Getting the best from our technologies

The technology boom of the past several decades has fundamentally transformed our lives — and our state.

Nevada in the third decade of the 21st century has a more diverse, tech-centric economy than ever before. The Silver State is home to industry giants such as Tesla, Google and Switch, as well as shoestring start-ups. In fact, we’re now such an important center for creative applications of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) that I call Nevada the Innovation State.

Nevada’s investment in technology — and the companies that build it — have huge benefits for our daily lives. Broadband keeps us connected and informed. Electric vehicles cut down on tailpipe emissions, reducing asthma and greening our transportation sector. Smart communities — ones that rely on technology to make city services and utilities more efficient — reduce congestion and simplify parking, and they can even save lives by improving the response to natural disasters. Drones likewise can deliver life-saving medication or equipment in a hurry, shortening the distances between urban and rural communities.

But technology can have a dark side too. Some of the apps and websites that have our data endanger our privacy. Security is another concern, as sensitive organizations — even elections — can be hacked. The job market is under pressure as well: The gig economy can weaken workers’ rights, and automation and artificial intelligence mean certain employees will have to retrain for other fields.

That’s why it’s so important for government and industry at the local, state and federal levels to work together to foster the positive aspects of emerging technologies, while also providing guardrails to ensure their responsible use. As part of my Innovation State Initiative, I’ve put together a suite of bills to speed development of smart communities, expand the use of electric vehicles, fund Nevada’s drone test site, and ensure that people working on all of these projects have good-paying jobs with opportunity for advancement. Much of this legislation has been bipartisan, because it’s just common sense to make sure that Nevada and the nation lead in these cutting-edge industries.

To develop smart communities that work better for residents, I’ve introduced the STAT Act, which would give the Department of Transportation a bigger role in making resources available to localities working to develop smart tech. I’ve also championed the bipartisan Moving FIRST Act, which would establish a grant program for cities, towns and rural areas that want to develop creative transportation policies. And I’ve developed a bipartisan bill specifically to improve access to technology for rural areas. My office has also helped secure federal funding for specific smart transportation projects in places like Las Vegas and Carson City.

I’ve also been working to get companies, states and local governments to invest in electric charging stations and clean fuel infrastructure, especially in our pristine national forests and parks. This summer, I introduced four green transportation bills to promote clean transit options, including development of a national strategy to promote electric vehicle use. And I’ve backed more tax credits for electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells and renewable energy to help address our mounting climate crisis.

In terms of drones, I’ve worked to extend and fund activities at our Nevada drone test site, one of seven such designated sites in the country. The purpose of the test site is to determine exactly how we can safely integrate drones with the other machines that share our skies. I’ve advocated at every step to help accomplish this important work in Nevada and across the country — as well as provide investment in these sites for the first time.

And finally, I’m pushing to make sure our workers get their share of the gains from successful technology enterprises. To make sure that everyone who wants a role in the technology economy can find one, I’ve cosponsored legislation to help women prepare for STEAM careers, led bills to assist workers who want to train to be part of the smart cities and drone workforce, and pushed the WORKER Act to provide training and other benefits for workers displaced by technology.

With these kinds of policies, we can ensure that technology works for everyone in Nevada. I’m committed to an Innovation State Initiative that brings everyone to the table so our tech revolution benefits young and old, urban and rural, workers and businesses alike.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., has served Nevada in Washington since 2016. She previously was Nevada’s attorney general.