Yesterday, the great and good of the tech world descended on Washington, D.C., to attend a tech summit at the White House. The administration’s plan: to have America’s biggest innovators help President Trump transform the government’s technology.
The event, which is actually part of a week of tech-focused workshops and meetings for the Trump administration, was organized by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and advisor. Kushner corralled quite a list of attendees, including Apple’s Tim Cook, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, and Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt. Perhaps most notable in its absence was Facebook—apparently because of scheduling conflicts.
“Our goal is to lead a sweeping transformation of the federal government’s technology that will deliver dramatically better services for citizens,” said Trump at the start of his meeting with the CEOs, according to the Washington Post. “We’re embracing big change, bold thinking, and outsider perspectives.”
The headline announcement from the event was Trump’s promise to overhaul creaking government computing infrastructure. According to Kushner, there’s much to be done: federal agencies have over 6,000 data centers that could be consolidated, for instance, while the 10 oldest networks in use by the government are all at least 39 years old. The upgrade, said Trump, could save the country $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
There’s no word from the administration on how exactly it plans to go about that upgrade. Trump did, however, say that it would be done “with the help of great American businesses like the people assembled.”
Elsewhere, there was the usual chatter about how technology should be used to shape the future of America: Nadella argued that kids must learn to code, for instance, while Bezos said it was “impossible to overstate” the importance of AI.
Perhaps the most amusing quote of the day came from Cook, who said that “the U.S. should have the most modern government in the world and today it doesn’t,” adding that “it’s great to see the effort that Jared is putting in in working on things that will pay back in five and 10 and 20 years.” There’s a backhanded compliment if ever there was one.
There was a glimmer of hope for the tech firms in return for their attendance. Bloomberg notes that, in contrast to previous proclamations, Trump explained that he was working “very diligently” with Congress on immigration issues. “You can get the people you want,” he told the assembled CEOs. That sweetener may be a response to a very vocal backlash in the tech world against the administration’s recent travel bans.
Apart from throwing the assembled dogs a bone, though, it remains unclear how Trump’s administration will move forward with these plans. Gathering the titans of tech in a single room is one thing; having them all help transform federal infrastructure is quite another.
Trump may hope that his business-friendly stance will offer enough allure: if tech giants scratch his back, he may later deign to scratch theirs. But he’s dealing with equally savvy business leaders here, who surely won’t be won over by a deal-making tactic that gives with one hand and takes with the other. Instead, they might expect a more tempting offer before they get to serious work.