Why Elected Officials need to Become More Tech Savvy

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 with the US government not knocking on its door unless it wanted to give money to help with defense projects or ones that could help the US government expand their reach to other scientific and educational programs. Through that type of cooperation and collaboration came the internet and the role of technology for use within government and education began to expand exponentially. But to be honest, the less the government knew about what the tech companies were doing, the less legal and legislative issues they would have to deal with. To that end, companies were pretty happy with the government leaving them alone in Silicon Valley.

But in the mid 1990s, a group of technology heavyweights led by Cisco’s CEO John Chambers and John Doerr, a billionaire VC partner at Kleiner Perkins along with various other tech leaders, began to realize technology was about to permeate every aspect of business, education and consumers’ lives. They needed the help of the US government and politicians 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 roots of mobile, connected cities and IoT. They started evangelizing these concepts with the Clinton administration and governmental agencies under him. A new push for understanding how tech could impact every level of government and the role it would play in our cities, as well as the future of education, became a real focus for tech leaders as they tried to get as many elected government officials to understand tech and its eventual role in our country.

To Clinton’s credit he, along with Vice President Al Gore, understood what Chambers and Doerr were saying and opened a lot of doors to them and other tech leaders who were invited to Washington to share their visions for the future. As the Clinton administration was drawing to a close and Al Gore battled George W, Bush for the presidency, Chambers, Doerr and other Silicon Valley leaders kept up their push to both men. It was clear whoever became president that they would follow President Clinton’s lead and allow Silicon Valley leaders to continue to push a tech agenda in the future.

So when Bush became president, at the urging of Chambers, Doerr and Michael Dell, he created a special non-partisan tech council that would advise him. I was invited to join that council and weigh in on the role of tech in the future. The council was actually pretty large and included tech leaders and tech educators from around the US. Our first meeting with President Bush at the White House was very promising. President Bush himself seemed to understand how important technology would be for the future of the US and I know he had spent many hours with tech leaders before the election to help him grasp their vision of the role it would play in our future.

But five months after our first tech council meeting at the White House, the towers of the World Trade Center were hit. The focus of President Bush and his administration totally shifted towards fighting terrorism and the tech council and other special councils that were created to advise him and his administration were put on the back burner. In the case of the tech council, it was never revived. While key tech leaders tried to get their message heard in a broader way in Washington, the various wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism took up much of the Bush’s administration mindshare. Any real focus to help expand a tech agenda during the rest of the Bush administration was minimal.

When President Obama entered the White House, many of these same tech leaders along with new and younger tech visionaries began pushing him and his administration to become more focused on the role of tech at all levels of business, local government, education and consumer markets. He and his administration have become more tech friendly to Silicon Valley and more proactive in understanding things like the Maker Movement, IoT and its role in cities, and issues related to telecom spectrum, etc. 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 to the role of president or any elected official needs to become more tech savvy than ever. During the keynote at Intel’s Developer Forum this week, Intel’s CEO Brian Krazanich 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 on the stage to share their vision for an autonomous vehicle. He stated they fully believe they will have a totally robotic vehicle on the road by 2021. Both shared important visions about technology’s impact on cities and vehicles and emphasized the role legislators will play in the success of these programs.

For smart cities and smart cars to succeed, cities and states around the US will be forced to deal with new legislation in order to make it possible for autonomous cars to drive safely within city limits. They 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 of their state to accommodate the kind of technology that will be added to their streets, light poles, and intersections as well as legislating new rules for the road for autonomous and self-driving vehicles on state roads. Federal officials at all government agencies are going to be dealing with new levels of tech integration in their areas of governance and will need to understand next-generation technology and its ramifications as they navigate a world where tech is everywhere. It needs to be applied equally and fairly within their purview.

Unless our elected officials become more tech savvy and understand the role tech will have on our future in the US, they will only slow down the role tech will play in cities, states and regions. Tech savvy elected officials will be very important to the future of the US as technology will play a bigger role in our country and we will need our law makers, at all levels, to grasp how technology will impact their constituents and make the proper laws to make that happen.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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