Technology has evolved at breakneck speed the last 150 years – from telephones, computers and the internet to recent breakthroughs like drones, genetic tools and mRNA vaccines.
But laws and regulations aren’t keeping pace. That’s why a technology like CRISPR, the gene-editing tool, has vast potential to cure diseases, but also to drive nefarious activity like weaponizing biotoxins, said Gus Hurwitz, associate professor of law.
Hurwitz is the Menard Director of the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center, an interdisciplinary initiative at the Nebraska College of Law exploring how law and technology affect each other and society.
“My vision is to create a cohort of faculty and students from across disciplines who are interested in how we can regulate technology to both develop incredible new things that make us all better off, yet remain cognizant of and able to manage the risks that technology brings,” Hurwitz said.
The center’s foundation is a partnership between Nebraska’s colleges of law, business and engineering – what Hurwitz calls the “three legs of a stool” for technology development and commercialization. Problematically, they often work in isolation.
Engineers often don’t communicate with entrepreneurs, so they fail to incorporate safety controls in their plans. Entrepreneurs don’t consult lawyers about potential legal hurdles. Lawyers enter the picture later, after technology dissemination, to address poor design.
“All three must converse early in the process,” Hurwitz said. “The center is in the business of breaking down these silos.”
The College of Journalism and Mass Communications is another key partner, as journalists are integral to explaining and contextualizing new technology.
My vision is to create a cohort of faculty and students from across disciplines who are interested in how we can regulate technology to both develop incredible new things that make us all better off, yet remain cognizant of and able to manage the risks that technology brings.Gus Hurwitz
Since its 2020 founding, the center has hosted workshops, lectures and a fellowship program to foster collaboration and focus on technology-based problems like the rural digital divide. It’s also funding relevant Husker research on artificial intelligence, social media, agricultural land and water use, among other topics.
It launched an interdisciplinary technology governance curriculum for students covering topics like cyberlaw, media and intellectual property. Hurwitz and colleagues produce a weekly podcast, “Tech Refactored,” covering timely issues like Zoom school, the Texas power grid failure and spectrum regulation.
Gifts from the Menard Family Foundation, the Charles Koch Foundation and others help fund the center.
+ Additional content for Center Focuses on Technology Governance
Nebraska news release, 9/22/2020: University launches innovative center to study how technology is governed
Nebraska news release: 4/9/2021: Nebraska Governance and Technology Center announces new supplemental research grants