During the Democratic National Convention, a panel of experts touched on the need to not only educate the next wave of technology workers, but also pave the way to innovation.
Just hours after the Democratic National Convention selected Hillary Clinton as the official party nominee, a panel of experts gathered to discuss the big issues around technology and what a Clinton presidency might mean for national growth and innovation.
A week prior, a similar collective of private- and public-sector experts gathered for a like discussion about Republican nominee Donald Trump. And like the talking points hammered home in the respective speeches of each candidate, the issues of immigration, education and spurring economic growth were at the heart of each panel conversation.
During the July 27 panel, hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Democratic members of the U.S. Congress joined with representatives from companies like Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft, all of whom touched on the need to not only educate the next wave of technology workers, but also pave the way to innovation through cohesive policy and appropriate investment in research.
“Look, we are only as good as the people we hire,” Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith said. “We are behind as a country.”
Much like the Republican National Convention panel, participants called for a renewed concentration in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs in U.S. schools. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., said STEM programs have shown students in her district the opportunities in the technology sectors.
While education is an important part of building a technology workforce, there is a larger problem around connectivity and broadband access.
In Rep. Derek Kilmer’s district in Washington state, there are rural communities without reliable access to broadband Internet services, whose students need to be bused to other locations to take online standardized tests.
On the larger scale, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said the U.S. needs to realize that globalization has taken the competitive technology industry to the world marketplace. He said his personal focus was on the manufacturing industry and the jobs that could be returned stateside if conditions change.
“To adopt a Trump perspective on the global economy, not just a 1950s perspective, but a 1750s perspective on how we can improve our economy and improve jobs, is the wrong way to go,” he said, “but we have to persuade the American people that we will be stronger and better and tougher on trade enforcement, everything from currency manipulation to ripping off American inventions and ideas to short-circuiting some of the enforcement things that they’ve signed onto, but then don’t actually follow through on …”
The panel also noted the need to involve the national community in conversations around industry drivers such as robotics and artificial intelligence, and voiced concerns that constituents and policy makers lack a larger perspective when it comes to issues around automated labor.
David Zapolsky, senior vice president and general counsel for Amazon, said robotics offers new ways of doing business and new opportunities for the workforce. And concerns that robots were taking jobs, he added, should instead be viewed as a way to provide better-paying, skilled jobs around maintaining them.
“It’s becoming accepted that robots are not going to put the American workforce out of work, in fact, they are going to make the jobs that already exist even better and better paying,” he said.
Similarly, panelist Rosabeth Kanter, a professor of business administration with Harvard Business School, said decision-makers need to understand their role in the larger technology environment.
She pointed to the popular event South by Southwest, where a collection of mayors were offered the opportunity to ride in autonomous vehicles, driving home the fact that the technology is something their municipalities would need to consider in the near future.
“It’s not clear that the public understands the importance of tech investment for their lives even though people are users …,” Kanter said. “We have to do a better job of explaining the relevance not only to members of Congress, but also to local and state officials.”
As technology becomes more embedded in our daily infrastructure, Kanter makes the case that the jobs of the future will grow along with the investment in technology and infrastructure.
And as for consumer trust, data and privacy best practices are an ongoing consideration for both companies competing in the marketplace and the government agencies in place to protect the everyday citizens.
“… The U.S. is not the Wild West when it comes to consumer protection," said Federal Trade Commissioner Terrell McSweeny. "We have strong protections and an enforcement-based approach, and I think we’ve been doing a relatively good job at it so far. More work needs to be done for sure, and I definitely think we should bring this conversation to the security of the Internet of [Things] because I think that is going to be a big issue for consumers moving forward.”
The larger point of regulation was also a topic of discussion. DelBene pointed out that legislation like the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the laws around warranted searches of electronic devices have not kept pace with rapidly advancing technologies.
In total, the RNC and DNC panels seemed more in line with each other than not. Political ideologies, rather than brushstroke ideas, seem to be the real sticking point in the American political arena.