Government Assessment of Innovation Shouldn’t Differ for Tech Companies

THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 OCTOBER 2016, FEAT. PROF. BRYANT WALKER SMITH:

At the outset, it’s not clear to me what Silicon Valley is and isn’t — or why that matters. Companies like Google are often contrasted with companies like General Motors, and yet, according to an automotive industry group, automakers spend over $100 billion every year on research and development worldwide. R&D is a form of tech innovation. Energy companies, pharmaceutical firms and financial institutions are also technological powerhouses. Innovation is central to telecommunications, defense and health care.

Is lobbying by companies that hail from or otherwise evoke Silicon Valley fundamentally different than lobbying by companies in all of these industries? Does lobbying by today’s “tech” companies pose any more or less of a concern, or is it simply interesting because it seems new? I see a similar fascination with the shiny and new in public reactions to nascent technologies: We focus on the risks of these innovations while ignoring the risks of the status quo. For example, we’re concerned about self-driving cars when we should be terrified about today’s drivers.

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