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Autonomous Vehicles Interview with Lauren Smith

Autonomous Vehicles Interview with Lauren Smith

June 21, 2017

Lauren Smith, Policy Counsel of the Connected Car Project, Future of Privacy Forum

Personally, what is the most interesting aspect in the convergence of the tech and automobile sectors?

I have always been fascinated by technology’s capacity to transform society, and there is no better example right now than connected cars. I love being at the center of the massive change the auto industry is going through. The technology and transportation industries are racing to figure out what things will-and should-look like in a few short years. They are about to change how we think about transportation, how we own and operate cars, how safe cars are, and who has access to them. For me, the most exciting piece is the safety benefits. I was hit by a driver while bicycling a few years ago, in an accident that new technologies could have prevented. The vast majority of car accidents are caused by human error, and it is a real thrill to be one of the people helping to integrate the technologies that could mitigate those risks.

What are the challenges facing the autonomous vehicle industry?

The relationship between consumers and vehicles is going to change quickly and the industry must be prepared to communicate these changes to consumers. While cars have long collected data, today’s vehicles generate a significantly greater volume and variety of data, which can now be communicated outside of the car. This data can power incredible safety benefits, but it means that consumers need to start thinking about cars like computers or smartphones-understanding what information they hold, controlling privacy settings and access to the information where possible, and deleting the information when selling or transferring a vehicle. Transparency and communication around consumer data use will be critical for companies operating in this space.

How will cybersecurity play into the autonomous vehicle industry in the coming years?

Cybersecurity is going to be paramount, and the auto sector can learn a lot from security practices that have become commonplace in the tech sector over the last few decades. But the risks of a security failure on a vehicle that moves 60 miles per hour is greater than a computer hack, and consumers won’t use these cars if they don’t trust them. Luckily the auto industry has already committed to collaborative, creative approaches to cybersecurity risk management. They are learning from, and with, the technology sector to develop best practices.

What are the next steps in the development of federal and state regulations in the self-driving industry?

The biggest priorities for most in the industry are to ensure that existing laws don’t prevent the introduction of autonomous vehicles, and to avoid a patchwork of conflicting state laws. Last fall, NHTSA took an important step forward by releasing their Federal Automated Vehicles Policy and Model State Policy for highly automated vehicles. Right now, Congress and the states are rushing ahead with proposals on how to regulate this space, though it remains to be seen what may actually become law, particularly at the federal level.

When it comes to privacy, self-regulatory approaches have been productive in advancing responsible data practices for rapidly emerging industry sectors and technologies. These approaches are often enforceable by federal agencies but industry motivated and led, creating opportunities to establish norms for quickly shifting technologies where law and regulation may not be able to keep pace. Nearly all major automakers in 2014 committed to a set of self-regulatory principles that require notice and consent requirements before they can share sensitive information for marketing or with unaffiliated third parties for their own use. Similar efforts and commitments across the industry will be important to protect and preserve consumer trust.

How did you initially get involved in this industry and what do you love about it?
I have worked on tech law and policy for several years, on issues ranging from IP to big data. Before working on connected cars, I was a Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where one of my main project was a review of the benefits and challenges that accompany big data which culminated in a report, “”Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values” released in May of 2014. Cars were just a small piece of those conversations then, but now they are a prime example of the power of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data. I love working in such a rapidly evolving area. Every day I get to work with colleagues to envision what we want the future to look like, and then help build the policies, infrastructure and technologies that can get us there.