Politics

After The Election, A Reckoning For Silicon Valley

By Kish Rajan

As the dust settles after the recent presidential election, many are asking themselves some hard questions. Will Donald Trump follow through on even his most terrifying campaign promises? What can we do to help the most vulnerable over the next four years? And why were voters so angry that they were willing to take a risk on a tweet-happy businessman with no record of helping anyone but himself?

The tech industry needs to add a question to this list: What role, if any, did we play and what can we do about it now?

Like it or not, technology played a big role in the election. Social media created two competing echo chambers that got louder and louder as we got closer to election day. Fake news stories spread faster than the real thing and both sides told themselves that they were about to win. Only one side was right and that side didn’t include the vast majority of people in tech.

The day after the election was full of online hang wringing and self-flagellation among the technorati. Venture capitalist Dave McClure got a standing ovation at the Web Summit conference when he angrily compared social media to talk radio calling it a “propaganda medium” and demanding tech entrepreneurs take action to make sure this does not happen again.

There’s no question that the people who created and run the biggest social media networks in the world have to do better. If fake news has the same appearance as real news that’s no longer giving people unfettered access to information — it’s making them susceptible to propaganda. When trolls are allowed to attack and harass people on Twitter, that’s no longer facilitating the free flow of opinions — it’s sitting by while vulnerable people are made to feel unsafe.

But the soul searching has to go even deeper than that. Technology has ushered in an era of incredible efficiency but there’s no value in pretending that efficiency doesn’t cost people their jobs.

While many on the coasts are finding their lives greatly improved through smartphones, apps and the platform economy, people at the lower end of the economic scale are seeing the wonders of technology pass them by, just out of their reach.

But here’s the thing — if there are any people in this country who can help make things better, it’s the people who call the tech industry home. I have no doubt that we can innovate our way out of a lot of problems we are now facing.

We need the next wave of technologists to start working on algorithmic accountability. On Facebook, for example, it shouldn’t be enough that a story is popular to get it more widely distributed. There has to be something in the algorithm that evaluates the source of that story.

On Twitter, algorithms should be able to quiet bullies before they become harassers.

Entrepreneurs need to think about how many jobs their company will create instead of simply about market cap or a founder’s net worth. As new companies grow they can open offices in places like Michigan and Iowa and spread job growth beyond hubs like San Francisco, New York and Austin.

Tech leaders need to find their way to the table to work with the new government. Donald Trump has said he will spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure. That’s great. How can tech help and make that new infrastructure as modern as possible to provide highly-skilled jobs across this whole country? How do we train more people to be able to do these jobs? How can we make sure that the country’s digital infrastructure is being upgraded as well?

Finally, tech can work to promote and protect vulnerable populations by making better hiring decisions. The industry needs to look beyond white male Stanford grads and hire people who better reflect the diversity of America. Such a commitment will show that this community values and celebrates diversity and openness.

Companies can also continue to push for policies and priorities that the next administration might not share. Just because Trump may pull out of the Paris Accords doesn’t mean corporations should reduce their commitment to ending climate change. If Trump does end Obamacare companies should do everything they can to ensure that all of their employees (even contractors) are getting medical coverage. Actions like these can speak louder than words.

This is a difficult time but also an opportunity. As tech takes a hard look at where it’s been, I know we have the opportunity to do everything we can to make sure there’s a brighter future for everyone.

Tech Leaders Need To Push Trump On These Three Major Issues

By Kish Rajan

In the wake of the presidential election, Silicon Valley is in a deeply awkward position. Almost the entire tech industry backed Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump is the one who is about to enter the Oval Office.

This may sting but tech leaders can’t just dismiss the new administration. For one thing, the federal government is a giant technology customer. In 2015 Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell brought in a combined $14 billion in revenue from government contracts.

The federal government also has the regulatory power to make the lives of tech executives easier or much, much harder. Many fear that we’re in for the latter. Trump has hinted at starting a trade war with China, which is both a cheap manufacturer and a giant customer for tech companies. Clamping down on immigration could stem the tide of bright foreign entrepreneurs who have helped build some of the biggest companies in Silicon Valley. And Trump has called net neutrality a “top-down power grab” so Title II may be reversed.

But there are still places where tech leaders might be able to influence the President-elect and his transition team in order to help the tech industry. Here are three things executives should push for in the upcoming meeting:

Universal Broadband

One of Trump’s biggest selling points was his promise to bring jobs back to the many communities that have been hurt by the slow death of manufacturing in this country. But short of a miracle, he’s not going to be able to bring back manufacturing jobs.

Instead, he should focus on bringing those communities into the modern age with increased access to fast, reliable broadband. By making sure that everyone has access to the internet, he’ll help people advance their education, apply for jobs online and even build new businesses. In this digital age, living without broadband is a serious hardship for anyone who wants to do better for themselves.

By creating incentives for private investment by broadband service providers to expand the footprint of their offerings, speed their networks and reach a point of saturation, the president-elect would go a long way in not only modernizing America, but also creating jobs in the process. The appetite for investment, backed by incentives to increase capex, would send a strong signal to America that communications and tech inclusivity is the path toward prosperity.

Infrastructure Improvement

During the campaign, Trump proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure-improvement plan to put people to work fixing the nation’s highways, bridges, tunnels and airports. Assuming he continues to cite this as a priority for his new administration, the tech industry should push to have a seat at this table. Instead of simply building roads and patching decaying infrastructure, we should build smart roads that have built-in sensors to track everything from traffic to whether a road needs immediate maintenance. Insights from big data can help improve traffic flow and adjust speed limits to ease congestion and increase safety.

And the digital infrastructure that is mostly invisible should be a part of that plan. Consumers favor modern networks that fuel their smartphones and mobile devices, as the reliance on the antiquated landline telephone networks diminishes by record amounts every quarter. By incentivizing private deployment and decreasing barriers to buildout, we also create a digital superhighway that will promote many new businesses not just in California, but in every part of the country. The administration should also champion the idea of “dig once” which would mandate that pipes for fiber optic cables be laid down any time there is a federally-funded highway project. This will eliminate the need for teams to dig and re-dig streets every time wires need to be upgraded, which is costly and inconvenient for drivers. It’s time to revive this dormant policy opportunity.

Develop the Workforce

If this country is going to get serious about creating more jobs, it needs to start at the education level. Too many people are entering the workforce without the skills they need to succeed in the digital age and a rapidly changing economy. Improving our education system by increasing the emphasis on STEM education would be a good start.

But Trump also needs to acknowledge that immigrants are building some of our biggest tech companies, which are also creating jobs. Elon Musk, whose Tesla cars and batteries are made in America, is from South Africa. Google employs 62,000 people in the U.S. alone. That company’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, was born in Russia, and its CEO, Sundar Pichai, was born in India. The startups founded by immigrants should remain U.S.-based. Curtailing immigration is a short-sighted solution, and the hope is that the tech industry can underscore this thought in a powerful way. Comprehensive immigration reform may be off the table, but that doesn’t mean that improvements cannot be made to the current system in order to continue the flow of bright engineers and innovators to the America.

While tech leaders are likely to have many concerns about the new administration, they need to pick their battles. By focusing on these three areas, they can appeal to Trump’s campaign promises, especially around creating new jobs, while helping to maintain the health of the whole tech industry.