Tech executives convene at White House on AI, other ‘industries of the future’

The White House on Dec. 1, 2018, with the flag at half staff in honor of the late President George H.W. Bush. (White House / Flickr)

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Artificial intelligence, 5G wireless, quantum computing and advanced manufacturing were among the topics Thursday at a White House meeting about the “industries of the future” with top tech CEOs, business executives and academic leaders.

The roundtable featured administration officials including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Deputy U.S. CTO Michael Kratsios, National Economic Council Adviser Larry Kudlow and Chris Liddell, the White House’s deputy chief of staff for policy coordination.

In a conference call with reporters before the event, senior administration officials described it as “a listening session at the White House with some of the leading business and academic minds in the country around a very specific purpose. We want to discuss and really listen to their ideas around the industries of the future.”

“We would like their bold ideas for how we can ensure American dominance in … artificial intelligence, 5G, quantum and advanced manufacturing,” and “suggestions for how we can create an environment that will enable us to dominate in these industries, not only in the years to come but in the decades to come,” one official said.

Attendees at the listening session were: Safra Katz, CEO of Oracle; Farnam Jahanian, president of Carnegie Mellon University; Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm; Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft; Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google; Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM; Steve Schwarzman, CEO of Blackstone; Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Henry Kissinger.

Amazon, Facebook and Apple were notably absent. Officials said everyone invited participated in the event, and they stressed that it would be the first in a series of similar listening sessions to which other companies will be invited.

“This is clearly just the first step. We hope to have some sessions with other leaders in the future and we are looking for the best ideas from all of the best companies and best institutions in the country,” an administration official said.

There is hope that Thursday’s meeting, and those that follow it, will have an effect on meaningful policy- or decision-making for the White House. One official on the call pointed to “great support from the IT industry over the last couple of years in similar ways.”

“In particular they’ve been willing to give us ideas around, for example, government IT modernization,” the official said. “And that helped us inform setting up things like the IT Centers of Excellence that we set up to start the government transformation. These sessions have been more than just discussions — they have led to real action.”

While President Trump didn’t play any role in Thursday’s listening session, the plan, officials said, is to elevate the best ideas up to the commander-in-chief.

“We want to hear the quality of the ideas,” officials said. “We want to assess them for feasibility, collect them, gather them, debate them internally, and then elevate them when appropriate. We’re optimistic that some really creative, original, big, bold ideas will come out of this discussion. But we want to have time to noodle on them.”

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the White House has taken foundational steps around each of the tech areas, including creating a Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence in May and hosting a summit on 5G wireless in September.

“We’re aspiring starting today to make even more progress,” a senior administration official said. “And we see any solution involving … not only a whole-of-government approach but a whole-of-country approach. This is not just about what the government can do but what the private sector is [doing] and can do, what the academic sector is [doing] and can do, and how we all can work together. It’s our belief that America has always won when we have all parts of the country rowing together.”

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5G, advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, Chris Liddell, Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Michael Kratsios, quantum computing, Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, White House
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