President-elect Donald Trump may be many things, but “predictable” is not one. Since his election to the presidency, tech industry experts have been largely scratching their heads about what Trump’s presidency will mean for the future of tech in the U.S.
Where Tech Notables Stood Pre-Election
With few exceptions, Silicon Valley tech giants were fairly open about their support for Clinton in the months preceding the election. This may have been due, in part, to their relative comfort level with the Obama administration and, by extension, the democratic nominee.
While Clinton offered several position papers about the issues that have a major impact on the tech industry, Trump was largely silent on tech topics. Commenting on the difference between the candidates and their stance on tech issues, PCWorld reported on statements made by James Reid, senior vice president of government affairs at the Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade group representing network equipment manufacturers and suppliers, saying:
“The uncertainty over Trump’s positions on a range of issues “makes people nervous,” Reid said. Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign put out position papers on a number of issues, and “they had people who understood these issues and cared about them.” Trump released a “leaner set of policy papers,” Reid added. “For the day after, there are still more question marks than answers. That’s probably as disconcerting as any particular policy statement.”
Reid is not the only one expressing some confusion about what exactly to expect from a Trump presidency. PCWorld also quotes Matt Wood, policy director of digital rights group Free Press as saying:
“I’d be kidding myself if I thought I knew what to expect. About anything.”
Uncertainty Leaves Room for Optimism
It is important to note, however, that uncertainty about the future of tech in the U.S. does not necessarily rule out optimism. When asked what a Trump presidency will mean for startup funding, Fred Wilson, American venture capitalist, wrote:
“For entrepreneurs, this means be cautious and maybe even a bit conservative while all of this shakes out but don’t panic and don’t confuse uncertain times with a lack of opportunity. If you were excited about your business yesterday, you should be excited about your business today. But don’t be blind about the macro environment you are operating in. It’s going to be choppy for a bit here.”
Tech Summit Highlights Potential Cooperation
A mid-December meeting held at Trump Tower turned heads in the tech world. Part photo-op and part policy discussion, the meeting was attended by some of Silicon Valley’s heaviest hitters. The guest list included:
- Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
- Brad Smith, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer
- Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO
- Larry Page, Alphabet CEO
- Eric Schmidt, Alphabet executive chairman
- Sheryl Sandburg, Facebook COO
- Tim Cook, Apple CEO
- Elon Musk, Tesla CEO
- Ginni Rommety, IBM CEO
- Chuck Robbins, Cisco CEO
- Safra Catz, Oracle co-CEO
- Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO
- Alex Karp, Palantir CEO
- Peter Thiel, Paypal founder and Facebook board member
Trump’s opening remarks at the meeting seemed to signal a desire to work with the tech industry to address mutual issues of concern. A video released of those opening moments records these comments of Trump: “We want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. There’s nobody like you in the world … Anything we can do to help this go along, we’re going to be there for you. You call my people, you call me. It doesn’t make any difference. We have no formal chain of command around here.”
Here is a look at the video:
Though the tech leaders, for the most part, had little to say to reporters before entering the meeting, in the initial round of introductions, several of them expressed a desire to see cooperation between Trump’s administration and the tech industry.
Apple’s Tim Cook noted that he was looking forward to talking with Trump about “the things that we can do to help you achieve some things you want.”
Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg said she was “excited to talk about jobs” and Elon Musk added that he was “really excited about expanding our manufacturing footprint in the U.S.”
Though tech leaders have not been extremely forthcoming about everything that was said during the meeting, Andrea Duffy, a spokeswoman for Cisco did say in a statement:
“The meeting today was very informative and productive, and President-elect Trump and his team were extremely engaged. The group discussed critical matters related to job creation and innovation in the United States.”
Topics discussed at the tech summit included:
- Relations with China
- Vocational training
- Infrastructure projects
- Repatriation of foreign assets
Though the meeting may have been viewed by cynics as little more than a photo-op, it appears that some serious issues were addressed, albeit briefly. Recode reports that Microsoft CEO brought up the subject of immigration and H-1B visas, an issue that is much on the minds of tech leaders. Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg spoke on the subject of STEM education and the need for more emphasis in that area.
Recode sums up the tech meeting this way: “It was what it was, which was a public show of truce,” said one source, noting the hostile nature of the relationship between Trump and tech during the campaign. “Everyone got to meet him and got to bring up some of tech’s issues, so that’s a victory of a sort. We’ll see what comes next.”
A Tour of the Big Tech Issues for the Trump Administration
Though Trump and Silicon Valley appeared to play nicely together during December’s tech summit, there is still widespread concern in the tech industry about what the future might hold. Here is a brief rundown of some of the thorny issues to be handled during Trump’s tenure.
Cybersecurity: Though Trump seemed largely unconcerned with allegations of foreign cyber attacks in the days directly after the election, his first press conference as President-elect included some discussion about the need for increased protection from foreign hackers. He reiterated the theme of cyber protection throughout his speech, noting that hacking of American systems has originated from Russia as well as many other countries. Trump emphasized at several points in the press conference that it is his intention to work with the brightest minds in tech today to review and strengthen U.S. cyber defenses in coming months.
Net Neutrality: Net neutrality, the concept that the internet should be free and open, and that all internet traffic should be treated equally, was very popular during the Obama administration. Speaking about the 2016 ruling upholding the FCC’s net neutrality rules, WhiteHouse.gov stated: “Today’s ruling is a victory for the open, fair, and free Internet as we know it today — one that remains open to innovation and economic growth, without service providers serving as paid gatekeepers. It’s also a victory for the millions of Americans who made their voices heard in support of a free and fair Internet, with countless others speaking out on social media, petitioning their government, and standing up for what they believe.”
How does Trump feel about that? There has been no official statement from his incoming administration about net neutrality. However, Cnet points out: “That said, we do know Trump isn’t a fan of the FCC’s current regulations. In 2014, at the height of the debate to rewrite the rules around Net neutrality, he tweeted, “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.””
Robert Atkinson, president of the non-partisan think tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), predicts:
“After he appoints a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, the first thing on the docket will be to repeal FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Open Internet Order, also known as Net neutrality. The second will be to repeal Wheeler’s Internet Service Provider privacy rules, which limit how ISPs can use and sell customer data.”
Immigration and H-1B Visas: A potential source of contention between the new administration and the tech industry is Trump’s hardline stance on immigration. The tech industry has been pushing for an expansion of programs that enable highly skilled tech workers from other countries to immigrate to the U.S. for work. This seems unlikely to happen under Trump’s administration. Further, it is possible that Trump will also seek to limit the issuance of H-1B visas, upon which many tech companies depend to source their top talent.
What is known so far about Trump’s plan for H-1B visas is stated in his immigration policy:
“Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give…coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas.”
Taxes: On a more positive note for the tech industry, Trump’s plan to lower corporate taxes to entice American corporations to invest their money in the U.S. might prove to be a significant boon to the tech industry. Whether such incentives are persuasive enough to pull some tech jobs back to the U.S. remains to be seen.
Seizing the Day
President-elect Trump has vowed to support American industry across the board. While the tech industry has not been a main focus of his policy plan, there can be no denying that the incoming President will be dealing with issues that affect tech from day one of his administration.
Now, then, is the time for tech leaders to find ways to communicate and collaborate with the new administration. Innovators by their very nature, tech leaders are in a unique position to help shape the future of the country. It is both their responsibility and their privilege to do so.
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