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IBM general counsel talks law, tech and policy at UMBC

‘I would say one of our responsibilities as a company is not only to create the ideas in AI but also prepare society for it,’ Michelle Browdy, IBM’s general counsel, told University of Maryland, Baltimore County students and faculty Friday during the inaugural IBM-UMBC Day. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

‘I would say one of our responsibilities as a company is not only to create the ideas in AI but also prepare society for it,’ Michelle Browdy, IBM’s general counsel, told University of Maryland, Baltimore County students and faculty Friday during the inaugural IBM-UMBC Day. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Sharing information on the internet while making sure it doesn’t fall into the wrong hands will be a balancing act, said IBM General Counsel Michelle Browdy to an audience of students and faculty members at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County on Friday.

Browdy was one of many speakers as part of an inaugural IBM-UMBC Day, an all-day event that focused on cloud computing, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

The partnership between the Maryland university and technology behemoth began as part of a multi-year collaboration that created a cybersecurity lab, established three years of research funding, provided research equipment and established UMBC as a recruiting campus for IBM, the university said.

Regulations in data privacy

Following revelations that political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica gathered information from nearly 87 million Facebook users without their permission, Browdy said (without mentioning Facebook by name) she anticipates seeing more regulations related to security and data privacy.

“I think we are likely to end up with some more of a regulatory framework of how do you balance these issues of security and privacy. Because on one hand there’s a benefit to sharing information and on the other hand there are risks as well,” said Browdy, who is also IBM’s senior vice president of legal and regulatory affairs.

Rapid technology advancements, especially in areas of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, such as the work IBM is doing with its Watson platform, opens up regulatory questions, she continued.

For example, Watson has the ability to read medical records. That raises questions about whether the computer is actually practicing medicine and whether it should be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Browdy said.

“All these ideas about dealing with technology we haven’t seen before, how do you fit it into the regulatory framework?”

Raising awareness about new technology

As the public becomes more aware about data privacy, IBM is trying to make sure it doesn’t turn people off from technology advancements such as artificial intelligence, Browdy said.

“These new ideas come out and people are afraid of it. Think of when the car first came out and we shifted over from horse-drawn carriage,” she said.

“I would say one of our responsibilities as a company is not only to create the ideas in AI but also prepare society for it. So we are very focused on…education and training and getting out, so people understand what it is. When people understand better what the technology is, what it can and can’t do, then we can work together to enable our society to use it.”

Building an ideal legal team

IBM’s legal team is looking for people who are can learn and quickly adapt, Browdy said.

“It’s something I think about a lot because we’re thinking about the long term. We’re a 107-year-old technology company and honestly the things we do in 10 years won’t be the things we’re doing now, they won’t be the things we did 10 years ago. In terms of who we’re hiring, I need people who are going to be continually learning and be ready to take on new challenges,” she said.

For example, when IBM started Watson Health, an artificial intelligence platform focused on health care, the company didn’t have health care lawyers on staff at first, Browdy said.

“But I had people who were interested and had the ability to learn new things and trained them in entirely new areas. I really think when I bring on someone, how are they going help our company grow,” she said.


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