As President Trump relentlessly attacks Silicon Valley`s top social media companies for their suppression of free speech, and more specifically shadow banning, in an attempt to silence any views that are not part of the political monoculture that dominates the San Francisco Bay area, there are concerns that the breaking up of these companies could give China and its new tech companies an advantage. This comes at a time when the relationship between Washington and Silicon Valley, which has been viewed since the 1990s as a deep partnership – but this partnership is breaking down. But this may be a good thing as talent is leaving the monoculture of San Francisco to build startups in Arizona, Texas, Florida, and other states that allow tax advantages and a have a less rigid social structure that has formed in California.
But there is a twist to this story. A recent report indicated that Secretary of Defense James Mattis urged President Donald Trump to focus on the threat from China`s artificial intelligence ambitions. Even Elon Musk has openly talked about AI and other new technologies being weaponized and suggested that they will be used by all actors, good and bad, around the world. And note that the US Defense Secretary warned President Trump that the US was not keeping pace with the new and very aggressive plans that China has set in motion in artificial intelligence.
But this issue is now much deeper than Free Speech – it is about cooperation. A professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Vivek Wadhwa said, “Just when we need to have the government and the tech industry working together, they are fighting one another. Our enemies could not ask for anything better.” This comes at a time when the tech industry has been less cooperative and less supportive of national security efforts.
One theory goes like this. Historically, the engineers who worked in Silicon Valley were happy to work with their counterparts in the US government and the military. However, the new type of engineers who are working in the US tech industry are raised in a monoculture that rejects old authority. Of course, the cultures of the East Coast and West Coast are different in the United States but it is important to note that the current Freedom of Speech movement is considered “right wing” and alien to the San Francisco culture. This obviously underscores the cultural and generational differences – Trump will think differently than a 25 year old in San Fran – but in the end, this rift will damage US competitiveness and of course, China will benefit.
We will be writing more on these topics in the coming months.