Newt Gingrich visits campus to talk to researchers

Newt Gingrich, Fox News contributor and former Speaker of the House, made a little-publicized visit to Carnegie Mellon University this week. He was invited by Director Kiron Skinner, the director of the Washington Semester Program, the Institute for Politics and Strategy, and the Institute for Strategic Analysis at Carnegie Mellon. Director Skinner worked with Gingrich on his 2012 presidential campaign and, in Dec. 2017, began working as a foreign policy contributor for Fox News.

According to a press release by the Institute for Strategic Analysis, “[Gingrich] spent a full afternoon being briefed by a lineup of distinguished [Carnegie Mellon] faculty on artificial intelligence (AI) and participated in roundtable discussions on how to bring together policy and technology.”

Gingrich published a column about his experience titled “Newt Gingrich: The future is amazing — Here’s an incredible glimpse of what awaits us,” mentioning technologies such as “a robotic assistant [to] reduce the invasiveness of heart surgery” and new medical analysis tools.

He also discussed the societal changes that could be brought about by new technologies, emphasizing the service jobs that could be displaced by AI and the need to assist workers in learning the new skills facilitated by technological advancements.

Additionally, Gingrich called for caution but optimism for future technological progress, writing that what he saw at Carnegie Mellon could constitute “‘glimmerings of the future,” which he describes as “ideas, events, or developments that...might evolve into something important.” Gingrich wrote that his experiences working with computing pioneer Pete Jensen and reading the books Future Shock and The Third Wave trained him to be on the lookout for potential “glimmerings,” such as nanotechnology and fracking, the latter of which inspired him to make a documentary and write a book.

Gingrich concludes that the development of AI at Carnegie Mellon could be one of such “glimmerings,” with the potential to “give us new capabilities and new insights in ways we have never imagined.” That being said, Gingrich does echo the aforementioned fear many hold that “artificial intelligence will displace many traditional service jobs,” a societal shift that will necessitate a “rethink [of] adult education.”

Gingrich’s visit and subsequent opinion piece for Fox News shows that he not only sees the future as something bright due to some of the innovative work being done here at Carnegie Mellon University, but also recognizes that these innovations will come at a cost.

One cost he does not mention is the disputed negatives of shale fracking for natural gas, a technology that has allowed the United States to be more energy efficient, but one that has had major growing pains including improper waste management, increased seismic activity in areas of drilling, and well water contamination — although he compared fracking’s benefits to the benefits of the technologies being developed here at Carnegie Mellon.

His equating of fracking technology to the work being done in nanotechnology or AI here at Carnegie Mellon University is a somewhat dubious claim, as fracking has certainly not been as flawless as the portrait he paints, especially as he uses these points to bolster the claim that former President Barack Obama was “of course... totally wrong” in regard to the technology, simultaneously advertising his past documentary on the subject matter.

All this being said, it is important to have influential personalities like Gingrich aware of the work being done in places like Carnegie Mellon University. Regardless of political affiliation, an understanding of breakthrough technologies and the future of the workforce and economy are vital for all to understand. Gingrich’s visit, his working relationship with Dr. Kiron Skinner, and his writing for Fox News all contribute to the vital discussion of how technological advancements and public policy considerations can and must intersect.