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Retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd isn’t ready to discuss his plans after January 2021, when his third and final term in the U.S. Congress is set to end, but he knows he wants to be on the bleeding edge of technology.
The tech-savvy Republican congressman from Helotes, who once served as a senior advisor for a private cybersecurity firm, has stated his future plans involve working in the nexus between technology and national security. Hurd sat down with the Rivard Report to discuss his next professional steps in further detail.
They include ensuring U.S. leadership in areas such as 5G, the fifth-generation wireless communication infrastructure expected to power new technologies such as driverless cars; artificial intelligence; and quantum computing, a different model of computer widely expected to achieve higher computational ability than current computers.
“I think these are going to be the three defining technologies of the future,” said Hurd. “How specifically I’ll be involved in that in January of 2021, maybe it’s still to be decided. But I’ll be involved in the stuff that deals with those technologies.”
In San Antonio, a convergence of these nascent technologies will occur in the City’s three innovation zones, where smart-city technologies such as smart streetlights with autonomous vehicles will be tested: Downtown San Antonio, the South Texas Medical Center and the surrounding area, and the former Air Force base-turned-mixed-use development Brooks.
The city is among the first in the country to see the construction of 5G networks, which unlike cellular towers in earlier generations of wireless communications requires smaller, but more pervasive infrastructure. Telecommunications giants Verizon and AT&T are building San Antonio’s 5G network, with small-cell antennas set to be dispersed throughout the city. The value in 5G is in its latency, or the time it takes to send data over a network, which will be 10 nanoseconds, Hurd said.
“Ten nanoseconds is important because you and I make our thoughts happen in eight nanoseconds,” Hurd said. “So now you’re going to have the entire power of the cloud, the entire power of the internet, to be able to make real-time decisions. The power that is going to unleash is unbelievable.”
Without 5G, smart-city technologies will be difficult to scale. The innovation zones will be testbeds for the tech-driven services, and the plan is to offer expanded coverage throughout the city when they have been proven to be effective. Though, San Antonio, along with the rest of the country, risks falling behind in a technological arms race with the Chinese, Hurd said.
Foreign adversaries such as China pose an increasing threat to the U.S.’s place as the world’s most powerful economy, in part because the country is making strides in delivering 5G speeds and developing AI-powered technologies. The U.S. military and business communities have also been under increasing siege from hackers in China and other countries seeking to steal valuable trade secrets and intellectual property, further accelerating the Chinese’s gains in emerging tech, Hurd said.
“The new war that we’re in with China is over technology,” he said. “U.S. dominance in the economic, technical, and military sphere is no longer guaranteed. We know the Chinese are trying to, by 2049, become the world’s superpower.”
Hurd believes he can better maintain the U.S.’s technological dominance outside of Congress.
The North San Antonio native will leave the U.S. Congress after six years in office. Widely considered Texas’ only swing district in the U.S. House, his 23rd district had swung between Republican and Democratic incumbents for eight years before Hurd won reelection twice.
Hurd attended Northside ISD schools in Leon Valley. He fell in love with technology at John Marshall High School and interned at the Southwest Research Institute. After graduating with a degree in computer science from Texas A&M University in 2000, Hurd weighed job offers from IBM and the Ford Motor Company. Months later, however, he would instead be hired on at the Central Intelligence Agency.
As former chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Hurd played a part in pushing through a slew of tech- and cybersecurity-related bills, such as the 2017 Modernizing Government Technology Act, which set new federal agency guidelines for retiring outmoded tech.
Local cybersecurity leaders said his presence in the U.S. House of Representatives will be missed.
John Dickson, principal at local cybersecurity firm The Denim Group, said federal lawmakers are notoriously ignorant on tech issues, but Hurd was one of the few exceptions.
“Will was highly regarded for his technical grasp because he came from the [cybersecurity] industry,” Dickson said. “He also had the intelligence part, which is inextricably linked – a lot of people, including myself, came from the intel world within cyber. His pedigree was outstanding.”
Hurd was knowledgeable enough not to have to rely on his aides to guide policy decisions on tech issues, said Greg White, who heads the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security at The University of Texas at San Antonio.
“Having him leave will be a big loss, especially when technology issues and the intelligence community connect/combine,” White said in an email. “Having somebody who truly understands both sides – the ramifications of various aspects of technology and knowledge of the intelligence community and its challenges – has been a valuable asset for Congress.”
Hurd, who cannot under U.S. House ethics rules secure his next employment while serving, will have options if he wants to return to the private sector in the areas of high tech and cybersecurity. He has also hinted at wanting to help grow the Republican Party and making it more reflective of the diversity throughout the U.S.
He even vaguely alluded he may one day consider running for president during a recent sit-down interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith during that organization’s flagship annual event.
Whatever the future holds for Hurd, he said he’ll always keep one foot firmly on his home soil.
“San Antonio’s home,” he said. “It always will be home.”