Editor’s Note: Ro Khanna serves as the US Representative from California’s 17th congressional district. Carl Guardino is the president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy trade association that represents more than 350 of Silicon Valley’s most respected employers. The opinions expressed in this commentary are their own.
In some ways, the promise of technology to make the world better has never been more apparent. Artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms make it easier for us to detect prostate cancer, and advances in biotech have allowed for the development of new therapies in university labs. Massive open online courses have democratized access to education. And apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp have made it easier for us to stay in touch with one another.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, tech employment is slated to grow 13% by 2026, faster than the average of other industries. As Silicon Valley’s representative in the US Congress and as CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, we are technology optimists. But we also believe that the promise of the tech economy shouldn’t obscure its challenges.
Let’s start with the challenges. San Francisco and San Jose collectively represent 40% of the country’s venture capital investments, and they added the most number of tech jobs out of any metropolitan region in 2018. Yet the Bay Area region is at the heart of a statewide homelessness crisis, created by nearly 30 years of statewide neglect to build homes that people can afford.
Meanwhile, GM announced plans to lay off thousands of workers and close four of its US manufacturing plants so it can invest more money in the future. Millions of other middle-class Americans have experienced three decades of wage stagnation, while some companies outsource labor to stay competitive in a global marketplace. How do we make sure a high-growth, technology-driven economy helps all Americans?
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At the federal level, targeted investments to increase access to technology will go a long way. We need to invest $40 billion in high-speed fiber internet so that we can give every child in our country equal access to the digital world. We need to follow that up with a strong educational platform, including a 21st century version of the Land Grant Act, which would expand technology institutes to rural regions so that the digital jobs are available for everyone.
Some of these initiatives are already taking place. PeopleShores, which trains professionals in rural areas and inner cities, is expanding in Mississippi. The company is investing $500,000 into creating 175 new jobs in the tech sector. Pillar Technology is opening up a new career development academy in Jefferson, Iowa to train the next generation of software developers in rural America — enabling jobs that pay twice the regional median salary. The federal government needs to play a more active role in encouraging public-private partnerships to further boost investment.
We also believe in the need for thoughtful regulation. This starts with ensuring that technological advances respect the rights of all Americans. Cambridge Analytica jeopardized the personal information of nearly 90 million Americans, and in doing so, threatened the viability of our democratic institutions. Instead of asking companies to self-police, Congress should pass a digital Bill of Rights that gives consumers more control over their data, and makes clear technology companies’ obligations. We should know how our data is being collected, transferred and used.
Next, antitrust law should make sure platforms don’t unfairly privilege their products. In the 1990s, Microsoft required PC makers to install Internet Explorer, which blocked out other web browsers like Netscape. The Department of Justice took Microsoft to trial and won, setting the precedent that technology companies can’t maintain monopolistic power by privileging their products. If Microsoft had won the trial, we may not have Google search today. The House Judiciary Committee’s recent announcement about its evaluation of technology platforms represents a bipartisan urge to grapple with this challenge.
Finally, political and industry leaders should be thoughtful in how they address artificial intelligence. Four years ago, Google Photos labelled two black people as “gorillas.” To its credit, Google then drafted a set of AI principles, committing to test technology with a diverse set of users when developing it. As AI grows in importance within everything from law enforcement to self-driving vehicles, policymakers should establish a framework for ethical product development.
While recognizing opportunities to improve, we are proud of Silicon Valley and America’s innovation economy. Silicon Valley has flourished by celebrating diversity. About 44% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants. The sort of innovative energy we feel and see here has made it a badge of honor to call this community our home. But nested in our success is a responsibility to make sure that gains in innovation and job creation more deeply benefit everyone.