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On the Horizon 2021 | Science and Technology

Here are three things to watch in Science & Technology in 2021.

Open Science & Hardware

Low cost and open source hardware made it possible to design and manufacture Personal Protective

Equipment (PPE) quickly and cheaply during initial COVID-19 response. But beyond COVID-19, open

source hardware is disrupting a range of traditional business models, including those deployed in scientific

research. Open source tools are created and released by the public so anyone can make, modify, or

distribute them for greater customization, transparency, and reuse. This movement is aligned with open

science and open innovation—or, the growing trend to increase public participation in science, technology,

and policy and to foster collaboration and sharing. The Biden administration will pursue innovative

ideas that build on prior support for open access, citizen science and crowdsourcing, and open data. We

expect policymakers will seek to better understand the ways in which these tools change how science is

done, enabling new and innovative research and broadening who can participate.

Facial Recognition and AI Ethics

Initially gaining momentum through activism within the Black Lives Matter Movement, civil rights concerns

associated with the use of facial recognition technologies by law enforcement agencies became a critical

policy topic in 2020. Congress proposed (but never passed) a moratorium, while private sector companies

made voluntary commitments around the use of facial recognition by law enforcement and other stakeholders.

But many key questions related to facial recognition remain unresolved. Customs and border protection

and consumer applications are two additional important and underexplored application domains. Beyond

new bans on the technology, policymakers should consider the full range of risks and benefits associated

with facial recognition in different contexts The inclusion of the Artificial Intelligence Incentive Act in the 2021

National Defense Authorization Act means that these concerns will continue to grow in 2021 and beyond. Yet

it also paves the way for a broader policy agenda with ethics at the fore.

The 5G Future

Is China “winning” the global competition to launch fifth generation (5G) wireless networks? How

should policymakers think about America’s structural advantages? What can be done to facilitate faster,

but secure, implementation in North America? To address these concerns, the Wilson Center’s 5G

Beyond Borders
project explores how the U.S., Canada, and Mexico can work together to maximize

the benefits of 5G and related technology through informed policy solutions. The project offers an

overview of the landscape of 5G technology around the globe, while also focusing on the impact of 5G

on North American business, and smart manufacturing—especially as the region begins to implement

the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement. Cross-border collaboration between those countries will be

essential to position the region as a leader in 5G.