Donald Trump has yet to win the hearts of many of the tech giants of the United States. Separated by culture, politics, and distance, Trump’s relationship with Silicon Valley has been, at the very least, strained. To start off, few
Silicon Valley executives supported Trump during the election, and some, like the CEO of Amazon, even spoke out against him. Things didn’t necessarily improve after the election, either. When Trump sought to impose a ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries, Silicon Valley was outraged, as many of their companies rely heavily on foreign engineers and employees. And although the financial sector is well represented in the White House, the technology sector’s representation is shrinking. After his election, Trump formed an advisory council of corporate leaders, including delegates from Silicon Valley such as Tesla’s Elon Musk, IBM President Ginni Rometty, and Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick. However, Kalanick quit the council in response to Trump’s immigration order, and Elon Musk recently resigned after the president chose to exit the Paris Climate Agreement. This leaves Ginni Rometty as the only Silicon Valley representative on a council chaired by Stephen Schwarzman, a founder of the private equity firm Blackstone. And it’s not only political difference that strains the relationship, but physical distance as well. Besides Trump’s Las Vegas hotel and Los Angeles golf resort, most of his U.S. properties are on the East Coast, limiting his exposure to the technology sector on the West Coast.
But this rocky relationship could pose some major problems for both parties involved. In fact, Eurasia Group listed this broken relationship at number 7 on its list of the top 10 biggest risks for 2017. This conflict, as explained by Ian Bremmer, founder of Eurasia Group, will take place on three different battlefields: media, security, and jobs. It’s no secret that Trump’s campaign and presidency have been closely linked to media, from Twitter to claims of fake news. Trump’s use of social media, as well as his mastery of big data, was critical to his victory. However, information and news media firms have been paying more attention as social media has played a bigger role in politics than ever before. When it comes to security, Trump would seize the opportunity to expand government control in response to national security concerns. Remember the conflict between Apple and the FBI over access to data? Well, we could be seeing a lot more of that if tension between Silicon Valley and the White House continues.The final issue is that of jobs. During his campaign, one of Trump’s major priorities was bringing jobs back to the American people. However, Silicon Valley is continuously working towards automation and foreign employees – a clear opposition of goals.
Things may seem rough, but this relationship may be on the mend. On Monday, the White House held a tech summit, organized by the Office of American Innovation, led by senior advisor Jared Kushner. The meeting brought together some of the biggest names in the tech community; Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, and many more. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was not able to attend due to scheduling conflicts, and it is no surprise that neither Elon Musk nor Travis Kalanick was in attendance. But those who were in attendance spent the day tackling some pretty big issues. For instance, one main theme of the day was how technology could be used to modernize government services and make them run more efficiently. According to senior administration officials, the government could save as much as $1 trillion over 10 years by upgrading their technology and infrastructure. This upgrade in government tech would include everything from improving slow and outdated websites to streamlining how veterans receive their health benefits. And this tech upgrade is a long time coming, considering that as of May 2016 the Pentagon still managed our nukes with floppy disks.
The agenda also included the tense issue of immigration. The leaders discussed how to improve immigration policies and how these tech companies can still get the employees they need. Included in this discussion was the H-1B visa program. The H-1B visa allows U.S. companies to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty occupations – defined as requiring theoretical and practical application, including biotechnology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics, and other technical applications. Trump has been working to reform the H-1B program, so it will be interesting to see how negotiations went during the Summit.
So far, it seems that the meeting went well, yet it is unclear what practical decisions will come out of it. Ideally, the government and the tech industry will continue to work together to make our country more efficient, while saving money, improving education, and defending its citizens from cyberattacks. But, there is still a lot of work to be done as the administration has yet to appoint a chief technology officer of the United States and a head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Hopefully the White House tech summit was a step in the right direction.
Featured photo by Marc Nozell.