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5 tech battles facing Trump

Patrick Thibodeau | Feb. 2, 2017
The tech industry could face challenges from Trump on immigration reform, R&D support, climate change, China relations and auto emissions

Trump likes to "win," and he could emerge as an advocate for federal R&D. The administration's first federal budget, due next month, will tell where he stands.

3. China becomes tech's black swan

About 84% of the world's electronics are made in Asia, and about 85% of those goods are made in China, according to research firm IDC. This means that any break in relations between the U.S. and China could have enormous implications for the technology industry. But Trump is proving himself to be a blunt-edge leader. In his first week as president, he managed to drum up a crisis with Mexico and enrage the tech industry, in particular, over his immigration ban.

Now consider what may happen in the South China Sea over China's artificial islands.

Rex Tillerson, Trump's nominee for secretary of state, told a Senate confirmation committee: "We're going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed." That wasn't an outlier position. Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary, followed up with a similar statement.

It's unclear how Trump will handle China, and there is worry that the president will raise costs with tariffs and destabilize supply chains with aggressive action. If the Trump administration uses force to deny China "access to those islands," IT may be facing a Black Swan, a low-probability, high-impact event for which there is no reasonable way to prepare. 

4. Climate change

There is a global race to develop clean energy technology. Trump's emphasis has been on fossil fuels, despite the fact that employment in the U.S. solar energy industry grew 25 percent last year to 374,000 workers.

Clean energy technology permeates everything that Silicon Valley companies work on. Internet of things technologies, in particular, hold the promise to improve energy efficiency in buildings, transportation and manufacturing systems. Coal mining is declining in importance as an employer. It is a capital-intensive industry being overtaken by automation. But there is a big future in the energy storage industry, something that ought to be apparent at the Tesla Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada, where Tesla plans to build batteries that store power generated from solar panels on houses and commercial buildings.

The U.S. Department of Energy is one of the federal agencies supporting research in clean energy, in part, by making time available on its supercomputers. There is concern that Trump's climate change denial statements will lead to cuts in DOE support for alternative energy technology development.

If the Trump administration defunds climate change research, tries to silence government scientists, cripples NASA's earth science efforts, cuts DOE funding related to climate -- all things his critics fears -- he will face continuous and ongoing fights, and likely major protests.


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