For all his talk about bringing jobs back to the United States, President-elect Donald Trump has said virtually nothing about preparing Americans for the increasingly tech-driven jobs of the future. Even as he rails against trade’s impact on industries like manufacturing, he’s been mostly silent about the impact of automation. During the campaign, he never tried to court the Silicon Valley vote the way Hillary Clinton and many of his primary opponents did.
Now, however, Trump has brought two business leaders to the table who are perfectly positioned to help him navigate the country’s digitally driven economic future: IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and General Motors CEO Mary Barra. The two tech leaders are joining Trump’s so-called Strategic and Policy Forum, a coalition of business executives who will advise the new president on economic issues and job creation. “My administration is committed to drawing on private sector expertise and cutting the government red tape that is holding back our businesses from hiring, innovating, and expanding right here in America,” Trump said in a statement.
Of the sixteen names on the list, which also includes the likes of Wal-Mart CEO Doug McMillon and JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Rometty and Barra stand out as the two most keenly familiar with the opportunities and challenges that advancements in artificial intelligence pose for the economy. Under Barra, GM has acquired a self-driving car startup and invested $500 million in Lyft to build a fleet of self-driving cars. In much the same way that automation has come to GM’s factories since Detroit’s glory days, the company’s investment in self-driving cars portends the forthcoming displacement of jobs for human drivers, too.
Meanwhile, IBM has been working diligently to integrate artificial intelligence into fields like medicine to improve upon such complex tasks as cancer screenings. The company has also taken the lead in convening companies like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook to develop a set of standards around building AI responsibly.
Notably, neither Rometty nor Barra were outspoken supporters of Trump during the election. In fact, hacked Clinton campaign emails exposed by Wikileaks revealed that Barra was on a short list of vice presidential picks for Clinton.
The public relations fallout pales in comparison to the risk of allowing tech to go unheeded by the new president.
Since the election, however, Rometty at least has expressed interest publicly in helping Trump hone his economic policies. In an open letter addressed to Trump last month, Rometty offered a few initial suggestions for the incoming president. She referenced a new model of tech-driven vocational education IBM has spearheaded and the need to create and invest in so-called “new collar jobs” that require tech skills.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Trump’s lack of backing in the tech industry, not all of IBM’s employees were eager to see their boss embrace the president-elect. At least one employee quit over it, writing in her own missive to Rometty, “Your letter offered the backing of IBM’s global workforce in support of his agenda that preys on marginalized people and threatens my well-being as a woman, a Latina and a concerned citizen.”
The dustup demonstrates how risky it is—and long has been—for business leaders to align themselves with Trump. After billionaire Facebook investor Peter Thiel donated to Trump and his super PAC during the campaign, some Facebook employees called for Mark Zuckerberg to remove Thiel from the company’s board.
Still, for Rometty and Barra, it seems, the public relations fallout of aiding Trump’s administration pales in comparison to the risk of allowing tech and its economic implications to go unheeded by the new president.
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