Category Archives: Public Affairs

The Pros and Cons of Technology

At this moment in history, technology surrounds us – even more so in the past two decades. It allows us to stay connected in unimaginable ways.

Twenty years ago, the smartphone, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and video conferencing were all emerging technologies. The world was revolutionized with the advancement of 3G or third-generation connectivity in our mobile phones in 2002, and now, nearly 20 years later, almost every mobile smartphone has the ability to connect to a 5G cellular network.

As technology evolves, so do its uses, especially in the political arena.

Technological advancements in voting were made following the 2000 presidential election which saw no clear winner on election night. Punch cards paved the way for new technology like electronic voting machines. Fast forward 20 years when a worldwide pandemic forced the country to find a new way to get to the polls. A record number of voters cast their ballots by mail, which led to a delay in the presidential election being called not on election night, but nearly three and a half days later.

This delay, and increased election scrutiny following the 2020 election, is causing some tech companies to find a solution that might make it easier and more efficient for people to vote. Earlier this year, the city of Chandler, Arizona, launched a pilot program using a smartphone app to vote. The “Voatz” app uses blockchain technology which makes it difficult to change or hack. It is the same technology used for the increasingly popular cryptocurrency.

While advances in technology are being used in positive ways, there is also a contingent using technology in a negative fashion.

Deep fakes use artificial intelligence (or machine learning) to replace the likeness of one person with another in video or digital media. While these videos have not found their way into mainstream media, some have been found floating around social media. The House Intelligence Committee held hearings on the potential malicious use of deepfakes to sway elections. Both the House of Representatives and the Senate have introduced legislation to respond to the problems posed by deep fakes.

So, the question we must ask is should innovation and security always be at odds? Is there a way to find a balance between the two? Join Secretary Janet Napolitano and Senator Mark Warner, two national security experts and public servants, for a fascinating discussion about the risks and opportunities of emergent technologies for voting, political engagement and much more.

Watch: Emergent Technologies: Friend or Foe?

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Staying Accountable for Climate Commitments

Leaders from around the globe have gathered at the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in the United Kingdom to focus on efforts being made to reduce the human impact of climate change. Those impacts and the urgency to act have not gone unnoticed in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).

As world leaders gather at COP26, The Institute of the Americas (IOA) has released a policy white paper (Nationally Determined Contributions Across the America: A Comparative Hemispheric Analysis) to better assess progress made to date by countries across the Americas in delivering on their climate commitments. The white paper provides a timely snapshot of progress while also highlighting the serious funding gaps that remain if LAC countries are going to deliver on their previously agreed upon climate pledges.

Watch Institute of the Americas Climate Nationally Determined Contributions Report.

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Lessons from the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009

Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius met with UC Berkeley students to explore the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009 and what lessons that pandemic might have for our current situation. Lesson number one: good communication is essential.

According to Sebelius, Epidemiology has a couple of core principles – one of which is providing clear, concise, accurate communication on a regular basis. One of the dramatic differences between the 2009 outbreak and what happened in 2020 was that the communication was inconsistent, often inaccurate, and contradictory.

During a fast-moving, global health crisis, you have to make decisions based on the information you have, says Sebelius. Taking no action is not an option. You’re going to probably makes some mistakes along the way, but then you correct them and move on. Napolitano adds that during the H1N1 pandemic, it was important to hold press events regularly and repeat basic public health messages like washing your hands and practicing social distancing because, if you get the communication part wrong, your crisis management will lack credibility. Indeed, it’s essential to communicate with the public not only what is known, but what is not known, as well.

Hear more about the importance of good communication and other lessons learned during the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009. Watch The United States Pandemic Response: Lessons from the H1N1 Pandemic of 2009 .

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Defending Against the Ravages of Disinformation

The rise of social media has given everyone with a smartphone or computer access to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter the power to broadcast their voice, their message to the masses with the touch of a button. The definition of social media is simple, interactive technology that allows the creation or sharing of information, ideas, interests, and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. However, with its rise in popularity, social media comes with some pitfalls, including the increased spread of disinformation.

There is a difference between disinformation and misinformation.

Misinformation is defined as “false information that is spread, regardless of intent to mislead.”

Disinformation is defined as “false information which is intended to mislead, especially propaganda issued by a government organization to a rival power or the media.”

In just the past 18 months, disinformation has had direct, harmful effects on efforts to check the spread of COVID-19, on initiatives for racial justice and on the 2020 election and its aftermath. What is even scarier, is that the continued spread of disinformation has no sign of slowing or stopping. It has forced social media companies to add disclaimers to social media posts implying that the information being read may not be accurate or truthful. News organizations are employing more fact checkers to ensure the information they disseminate over the airwaves is not false.

Eminent scholars were brought together for a Berkeley Conversation to debate and explore one of the most critical questions facing our democracy: How can we counter disinformation to protect our communities without compromising America’s core principles?

The event is sponsored by the Goldman School of Public Policy, Berkeley Law and the Office of Communications and Public Affairs.

Watch Defending Against the Ravages of Disinformation.

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From Cal Student to Mayor of Berkeley

The Center on Civility & Democratic Engagement (CCDE) at the Goldman School of Public Policy presents a special 2021 UC Berkeley Homecoming lecture featuring Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin. CCDE Faculty Director Dan Lindheim interviews Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin on how he went from Cal student to Berkeley’s Mayor, and the key issues the City faces in terms of public safety, housing, homelessness, COVID, and its complicated relationships with the Berkeley campus.

Watch From Cal Student to Mayor of Berkeley.

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