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When tech and politics combine | Bullish

– The tech and political
worlds are merging, and there’s pretty much nothing we can do about it at this point. (intense electronic music) In January, many executives
in the tech industry came out strongly against
President Trump’s immigration ban. That news was followed by
Y Combinator announcing the American Civil Liberties Union would join its accelerator
for tech startups. Meanwhile, everyday employees
in the tech industry are increasingly becoming involved in social and political activism of sorts, whether it’s staging walk-outs or rallies at their tech companies or
showing up in solidarity at public protest, but
this isn’t the first time tech has gotten involved in politics. Tech leaders have spoken
out against things like SOPA and PRISM as well as policies that affect the LGBTQ community. But something feels
different this time around. Today we’re chatting with Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, about the intersection
of tech and politics. – [Man] Sam Altman is the
president of Y Combinator, a startup accelerator in Silicon Valley that has churned out startups like Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox, and Flexport. In the last couple of
years, YC has expanded its mission to focus on things like basic income and
universal healthcare. – Why are the worlds of tech and politics increasingly colliding these days? – I think tech has just expanded so much, and it’s the way that so
many of us consume news and information, there was sort of the unavoidable collision
with the world of politics. – And I’ve seen, you’re
very active on the internet, obviously, and on your
blog you’ve posted things about basic income, universal healthcare. What’s driving you to get
involved in that sort of area? – I think I’ve been incredibly
fortunate in my career and I’m in a place where
I can work on things that I think are really
important to the future. And I think that as
technology continues to create more wealth, but concentrate
it, we have an obligation to figure out how to address that problem. So we will create huge amounts of wealth in the tech industry, but
if we don’t figure out how to include everybody
in that and figure out new societal systems as AI
eliminates jobs or whatever else happens, then I think
we’ll have totally failed. And I think that I’m very lucky that I have a platform
where people listen to me and I can try to advance
these ideas I care about. – So how many projects
right now do you have in addition to your core
role at Y Combinator? – YC Research sort of funds
five different projects. Open AI, we’re trying
to develop superhuman AI and have that be maximally
beneficial for people as a whole, basic income,
universal healthcare, a group where we’re looking at new cities, because I think the cost of
housing is one of the biggest problems that we’re trying
to face as a society. I think young people are just
getting completely screwed by that system and we
need to think about ways to make housing as affordable as possible. And then the fifth one is Alan K’s group, which we call HARK, which is new ways to do education and communication, actually would have been
great for this election, how can you get more
empathy into people’s minds? – Y Combinator recently
accepted the American Civil Liberties Union into
the startup accelerator. After that announcement
came out, people had some concerns about YC’s
relationship with Peter Thiel, who of course backed
President Trump’s campaign. – President Trump. Doesn’t sound any less crazy. – (laughs)I know, yeah. Or some people have been saying 45, or the man in the room.
– I think that might be a good strategy, I’m not totally sure. – Yeah, so Thiel backed 45’s campaign. But do you want to set the record straight and just say, what is
Thiel’s involvement with YC, what involvement he
might have with the ACLU? – Yeah, no involvement
at all with the ACLU. Part time partners are
pretty non-involved. So he advises startups
when they ask for it, but he’s busy with a lot of other things. – Do you think the ACLU would ask him? – I don’t know, I mean, the ACLU defends a lot of free speech,
but they haven’t so far, I don’t expect that they will, and I hope we’ll be able to help them with whatever they ask for. Our model with any startup,
profit or nonprofit, we funded 30-something nonprofits, and the model is always, startup tell us what they need help
with, and we try to help. So if that’s fundraising,
we’ll try to help with that, if it’s technology, a device,
partnerships, whatever it is. And in this particular
case there was a ton of excitement, so many
of our companies said we want to give these
free services to the ACLU, and the community really rallied together in a way that was nice. – After the election, we’ve
just seen a lot of people in the tech industry speaking up, either against Trump or some
of his executive orders, especially relating to immigration. – Yeah. – Do you see yourself as an activist… at this point? – I guess so, I’m not, yeah, I mean, I was not
planning to be this involved, it has become a very busy second job. But I really care about it. I do think there’s a lot tech can do, but trying to figure out the
right few things to focus on, that’s not yet clear to me. But I think it’s super
