President Trump’s immigration and travel ban has sent alarm bells ringing all over the world, creating practical difficulties and posing many ethical questions. The technology sector is likely to be affected intimately by ongoing uncertainty but it might also be a powerful defence against the continuation of such controversial escapades.
The US economy has benefited hugely from the uber-trend of digitisation that has gathered pace over the past 50 years. It was the birthplace of the founding fathers of the computer industry such as IBM, NCR, Sperry and Burroughs. Later it fostered companies that popularised business computing such as Hewlett-Packard and DEC. It effectively invented and commercialised personal computing with the IBM PC and the Apple Macintosh. Microsoft, Oracle, Lotus, WordPerfect and others drove the client/server computing years and when the World Wide Web hit, many of its stars, from Google and Facebook to Amazon, Salesforce.com and eBay, came out of the United States.
The conditions that enabled the growth of these companies are many and interconnected but we can say with confidence that their successes were encouraged by a strong legal system, stable government, effective infrastructure, powerful business/academic links and educational institutions. But very clearly we should also say that America has benefited hugely from an immigration system that gives US tech firms access to skills from all over the world and has made Silicon Valley a place of pilgrimage for entrepreneurs around the globe.
Many of America’s tech elite came from humble immigrant stock and some have stories that are emblematic of the effectiveness of that great, open-handed offer: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free’.
When President Trump turns away from that ethos he plays a high-stakes game that creates a mistrust of his country, limits the scope of US technology firms and rents the very fabric that supports the sector and the prosperity it has helped to create. But the huge reaction from that sector suggests that it will not take this lying down.
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