The world is at a turning point and we have to choose. It is astonishing and daunting how fully Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton symbolize the choice the world faces. Watching their debate last week underscored for me not just how different the two of them are, but how different are the possible futures that confront the world.
A friend who thinks very techonomically recently noted what a weird moment we live in. It’s possible, he said, to plausibly imagine either a very bright future in which technology helps lead to vastly-improved lives across the planet, or a disastrous scenario of decline, decay, conflict, and suffering.
The positive option is one of widespread problem-solving, using technology and networks, AI and the Internet of Things to harness new efficiencies across society. Today we can see innovations in just about every realm that could help take us there. Many are being adopted already from the bottom up. In such a future it really may be possible to reduce inequality, to lower global tensions through an inclusive approach to resource allocation, and to continue the long-term historic trend towards peace and the reduction of violence. Healthcare progress is also in view, again largely by harnessing the tools of connectivity and analytics. At Techonomy we passionately believe such a future is possible, and all our programs are geared towards helping make it reality.
But even we optimists cannot deny the real possibilities of a very bleak and disorderly near-term future. The forces of entropy in such a world would grow, the sense of fear and uncertainty surrounding us deepen, and violence and disorder proliferate. I needn’t dwell at length on the surging negatives of the moment–pervasive fear of terrorism, unmanaged headlong global emigration, and increasing global inequality, even in China, a country which was ostensibly established specifically to reduce it. And that’s just naming a few.
Of course I and we at Techonomy support Hillary Clinton. But what interests me here is more how her steady diligence and wonky conviction in the possibility for a better world contrasts with Trump’s lazy and ignorant fear-mongering and bellicosity.
Hillary has a conviction that the world can get better, and symbolizes the potential of hope and optimism for a better collective future. Whereas in Trump’s world, everybody could not possibly win. He will win, and you will lose. Similarly, America should be the winner and everyone else the loser. That’s what being great again means in his parlance. But this would not be winning at the macro level and gaining a better life for all, instead it would rather be a vanquishing of enemies, getting our just desserts, restoring our pride by humiliating the other, and reclaiming some clunky vision of a past in which we were the better ones.
A Trump victory, which is clearly possible, would likely consign the world to years of moving backwards into the darker scenario, into the bleaker world of animosity towards those different from ourselves, an absolute rejection of non-zero thinking, real risks of resource-based global conflict, and an increase in suffering for those already disenfranchised. Importantly for us at Techonomy, it also would almost certainly mean a national failure to grasp the enormous potential of technology to help lead us all towards a fairer, friendlier, healthier and happier life.
It’s clear Hillary is no techie. Just this week Politico reported that she hasn’t ever even learned how to use a PC. But she has the good sense to listen to people who know more than she does. Her tech policy proposals are a cornucopia of good ideas. While there’s no assurance that government under her leadership would make a huge turn towards tech as a tool, good ideas would surely find a reception. Promising initiatives begun under President Obama would continue. And most critically, the atmosphere of hope and promise that has been growing in the quarter century since the invention of the World Wide Web would continue.
Techonomy does a lot of things, but our main project is an ambitious annual conference where we bring together as many different kinds of smart people as we can, all of whom embrace tech as a tool to to advance forward. This November 9-11 at Techonomy 2016 at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay in California we’ve got thinkers who argue we are truly headed towards a “sentient” ecosystem, once the world gets fully wired into the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence begins to augment our own decisions. We have experts sending sensors into space and into our guts to keep both the planet and our bodies healthy. We’ll discuss how creating jobs through entrepreneurship in oil-producing countries can help reduce the risk of terrorism. We’ll examine the many ways tech can help combat climate change. We’ll talk about leadership, and about hope.
But we open our two-day affair on Wednesday, November 9, the day after the election. The first thing we’ll do is spend a solid hour with experts on stage and input from the entire room, discussing what just happened. What does the outcome of the election mean for our country, for policy, for the tech industry, and for the prospects of using tech as a tool to drive progress faster? What we will be discussing for the entire two days, in effect, is whether the world is headed towards the light, or towards the dark.