It’s no longer cute, quaint or acceptable for the federal government to be so behind the times with respect to modern technology. More than any other force at work in the world, technology has the potential to radically change the way we live, and do away with a number of problems we’ve struggled to solve for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
And that’s why it’s so perplexing and frustrating to hear major candidates for the presidency demonstrate their cluelessness on a practically daily basis. On the right, we’ve got a plutocrat who thinks “the cyber” is a thing China uses to torment Americans, while on the left, we’ve got somebody who thinks it’s okay to joke about wiping personal email servers “with a cloth.” One of these candidates is a demonstrably better choice than the other, but they’ve both left the tech world scratching their heads recently.
Americans are pretty tech-savvy, overall. 68% of us own smartphones, and 70% of us are breathlessly anticipating the commercial availability of truly driverless cars. It’s way past time for our government to play catch-up.
The Good News First
Let’s tackle the good news first, because there’s a good bit of it. Doubling down on what might have been the most tech-savvy American presidency ever, President Obama recently challenged the federal government to get out ahead of a coming technology revolution of almost incalculable importance: autonomous vehicles.
By eliminating malicious and careless human beings from the equation, driverless cars could save thousands of lives each year, untold gallons of gasoline, and heaps of precious time that would otherwise be spent idling in traffic jams. The possibilities are endless, as are the ramifications for the American economy.
Although driverless semi-trucks, for instance, could displace millions of decent-paying jobs, economists expect this revolution to positively impact the economy, by making us more productive, creating many new jobs to replace the ones we’ll no longer need and lowering the price of a great many physical products that previously cost an arm and a leg to transport to their end-users.
In other words, no serious candidate for political office can ignore the implications of this technology any longer — it’s here, it’s real, and we’d all better get used to it. Obama laid the groundwork, but his successor will be spearheading this thing.
Of course, a host of challenges are emerging as we begin wrapping our collective heads around this new tech, but that’s to be expected. Cars driven by robots will, for instance, need to make some difficult ethical choices that were previously in the hands of human beings. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
But the feds are on it, with thanks due in part to President Obama’s leadership. New regulations from the Department of Transportation created common sense requirements for driverless cars, which are not expected to hinder the innovation the tech sector is so well-known for.
That’s a big win for our outgoing president. So what about the two would-be presidents awaiting November’s election results?
The Candidates’ Positions on “Cyber” and Beyond
Let’s make it simple: President Donald Trump would be a disaster for Silicon Valley. That’s not this writer’s opinion — it’s the opinion of economists highly attuned to the culture thriving in the west, which has delivered the top five most valuable companies in the world, all of which are American and all of which deal with emerging technologies almost exclusively.
In other words, the stakes are simply too high to allow somebody like Trump even periphery stewardship over the American economy. His commitment to technological innovation begins and ends with paranoid ramblings about China outperforming America with “the cyber,” and in every other respect continues the Right’s liturgical worship of the Free Market and the demonization of Federal oversight.
And since scientific inquiry drives technology, it’s fair to, at least in part, judge a would-be president’s knowledge of, and commitment to, emerging technologies based on their interest in science itself.
Scientific American has studied our two candidates’ responses to a variety of science-related topics, and unsurprisingly, Trump earned an unprecedentedly low score of 7, even beating out Gary Johnson’s score of 30 for the last-place finish. Hillary Clinton scored a respectable 64, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein took second place with a score of 44.
If you’re following along, there can be little doubt that candidates toward the left end of the political spectrum are more scientifically and technologically knowledgeable than those on the right. It’s a stark contrast—and one that should be immediately disqualifying for some of these would-be leaders of the free world.
Trump is a ball of contradictions where technology is concerned. Technology is unquestionably the primary tool to be used in our fight against climate change, yet he denies the latter even exists. He also believes “a prosperous America is a much better partner in tackling global problems,” yet economic prosperity is in no way linked to automatically having the moral high ground. (The US is among the worst offenders for emitting greenhouse gases, despite having one of the highest GDPs the world has ever seen.)
If driverless cars are going to bring about a golden age of productivity, then our commitment to renewable energies will bring about a golden age of environmental protectionism. Predictably, Trump is dismissive of green technologies, preferring instead to double-down on the government’s disastrously near-sighted subsidization of the execrable coal, oil, and natural gas industries. For all his talk about “winning,” Trump seems committed to playing the losing hand of ignorance and stalled progress. Clinton, for her part, is calling for investments in green energy — a stance that Trump incomprehensibly refers to as “cronyism.”
It really couldn’t be more clear. The figurehead for the right is a climate change skeptic, technologically ignorant and endlessly paranoid about other countries beating us to the punch. Meanwhile, the left’s chosen candidate ticks almost all of the right boxes when it comes to technology and green energy policies and making consumer-level renewable technologies more affordable thanks to government investments and subsidies.
This is the issue of our time, and we cannot afford a leader who fails to see that clearly.