What a difference a month makes. Like Brexit before it, the shock victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election has not only upended the political order in the short term, but it has also re-routed the types of technological futures that America might now get.
On the road up to November 8th, technology companies sold visions of an advanced economy powered by technological step-changes—self-driving cars, smart infrastructure, and sustainable power. Those dreams may fade as the United States scrambles to satisfy a populism that cares far less for imagining shiny, high-tech futures and much more about reviving industrial pasts. At best, we see the technology sector entering an uncertain climate for breakthrough developments. At worst, its forthcoming innovations may be steered toward applications that more risk-averse—or less democratic.
Nations have long shaped the directions in which technology and innovation travel. State-sponsored science conducted during the Cold War became soaked in the ideological goals and technical requirements of its political masters. In the United States, Cold War politics became embedded into the development of radical computer technology which controlled air defense, strategic early warnings, and nuclear response. Soviet computing also developed so as to favor military applications over civilian use. While technology policy can’t create a tabula rasa to sketch on, it does offer up nudges, incentives, and steerage points across the messy landscape of relationships between industry, government, and universities that sit inside a nation-state.