Why we should roll out the red carpet for President Trump’s tech refugees

by Peter Griffin / 13 February, 2017

Big names of the US tech sector meet Donald Trump. Photo/Getty Images

In the surreal period between his election and his inauguration, president-elect Donald Trump invited Silicon Valley’s tech ­luminaries to Trump Tower.

The people who squeezed in around his marble table were collectively worth close to $200 billion. There were Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Apple boss Tim Cook. Google co-founder Larry Page was there, as well as SpaceX and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk.

A photo emerged from the meeting of Trump and Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal – and New Zealand citizen, although few knew it at the time – doing a weird handshake. It all seemed very cosy, if a bit awkward. Unlike at an earlier roundtable with US media moguls, which amounted to a dressing-down, Trump lavished praise on the tech sector. Yet with the exception of Thiel, a libertarian who donated more than $1 million to his campaign, they were all ­Clinton backers.

Most of what was said remains private, but media coverage dwelt on the potential for a pragmatic ­partnership between a deal-making President keen on getting things done and a group of digital disrupters with the tools to help him do so. Now, less than two months later, that potential appears to have evaporated: several of those at the meeting came out against Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Immigration is the lifeblood of the US tech sector, which has been lobbying the Government to loosen visa restrictions to allow in more talent. That seems a hopeless prospect now as Trump follows through on his wall-building, extreme-vetting, ­America-first policies. Never mind that the biggest threat to US ­employment won’t come from exporting manufacturing jobs, but from automation at home.

Trump and and $1 million donor Peter Thiel. Photo/Getty Images

If it wasn’t obvious before, it is now: Trump will be terrible for tech. The free flow of ideas that is key to the boom of the past 20 years is anathema to the President. The question now is whether the ­Silicon Valley companies that have such influence in our lives will ­facilitate the autocrat or fight him. There might be, after all, lucrative tech deals on the table as Trump looks to beef up cybersecurity, cut the cost of government and attempt to identify illegal aliens. It’s slightly creepy that Thiel, the Kiwi at Trump’s table, controls Palantir, a massive data analytics company that has the technology to help the President do all of the above.

Elsewhere, there are glimmers of hope. Bezos has joined a lawsuit to try to overturn Trump’s executive order, which has been suspended after an initial court ruling, and a number of tech leaders have publicly condemned it. This will be the first fight of many and how the sector chooses to deal with Trump could help define our relationship with technology over the next decade.

“Don't be evil”

Google’s unofficial corporate motto “Don’t be evil” will be echoing in the heads of software coders and computer engineers lower down the ranks of America’s high-tech companies as they consider whether to jump on the Trump bandwagon or join the resistance. Already, the ranks of the anti-Trump Tech Solidarity movement are swelling.

Trump’s stances on everything from free trade to net neutrality will reverberate all the way to New Zealand, potentially influencing how we use the internet, run our companies and develop our own tech talent. If his presidency creates one opportunity for us, it’s that New Zealand – as Sir Paul Callaghan put it – is the place “where talent wants to live”. Thiel wanted a New Zealand passport because he considered our country his “utopia”.

Let’s make sure that tech-savvy refugees fleeing Trump and those refused entry to the US because of their religion or country of origin come here to bolster our own innovation economy. We should welcome them with open arms.

Latest

Learning to fly: Overcoming a fear of flying - and ignoring the media hype
89894 2018-04-19 13:23:46Z Psychology

Learning to fly: Overcoming a fear of flying - and…

by Vomle Springford

Plane crashes are at once fascinating and terrifying to the general public and for those with a fear of flying it can add another layer to the phobia.

Read more
Is the Govt's ban on new oil and gas exploration brave or naive?
89855 2018-04-19 09:12:43Z Environment

Is the Govt's ban on new oil and gas exploration b…

by The Listener

PM Jacinda Ardern's move to ban new oil and gas exploration permits is at once justifiable and yet arguably cavalier with a major industry.

Read more
Daphne Project: New Zealand still a haven for some?
89852 2018-04-19 09:11:40Z Business

Daphne Project: New Zealand still a haven for some…

by Nicky Hager

Auckland company may be caught up in a global money laundering controversy after it was identified helping to manage a network of NZ-registered trusts

Read more
'He was at peace with his decision': The Canadian experience of euthanasia
89621 2018-04-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

'He was at peace with his decision': The Canadian …

by Sam Boyer

2000 Canadians ended their lives through assisted suicide when it was first introduced. What was it like for their loved ones?

Read more
Simon Bridges is on a mission to get people to know (and like) him
89527 2018-04-19 00:00:00Z Profiles

Simon Bridges is on a mission to get people to kno…

by Michele Hewitson

Nearly two months into the job as National Party leader, Simon Bridges is putting his foibles on show in a bid to charm.

Read more
14 kitchen hacks to save time and stay healthy
89407 2018-04-19 00:00:00Z Nutrition

14 kitchen hacks to save time and stay healthy

by Jennifer Bowden

Is lack of time wreaking havoc with your diet? Try these time-saving kitchen hacks for healthy eating.

Read more
What's going on with Lydia Ko's golf?
89839 2018-04-19 00:00:00Z Sport

What's going on with Lydia Ko's golf?

by Paul Thomas

Lydia Ko’s form slump prompts speculation about her caddie turnover and the influence of her parents on every aspect of her life.

Read more
The human impact of Israel and Maria Folau’s anti-gay stance
89832 2018-04-18 15:35:21Z Sport

The human impact of Israel and Maria Folau’s anti-…

by Emma Land

Today the human impact Israel Folau's anti-gay comments, and the subsequent support he received from his wife Maria Folau, became glaringly evident.

Read more