We have seen immense technological change over the last 2 decades, much of it enabled by the global spread of the internet. The pace of this change is only going to accelerate and represents a real opportunity to tackle some of most persistent challenges facing humanity. The internet has spawned a generation of hugely ambitious entrepreneurs intent on building global companies. However, it is exactly this rate of change that is alienating large sections of society who feel left behind.
Over the last 6 months we have witnessed a monumental onslaught on our startup values. Trump and Brexit represent a threat to our open and progressive culture. Both would like to focus resources on populist policies such as re-invigorating traditional industries and allaying the fears of their core supporters. Neither understand the fragility of the startup eco-system and how easily it can be destroyed.
Startups thrive in eco-systems such as Silicon Valley and London. They demand a lot of support to prosper and can easily fail if this support isn’t forthcoming. These startup clusters attract the best brains from across the globe and cannot survive without continual access to this talent.
The recent inauguration of Donald Trump and the vote to leave the EU both represent a huge threat to the open and democratic ideals of the startup world. It will cut access to entrepreneurial talent that will be forced to go elsewhere. Trump and Brexit will redirect resources towards re-establishing traditional industries that will prove uncompetitive in the longer term and can’t hope to emulate the growth of digital businesses. This will hold back progress in tackling major issues such as eliminating disease, reducing poverty and improving education. All areas where technology is already making a major impact.
The Silicon Valley elite have been disappointing in their response to the threat; acquiescing to Trump rather than making a stand. Apart from a few exceptions their London equivalents have been equally feeble in response to Brexit. These are leaders who have access to the most powerful channels for protest in the world. For god’s sake, Trump has shown more gumption in using Twitter than the whole Silicon Valley eco-system put together (time to employ my stress management techniques).
If we want to ‘change the world’ we need to earn the right to do so. We need to get across the advantages that exponential technologies such as AI, genomics, robotics, blockchain and virtual reality can bring to society. We need to lobby strongly to promote our values of openness and diversity and how this will bring benefits to all. Most of all we need to recognise the threat and should voice our disapproval at every opportunity to any injustice being imposed on our friends and colleagues in the global startup community.