18 Faculty Predictions for 2017

An overhead view of a student working on a laptop
Expect progress in cybersecurity in 2017, but maybe not enough to keep up with advances in the Internet of Things, big data and fake news. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

A year ago, we asked some UC Davis experts for their predictions for 2016. Some of those turned out to be prescient (has anyone seen a hoverboard lately?) while others were less successful. So what do our faculty see ahead for 2017? We asked some of last year’s experts to look back, and invited more opinion on what we might see in 2017, in fields from climate change and cybersecurity to the Supreme Court.  


Kevin Johnson, dean, UC Davis School of Law

On immigration: 
  • President Trump will be less aggressive on immigration enforcement than his campaign statements suggested. His administration will focus removal efforts on immigrants with brushes with the criminal justice system. The Trump administration also will work with Congress to expand use of the E-Verify system, a computer database that allows employers to check the employment authorization of workers.
On the Supreme Court:
  • President Trump will nominate ideologically conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court but probably not as conservative as Justice Antonin Scalia. The Court will tend to move in a conservative direction but there will not be any major changes in the Court’s decisions unless more vacancies open up.

Carlton Larson, UC Davis School of Law

This time last year, Carlton Larson predicted simply that the Supreme Court would issue “more 5-4 decisions of a decidedly conservative bent.” Looking back, he said, “Well, my prediction turned out to be wrong. I didn’t anticipate Justice Scalia’s death, I didn’t predict Justice Kennedy would vote to uphold the affirmative action plan at the University of Texas, and I was uncertain as to how he would vote in the Texas abortion case.”

Nonetheless, Larson was still willing to venture into some predictions for 2017. Here’s what he expects to see:

On the Supreme Court:
  • In the coming year, we will probably see a new Supreme Court justice. The Democrats could plausibly filibuster any Trump nominee on the grounds that Republicans improperly stole this appointment from President Obama, or on the grounds that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, and therefore Trump has no mandate or legitimacy to appoint a justice. But I suspect the Democrats won’t do that, and at some point in the first half of the year, a Trump justice will be confirmed. That justice will likely be similar to Justice Scalia on many of the major constitutional issues, so the Court would return to the same ideological composition that it had from 2006-2016.
  • So in itself, a Trump appointment is unlikely to change constitutional law in any significant way. I doubt there will be any retirements this year, so I would expect relative stability in legal doctrine for at least the next year.

Mindy Romero, California Civic Engagement Project

While many commentators were surprised by the events and results of the 2016 election, Mindy Romero, director of the California Civic Engagement Project at the Center for Regional Change, made a number of predictions that stood up pretty well. 

“Latinos will set a record for percentage of California voters in 2016.” 

General election results are not yet available, but Latinos made up a record 20 percent of voters in California primary elections in 2016.

“The strength of California’s younger voters could rival the high youth turnout in 2008.” 

Again, general election data are not yet available, but Romero says that in the 2016 California primaries, turnout of registered voters aged 18 to 24 was 33.4 percent, higher than in 2008 and 2012 and the highest in the decade and a half that she has been tracking primary youth turnout. 

“2016 will be the year of the independent voter. No-party-preference voters will influence the 2016 elections to a degree we’ve never seen before.” 

“This happened,” Romero said. “Independent voters played a big role in the 2016 primary supporting Bernie Sanders and helping him compete strongly against Clinton.” 

What does Romero see ahead for 2017?

  • “No statewide elections this year! But we expect more positive electoral reforms to be proposed in California, making it easier for eligible citizens to vote, while in many other states restrictions limiting access to the ballot box will be passed and implemented.” 

Karl Levitt, Matt Bishop, Hao Chen, and Felix Wu, Computer Security Laboratory, College of Engineering

2016 saw an unprecedented use of cyberattacks during a U.S. presidential election. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Russian government directed theft of emails and release of information in an apparent attempt to influence the election.

What does this mean for the coming year? Professors Karl Levitt, Matt Bishop, Hao Chen, and Felix Wu of the UC Davis Computer Security Laboratory put their heads together and had these thoughts.

New types of attacks, and getting back at Russia
  • More targeted attacks on high profile or important individuals, such as those visited on John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, whose emails were released during the campaign
  • As more devices other than traditional computers and phones are connected through the “Internet of Things,” there will be increased concern about attacks on internet-connected cars, medical devices, power grids, and so on. As a start, we will see at least standard security measures employed but this will not stem more sophisticated attacks
  • There is a possibility of hijacking these devices into remote-controlled “botnets” that can launch further attacks
  • “Ransomware” attacks that exploit the Internet of Things. Can you imagine having to pay a ransom to get access to your car or home during a blizzard?
  • Attacks on “big data,” the very large data sets and algorithms that are now used in both industry and government to address a wide variety of problems.  Unauthorized modifications to these datasets could result in erroneous inferences on climate models, strategies for national defense, response to infectious diseases, among possible consequences
  • Fake news: We will see both attacks on social media intended to accelerate the spread of “fake news” and progress in thwarting such propaganda
  • Behind the scenes, there will be lots of discussion on how to respond to the attacks on the 2016 election. For example, we may see online attacks of unknown origin on Russian assets and cyberinfrastructure.
Responding to cyberattacks
  • More discussion about crowd sourcing as a way to discover vulnerabilities and attacks
  • More efforts to co-ordinate responses between organizations, across sectors (industry, non-profits, academia) and with the government. People will become more open about the attacks they see, and there will be quiet efforts to improve coordination and resources
  • Efforts to improve the state of cybersecurity will, unfortunately, mostly continue along the current state of “catch-and-patch.”

Ben Houlton, director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment

Climate change and environmental issues do not seem to have been a high priority for voters in 2016, but these will continue to be pressing issues, especially for researchers at UC Davis. We asked Ben Houlton, recently appointed to lead UC Davis’ John Muir Institute of the Environment, what he sees ahead as a new president takes office.

  • There will be a tremendous number of grass-roots effort led by the scientific community to educate the public and policy makers on climate change, particularly the impact of climate change on human health and well-being. New multi-disciplinary fusions will arise, with social media playing an even bigger in empowering science communication and outreach
  • The United States’ participation in the Paris Climate Agreement will be ambiguous. However, the economic realities of the green technology and alternative energy industries will ultimately supersede political efforts to re-vitalize the coal industry.
  • California will continue to lead the nation in demonstrating that science-based policies and regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are completely compatible with economic growth and a prosperous society. The state will continue to rely on science to inform government decisions.

Media Resources

Andy Fell, 530-752-4533, ahfell@ucdavis.edu

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