Mr Geek goes to Washington?

congress-iphoneThe Economist claims that technology plutocrats are starting to engage with the US political process in a more comprehensive way than they have previously deigned to do.

The paper cites Steve Jobs as typical of the existing attitude.  After hosting a dinner with Barack Obama and some fellow tycoons, he reportedly complained “The president is very smart, but he kept explaining to us reasons why things can’t get done. It infuriates me.”

The Economist argues that earlier interventions in Washington from Silicon Valley have been limited to specific issues, but now an organisation called, a campaign for immigration reform (seeking to ease the tech industry’s acute difficulty in bringing top global engineering talent into the country) is showing them how to be engaged on a more lasting basis.

And of course Jeff Bezos, based in the other Washington, has bought the Washington Post for $250m.

The Economist may be hanging a big claim on small hooks: it is famous for being pretty accurate about the past, but reliably wrong about the future.  But in any case, what it is describing is what Silicon Valley probably should be doing.  With a queue of transformative technologies coming down the highway, techno-optimists probably should be investing in political mechanisms to clear existing and potential road-blocks.  The adoption of Google Glass, 3D printing, driverless cars, industrial and domestic robots can all be delayed by political misunderstanding and prejudice.

However the Big One – human-level AI – probably cannot.

2 thoughts on “Mr Geek goes to Washington?

  1. I heard about this. It’s been… something between entertaining and infuriating how America (built as it was upon the backs of immigrants) has reliably been against “foreigners stealing our jobs”. There’s been a definite but slow brain-drain to the rest of the world as roadblock after roadblock has been put up against investing in new technology. It’s not stopped invention, not by any means, but it has visibly slowed progress. Notably, a lot of high-end stuff has been happening elsewhere (namely Europe – the LHC is merely one of the more visible big tech projects).

    If this fast-tracking of attractive brainpower immigration works, then America could regain the lead and become the powerhouse it once was.

    I know I’m talking about America past-tense, but I’m doing it because with a country the size of America, any fall will take a *long* time. I fear it has already started, but I fully believe it can be stopped and reversed.

    It may not be America which does invent hard, general AI, but you can bet American brains will be behind a lot of key pieces. If the onshoring of tech jobs (and manufacturing jobs) does take off, then perversely that may mean less chance of a robotic revolution, but a larger market for any civilian advances.

    • I expect you are right that the arrival of AGI will be largely due to American efforts. Henry Markram’s Human Brain Project in Switzerland may make a big contribution, and of course there may be all sorts of interesting work under way in China. But with (among many others) DARPA, Google, IBM and Obama’s BRAIN initiative, the US is the powerhouse

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