. He joins us next time on GovTech360.

And in the meantime, connect with us on Twitter. Lucas is @LucasRopek1, Dustin is @dustinhaisler. I'm @pwtaylor, and the entire enterprise is @govtechnews

You can help spread the word about the brand-new GovTech 360 by leaving a review at Apple Podcasts. Your reviews are the single best way to help get the podcast exposed to more people. We’re going to get this thing to trend or die trying.

Subscribe for free to GovTech 360 on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. And it's always available at home — govtech.com. For all of us at Government Technology, thanks for listening.

 

 

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