Tech ex­ecs in D.C. to dis­cuss ideas on U.S. dom­i­nance

Poli­cies on trade, im­mi­gra­tion at odds with in­dus­try

The Mercury News Weekend - - BUSINESS - By Matt O’Brien

Top ex­ec­u­tives from Google, Mi­crosoft, IBM, Or­a­cle and Qual­comm gath­ered Thurs­day at the White House amid strained ties be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and the tech in­dus­try and an on­go­ing trade war with China.

The White House de­scribed the Thurs­day meet­ing as a lis­ten­ing ses­sion to field ideas for se­cur­ing Amer­i­can dom­i­nance in ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, quan­tum com­put­ing, ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing and faster wire­less tech­nol­ogy known as 5G.

Trump stopped by, but it was his daugh­ter and ad­viser, Ivanka Trump, who took a more ac­tive role in co­or­di­nat­ing the gath­er­ing. At­ten­dees in­cluded Google CEO Sun­dar Pichai, Mi­crosoft CEO Satya Nadella, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, Or­a­cle co-CEO Safra Catz and Qual­comm CEO Steven Mol­lenkopf.

Some of Trump’s poli­cies on trade and im­mi­gra­tion have an­tag­o­nized the tech in­dus­try.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s trade war with China has threat­ened to make prod­ucts like iPhones more ex­pen­sive. The Com­merce De­part­ment is ex­plor­ing new ex­port re­stric­tions that would tar­get in­dus­tries where China is hop­ing to get ahead, such as ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence and ro-


And a re­cent U.S.-Chi­nese cease-fire over the tar­iff dis­pute was at risk of un­rav­el­ing this week as Cana­dian au­thor­i­ties ar­rested an ex­ec­u­tive for Chi­nese phone­maker Huawei Tech­nolo­gies for pos­si­ble ex­tra­di­tion to the United States.

U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Robert Lighthizer and chief eco­nomic ad­viser Larry Kud­low were ex­pected at the Thurs­day sum­mit, in part a re­flec­tion of the height­ened con­cerns about trade.

But sev­eral at­ten­dees de­scribed the meet­ing as more fo­cused on get­ting gov­ern­ment and U. S. busi­nesses work­ing more closely on ac­cel­er­at­ing emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies such as ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. Shared con­cerns were also voiced about pro­mot­ing eth­i­cal uses of AI.

Pichai said in a state­ment that it was a “pro­duc­tive and en­gag­ing” dis­cus­sion.

The meet­ing also in­cluded for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Henry Kissinger, who has re­cently ex­pressed in­ter­est in AI, and pres­i­dents of top en­gi­neer­ing uni­ver­si­ties such as Carnegie Mel­lon and the Massachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

The meet­ing was the first of two high-pro­file Wash­ing­ton vis­its this month for Google’s chief ex­ec­u­tive. Pichai is also sched­uled to tes­tify Tues­day at a con­gres­sional hear­ing on the com­pany’s busi­ness prac­tices, just three months af­ter aides put up an empty chair to sym­bol­ize his re­fusal to ap­pear.

Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers are ex­pected to grill him on whether Google rigs its in­flu­en­tial search en­gine to sti­fle con­ser­va­tive voices. Trump has as­serted that Google’s search en­gine fa­vors me­dia sources that, he claims, dis­trib­ute “fake news.”

No­tably ab­sent from Thurs­day’s White House at­tendee list was Ama­zon CEO and Wash­ing­ton Post owner Jeff Be­zos, a fre­quent Trump tar­get. Also miss­ing were Ap­ple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook CEO Mark Zucker­berg.


Top ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing Mi­crosoft CEO Satya Nadella, met Thurs­day at the White House amid strained ties be­tween the Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and the tech in­dus­try.

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