Senator Mitt Romney Addresses Tech Audience at RevRoad
Today US Senator Mitt Romney addressed members of Utah's tech community today at RevRoad's Provo headquarters. Interviewed on RevRoad's dedicated stage by RevRoad's own VP of Investments and Strategic Partnerships, Ike Ikeme, Senator Romney shared with the crowd his list of the five great risks and opportunities facing the US. Despite the presence of plush furniture, the senator chose to stand and address the packed crowd, which prompted Ikeme to do the same.
"I don't recall a time in our nation's history when we've faced so many significant challenges at the same time," Sen. Romney said in his introduction of the topic of the five major risks that weigh on him at the moment. " And the corollary is there's probably more opportunity than we've had in a long time," he added.
AI, said Sen. Romney, is the foremost global threat facing the world of nations at the moment. It is also the threat most difficult to regulate given its novel and opaque nature for lawmakers who largely consist of "old guys like me in Washington who can barely use their cell phones," he joked. He expressed concern about Meta's decision last month to make its new LLaMA 2 AI model available to everyone for free as an open-source resource. The previous iteration of LLaMA was available only for academics and researchers under a research license. "How are we supposed to regulate that?" asked Romney rhetorically. "It can be picked up and used by companies and enterprises all over the world, good and bad." He said lawmakers can create legislation for penalizing US-based actors that promote deep fake versions of Joe Biden and Donald Trump (the two most likely Presidential contenders, he presumes) leading up to the 2024 election. "But the Chinese and Russians are subject to such legislation, and neither are all sorts of other players around the world... and good luck finding them anyway." Senator Romney believes people, good and bad, will be able to use AI technologies in ways that we are currently not anticipating. One of the few tools available to mitigate the risk of bad actors using AI for nefarious purposes, he said, is to keep the powerful chips that are necessary to run AI out of the hands of bad actors.
Second, he spoke about the threat of an increasingly powerful China that is advancing its interests across the globe, acquiring scarce resources, creating alliances that represent "a shot across the bow" of the US.
"The emergence of China as the most powerful nation on earth is an extraordinary challenge," said Sen. Romney. Paraphrasing from Harvard scholar Graham Allison's book, Destined for War, Sen. Romney summarized the book's core concept "Thucydides’s Trap," thusly: "in 15 circumstances in Earth's history, when the leading power was challenged by a rising power when two became superpowers, in 12 of the 15 cases, war broke out between them all...except three."
"One of those three," Sen. Romney continued, "was the case of United States and the Soviet Unio, the two Superpowers that dominated the end of the last century and which came perilously close, but ultimately managed to avoid, going to war directly with each other." This world-saving accomplishment—the absence of a shooting war between the US and USSR—the Senator contends is one of the most significant, yet unheralded, accomplishments of the much-maligned Baby Boomer generation, to which Romney himself belongs, he said.
"But if history is a guide," Romney continued, "China's becoming a great power is an enormous threat of conflict breaking out between us which is unthinkable given the nature of warfare today." As regards China's comparative population size and economic potential, Sen. Romney hypothesized, "when China's workforce is as productive as our workforce on a per person basis, their economy economy will be four times larger than ours. It's already larger on a purchase power parity basis. Having a larger economy means they will have a larger military and more geopolitical sway...How do we deal with that? And how do we stay ahead?" He said it comes down to simple math. "China has 1.4 billion people, and we have 340 million people; the one with 1.4 billion, as their output per person increases, will obviously get larger than ours."
He said technology and innovation, and the "elixir of freedom" which he said is hard to define but still very powerful and an advantage China lacks, is how the US will stay ahead," he concluded.
Third, Senator Romney mentioned Climate Change. "I presume, and hope, that humans are the reason the climate is changing, because if we have nothing to do with it, we're in deep trouble; There's nothing we can do about it." He added, "If there is something we can do that will make a difference, but haven't done yet—that's something we can and should do."
Fourth, the size of the US national debt is a serious problem, the Senator indicated. "Our debt as a percentage of GDP is at about 100% of GDP and it keeps going up. You can't do that forever. I can't tell you when there'll be a huge spike in interest rates or when there's a failed auction... I don't know when that will occur, but I know it will if we keep adding $1 to 2 trillion a year to the national debt."
The fifth challenge is the decline of Social Capital, a concept with which Romney admitted he himself was unfamiliar until he saw a report with a Social Capital Index of states in the US. It shows Utah ranked number one in the nation. "I immediately went to my director of all things legislative and policy and said, What is social capital?' And he said, 'Well, that's a term that refers to are people marrying, are they having kids? What's the level of suicide? What's the level of education? and, so forth." While Utah appears to be leading the nation in this category, Social Capital is in decline dramatically across the country in general," Romney indicated. How that will affect our future remains unclear, said the Senator.
Senator Romney concluded the RevRoad guest speaker session by thanking the tech entrepreneurs and investors in the audience who are actively creating jobs, helping to build a strong economy, and contributing to the building of the state's and nation's social capital. He said such job-creating economic activity is vital to the strength our nation.
"I used to talk to friends in school who thought only if you went to work for government, or went into teaching, or the Peace Corps, you were doing something that helped people, and everything else was just about helping yourself. Now I recognize that the private sector's ability to provide dollars for senior care, dollars for education, or dollars for defense—those dollars only have value if they represent a good or service being produced in the private sector. And so you being successful in creating enterprises that create economic growth is essential to making our system work—and caring for our people."
In conclusion, moments before he received his RevRoad gift basket (which included Twinkies), Sen. Romney expressed his appreciation to the members of Utah's tech sector sitting in the audience: "I appreciate what you're doing. It's ever bit as charitable and honorable to work in a private enterprise—as long as you're playing by the rules and have integrity—as is working in government...if not more so...and it's harder. So I congratulate you on what you're doing and wish you Godspeed and good luck."