Having played a critical role in developing then Senator Barack Obama’s technology and innovation plan during the 2008 presidential campaign, Ross went on to serve as senior innovation advisor to Hillary Clinton during her term as Secretary of State, who described him as ‘her right hand’ in helping to develop US policy on internet freedom.
During his tenure he instigated policy for how the US used web video and social networking to increase engagement with citizens. Visiting 41 countries during his time at the State Department, he also drove efforts to aide other countries’ digital development, among other things helping to develop mobile banking and text-message reminder technology for HIV patients. Ross was, and remains, a vocal critic of efforts to curtail internet freedom.
So when he claims that the USA is unprepared to deal with rapidly evolving cyber security threats and warns of a mass exodus of companies from the States if Donald Trump is elected President, his words perhaps warrant special attention.
In an exclusive interview with freelance journalist Mark Smith for Global Politics, Ross revealed how he is still an unabashed supporter of his former boss in her campaign for President – where she is likely to face Trump for the Oval Office’s centre seat in November.
Now an academic and New York Times bestselling author, Ross also remained coy on the prospect of a return to frontline politics if she is victorious in November.
How do you rate the Obama presidency in terms of the US’s technological development? What would you say have been its greatest achievements, and what have been its greatest failures or missed opportunities?
I think it’s important to make a distinction between what the Obama Administration has done and America’s broader technological development. I think there is a false belief around much of the world that a country’s technological development flows directly from the actions and policies of its national government. A national government can certainly play an important role, but in the USA, what happens in Silicon Valley (and in the technology industry more broadly) does not have that much to do with Washington, DC. They tend to spin in different orbits.
Having said that, Obama Administration has done a very good job stewarding our country’s technological development to the extent that it can. It has resisted the push for regressive policies (like SOPA and PIPA) and it has been smart about supporting the development of fields ranging from robotics to precision medicine, which will be the basis for much of the next wave of technological innovation. I give the Obama Administration very high marks.
How does America’s rate of technological advancement compare to other global players, which areas is it doing the best in, and which areas – if any – is it falling behind in. Related to this, is the States investing enough to arrest any such shortfalls? If it is lagging behind in any areas, what are the dangers to the USA of such a technological deficit (economically, socially, strategically).
America remains the major driver of technological innovation globally, though I do not view this as a zero sum competition. If innovations are taking place in Asia, Africa, Europe or elsewhere – great!
Among the areas in which I think the USA is doing a very good job is in robotics/AI/machine learning, in the commercialization of genomics and in Big Data Analytics.
Where is the USA falling behind? Hmmm….I think that we need to do a better job in the cybersecurity domain. There is some fine work being done, but I think that the increase in cyber threats is outpacing the development in security.
In terms of whether we’re investing enough, I think we are doing a good job on the investment side, but not a good enough job in basic research. Our spending on research and development is too low as a percentage of GDP. This is particularly pronounced in genomics, where the Chinese are making ever-larger and even-smarter investments in basic research.
It looks as though the presidential race may come down to Clinton vs Trump, what are your thoughts on that in terms of (a) technological direction and rate of advancement under each candidate and (b) internet freedom, which I know is something you are passionate about. What will be, in your view, both candidates’/parties’ technological priorities?
Donald Trump is a monster. He would not have any technological priorities because that would require some thinking on his part, and carefully thought-through policy is not something he has proved himself willing or capable of doing. If Donald Trump becomes president, we should all be very, very worried not just about technological development, but about the overall health and well-being of the United States and the world at large.
For Clinton, I think you could expect that she would continue to be a champion for Internet Freedom and for the use of technology to help address social ills. I imagine that under a President Clinton we would see increased federal support for basic research, particularly in the life sciences.
If I asked you to get your crystal ball out, what will US tech look like in four years under a Clinton administration, and what will it look like under Trump?
Under Trump, I imagine that there would be a flood of American companies that have moved their HQs outside of the USA to get away from the overreach of a President Trump. Thinking about it makes me shudder. What a horrible President he would be.
Under Clinton, I think that America’s technology community would have a strong next four years. She knows that economic growth is going to need to come in significant part from the industries of the future, and America’s technology companies are at the center of that.
And finally, if Clinton wins are you likely to return to the White House?
I love my life. My focus right now is on helping the entrepreneurs I advise, the students I teach and the woman I want to become President. What comes after that, I don’t know!
Mark Smith is a freelance journalist, sessional lecturer and SEO copywriter. A former political reporter, he now writes regularly for the Guardian and the BBC on business, technology and the third sector. Mark can be contacted at email@example.com