Foreign Press Center Showcases U.S. Landscape of Innovation

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Journalists meet JackRabbot, Stanford University’s self-navigating automated robot designed to operate in pedestrian spaces.

Foreign Press Center Showcases U.S. Landscape of Innovation

Silicon Valley is the unrivaled epicenter of global innovation, and thus an outstanding showcase for continued U.S. leadership in invention and modernization. For that reason, the State Department’s Foreign Press Centers (FPC) brought 20 U.S.-based foreign correspondents on a reporting tour entitled “Landscape of Innovation: A Closer Look at Emerging Technologies in Silicon Valley.” The program let our foreign journalists examine firsthand the unique confluence of factors that make the area such a fertile ground for innovation. As one of the correspondents observed in his weekly column, “In Silicon Valley, there is simply everything: the hype, the skepticism, the gamblers, the appeasers, the dreamers!”

As they explored new frontiers in autonomous technologies, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, cybersecurity, robotics, and the future of work, reporters grappled with contemporary questions already confronting scientists, technologists, and policymakers. Will automation replace jobs, or create them? Is online privacy a pipe dream? Can robots be ethical?  How do we balance collaborative innovation with intellectual property protection?

During a full day on the sun-soaked campus of Stanford University, the group met with prominent experts at the Graduate School of Business and the Center for Automotive Research.  They also stopped at the recently-opened Institute for Human Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI), which is working to advance AI research, education, policy and practice, with an eye toward improving the human condition. Journalists and machines encountered each other directly during a tour of the Stanford Robotics Lab, where student researchers demonstrated how they are modeling human motion and controlling robots to move like and interact with humans in unstructured environments. While in Palo Alto, the group also paid a visit to the legendary garage where the company Hewlett-Packard (HP) was founded. TV crews staged on the tree-lined, residential street to film standups from this pilgrimage site for tech enthusiasts around the world, which is widely considered to be the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

Correspondents for outlets in China, Ukraine, France, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and India stand outside the Hewlett-Packard home, now on the National Register of Historic Places.

In a rare opportunity to report from Twitter’s headquarters in San Francisco, journalists heard from members of the platform’s policy team about efforts to curb abusive and hateful conduct without infringing on users’ fundamental right to free speech.  The exchange highlighted the necessity of technology companies engaging constructively with policymakers to tackle challenges that have accompanied advances in innovation.

The group also had a chance to further explore the intersection of the U.S. tech and government sectors during a visit to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP), which is working to harness the resources of the tech ecosystem to address some of the most pressing issues facing U.S. national security agencies.  Following a presentation of the inventive ways SVIP is successfully collaborating with the tech sector, one participant declared it “the coolest office of government [she’d] never heard of.”

A scientist at Karius, a life sciences company based in Silicon Valley, explains how genomics and AI are helping diagnose infectious diseases. Karius offers a blood test based on next-generation sequencing of microbial cell-free DNA that can detect more than 1,000 pathogens from a single blood draw. Karius was founded in 2014 based on research conducted at Stanford.

As four days of in-depth reporting drew to an end, journalists said that their time in Silicon Valley enhanced their overall understanding of the tech sector as a driver of the U.S. economy and, particularly, how private sector concerns factor into U.S. foreign, economic, and national security policy. One reporter reflected, “You can travel to Silicon Valley as a journalist and admire the new technology, but I’m most interested in the incredible power that has accumulated in this valley. Power over our most personal information, over what we see and what we see about the world, and the tremendous financial power that impacts all industries.” 

Participating journalists agreed that the program left them largely optimistic about the future, and convinced that the U.S. would continue to be a leader in innovation on the global stage. As one participant declared in her assessment of this intensive press tour, “My capacity to absorb new exciting information reached its limit!”    

The United States Department of State has Foreign Press Centers in Washington, D.C. and New York. The Foreign Press Centers support U.S. policies by helping foreign media cover the United States. Their goal is to promote the depth, accuracy, and balance of foreign reporting from the U.S., by providing direct access to authoritative American information sources.