The White House is scheduled to host a roundtable with the largest players in the U.S. technology industry on Thursday, December 6, the top office in the country confirmed. The gathering is meant to serve as a platform for discussing "bold, transformational ideas," though no other details on the matter have yet been given. The list of attendees is one of the most high-profile ones ever to meet with the current administration at once and includes Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Qualcomm CEO Steve Mollenkopf, and Oracle CEO Safra Catz.
Background: The timing of the roundtable is significant in that it signals the White House may be toning down on the rhetoric that saw it criticize the majority of the Silicon Valley in recent times. Over the course of the last several months, President Trump himself took aim at the likes of Google, Amazon, and Twitter, accusing them of everything from tax avoidance to liberal bias, claiming today's largest social media platforms are systematically silencing conservative voices on the World Wide Web.
As some of those sentiments were reiterated by Republican members of Congress, Mr. Pichai is now scheduled to be grilled by the House Judiciary Committee just a day prior to his White House appearance next week. Besides political bias allegations, Google's chief is expected to answer questions on the company's Project Dragonfly, a controversial initiative seeking to relaunch a censored version of Search in China. Capitol Hill officials expressed their disappointment over the secretive effort on numerous occasions already, especially in the context of Google's recent decision to not renew its Project Maven contract following employee activism, resolving to stop collaborating with the Homeland Security department on AI weaponization.
A report from earlier this week revealed Google went to great lengths in order to ensure Project Dragonfly results in a commercial product, going as far as to threaten employees who raised ethical concerns about the initiative with termination should they choose to share their knowledge of the effort with their colleagues who weren't aware of it. The company's management is also said to have been obstructing its privacy, security, and legal teams from doing a proper review of the censored Search engine which has been developed in the form of a mobile app for Android and iOS, all for the purpose of accelerating its development before too many questions are raised. Despite the massive public criticism that stemmed from the ordeal so far, top Google officials refuse to drop the matter, with Mr. Pichai already defending it on several occasions. He's expected to do the same in front of stateside lawmakers next week, though it currently appears Dragonfly won't be part of the Thursday agenda at the White House. If anything, any unwanted questions Mr. Pichai might face at the White House next week will likely be related to Google's supposed anti-conservative bias.
On the subject of political bias allegations, Google repeatedly asserted none of its products and services are built to discriminate worldviews, stating that their machine-learning foundation means they'll get better at doing what they were designed to do the more they're used. However, it's been just ten weeks since a leaked video showed the company's leadership openly mourn Hillary Clinton's 2016 election loss, which prompted another wave of criticism from conservative circles in the country. Certain activist groups and advocates remain quick to point out that Google is a publicly traded company and not a government agency and hence isn't subject to the First Amendment which guarantees freedom of expression.
Regardless, with the current political climate in the U.S. being highly polarizing, every issue that draws a distinction between the two major political parties faces significant scrutiny from both sides of the ideological aisle. Whereas the Republican side is currently more focused on the said liberal bias allegations, the Democratic party continues to pressure Google over the manner in which some of its platforms were abused in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election wherein certain Russian individuals and entities paid for advertisements and pushed a narrative through social media that was meant to polarize the American public, according to the findings of an ongoing investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. To date, the veteran attorney's team filed for some three dozen indictments as part of the probe, with its latest win being another guilty plea from Michael Cohen, a former personal lawyer of President Trump who admitted to have perjured himself in front of Congress by claiming the Trump campaign stopped negotiating a real estate deal with the Russian government in January of 2016, whereas talks continued until at least June of that year.
Impact: The sole fact that the White House is now prepared to meet with leaders from an industry it's been at odds with for nearly two years suggests their relations might improve in the immediate future as neither side stands much to gain from a simple photo op; by most accounts, the roundtable is being hosted with the intention of real-world issues being discussed. Among the subjects that might emerge on Thursday are 5G networks and government modernization, though the President will likely be looking for commentary on his often-repeated point about liberal bias permeating the majority of today's most popular online services as well.
Whether the roundtable amounts to some concrete initiative from the federal government remains to be seen, especially as most policy initiatives that could stem from the gathering would likely need backing from Congress, whereas the Trump administration is about to lose the majority support from the House on January 3 when new Representatives will be sworn in, two months after the DNC won control of the legislative body at the latest mid-terms. Even though the political left traditionally had a significantly friendlier relationship with the Silicon Valley than the GOP, a bipartisan technology effort is far from guaranteed in the future seeing how the two parties are currently at odds on a wide variety of issues and may not be willing to collaborate on any policy initiative that could help the other side win political points with their base.