Voters Should Reject Tech-Illiterate Candidates

By Features PCmag

With the election just around the corner, I'm concerned that very few of those running discuss or understand the importance of tech in our future.

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In a recent column, I laid out seven areas where tech is about to explode and have a major impact on our country and world. Yet I hear very little about tech growth on the campaign trail.

One of the more interesting aspects of my 35 years of covering high tech has been to chronicle its role and impact on our world. It has also allowed me to see firsthand the various nuances between the worlds of tech, big business, and the US government and the changing role tech has had on the latter two.

Indeed, for the first 50 years of the tech explosion, dating back to the early 1940s, Silicon Valley was quite happy to avoid the US government unless it was handing out lucrative contracts. And the feds were seemingly fine with turning a blind eye; the less the government knew about what tech companies were doing, the fewer legal and legislative issues they would have to address.

But in the mid 1990s, a group of technology heavyweights led by Cisco CEO John Chambers and investor John Doerr realized that technology would permeate every aspect of business, education, and consumers' lives. And they needed the help of the US government if they were to have the kind of impact they envisioned.

Even then, Chambers, Doerr, and key leaders from Intel and other tech companies saw the benefits of mobile, connected cities, and IoT. They lobbied the Clinton administration and governmental agencies under him to help officials understand tech and its eventual role in our country.

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To Clinton's credit, he and Vice President Al Gore opened a lot of doors to the tech industry in Washington. When George W. Bush became president, he created a special non-partisan tech advisory council, at the urging of Chambers, Doerr and Michael Dell. I was invited to join that council and our first meeting with President Bush was very promising. He seemed to understand how important technology would be for the future of the US, and I know he spent many hours with tech leaders before the election to get a grasp on their vision.

But five months after our first tech council meeting at the White House, the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks shook the nation. The Bush administration's focus shifted to fighting terrorism and the tech council was put on the back burner and never revived. While key tech leaders tried to get their message heard in a broader way in Washington, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism took up much of the White House's mindshare. Any real focus to help expand a tech agenda during Bush's years in office was minimal.

When President Obama entered the White House, many of these same tech leaders along with new and younger tech visionaries pushed him and his administration to become more focused on the role of tech at all levels of business. He and his administration have done so and made an effort to understand things like the maker movement, the IoT and its role in cities, and issues related to telecom spectrum. During his presidency, we have seen the Internet and the cloud become a core asset within government, business, education, and consumer programs.

But we are now at another presidential transition point and, given the recent advancements in tech, whoever is elected president or to serve in Congress needs to be more tech-savvy than ever. During his keynote at Intel's Developer Forum this week, CEO Brian Krzanich invited Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, to the stage to talk about the various things GE is doing to make cities more intelligent. He also had an executive from BMW share its vision for autonomous vehicles. Both emphasized the role legislators will play in the success of these programs.

For smart cities and smart cars to succeed, laws will need to be changed or written to make it possible for autonomous cars to drive safely within city limits. Lawmakers will have to approve the placement of new sensors and smart cameras to enhance accident avoidance. State officials will have to understand how technology will impact every corner as gadgets are added to streets, light poles, and intersections. Unless our elected officials understand this, they will only slow down the expansion.

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