Tech execs at White House field ideas for US dominance
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 robotics.
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 phone-maker 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.
White House senior officials downplayed those leaders’ absence Thursday. They said the meeting is part of what will be an ongoing series of private sessions to gather expert input that will later be elevated to the president’s attention.