important we figure that out, and I think, to say something positive, the entire tech community
feels engaged and wants to figure this out, and
wants to do the right thing. So I think that there
is a lot of potential energy looking for the right thing to do. – What are some or your top priorities, maybe, in terms of, in thinking about how you could be an activist of sorts? What are those types of
priorities, or what are the few things that you’re
thinking about right now? – The things that scare
me the most about Trump, one, I think he will be terrible for the rights of Americans
that don’t look like him. At a minimum, he’ll be a terrible example, and he’ll probably also try to enact policies that I think are really bad. I’d love to see the court system step up and defend the country,
but I think protecting the rule of law and
equality of all citizens, I think that’s a super important area for us to defend, I think
trying to engage with everybody, one thing I really don’t like about some of tech’s response is this whole, people that supported Trump are the devil, and we hate them, and we’re gonna go, they’re not part of the future. I think, I hope, tech proved
that it could drive us apart, I hope tech can bring us together. And I think without
that we will have this, even if we win the next election,
which I really hope we do, I think we will continue to
have this very divided country. I mean, if Hillary had won,
you and I would be very happy and there’d be some version
of this somewhere else where people were talking
about the end of the world. – Right. (laughs) – And so I think trying
to come back together is like, we disagree but we
have this shared country. And we need to find a way to not all be trying to root for the
demise of the other half, feels really important. – So what I do here at TechCrunch, a lot of my coverage is around
diversity and inclusion. And to me, that conversation
has definitely broadened in light of Trump, and it’s
kind of made me question, okay, what should I be
prioritizing right now? Is there something that’s more important? Do you have this idea, or do you ever feel spread thin, in a way, like
there are now so many things that need a lot of
attention that you might not really know where to begin? – Yeah, I’ve had that same experience, which is I had this
set of things I thought were really important,
and now there’s some new things that seem a whole
lot more important. And I think one important meta point is to be, this thing happened
that we didn’t expect, and it seems like it could be really bad, and being willing to
sort of reallocate focus and time and priorities,
I think the meta point is it’s important to
focus and it’s important to be willing to redirect that focus. So not do too many things,
and be willing to do very different things than I was thinking I was gonna do in October of last year. – Right.
– The other thing that I worry about a lot
with, let’s say 45, is, I hope this is a misguided worry, but I do worry a lot about a war. And I think he’s a little bit unstable. And there are a lot of things
that I think I can at least come up with some path
of how tech can help, and that one it just feels
like we’re powerless on. – Right. – Did you see that report
about Cambridge Analytica and how the Trump campaign
used them to sort of perfectly tailor messaging, advertising, to each individual person based
off of their Facebook likes and their preferences, so we basically, one of the things technology
does is instead of having to create a message that
applies to a broad set of people, you can create
350 million messages, and so there is this way in which this was the election of the algorithm. And tech can, I think, that kind of was this emergent behavior we weren’t all ready for. But tech can get really
focused on that now. And I think the industry
has a lot of power to create empathy, bring people together. – So given all that we’ve discussed, and considering that we’re
both in this tech world, in the startup world, where does that leave
the startup ecosystem, or in terms of opportunities for innovation and real
impact, how do you, – To end on a positive
note, the tech industry is incredibly powerful,
and we feel fairly united in this concern, and so I think
there is an enormous amount we can do if we can agree on what to do, and coordinate in how we do it. But I think, I mean, it is not just people in Silicon Valley that spend
all day on their phones looking at Facebook and
Twitter and Instagram, SnapChat, everything else. And so… I think there is really
a lot that’s possible. One of the crazier ideas I have, everyone talks about the
merge, the singularity, when we, humans and computers
become the same thing. And I think there is an important argument that that’s already behind us. I’m uncomfortable right
now because my phone is over on that table.
(Megan chuckling) But I, that phone controls my life. And that tells me what I should think, and it tells me when to go to my meeting, and when to go here,
and if I don’t have it, although it’s not
technically part of my body, I feel physically uncomfortable, it’s like something is missing
that’s really important. And I don’t think I’m in a minority there. And so there is this way
in which the industry has a lot of power to create empathy, bring people together, and spread these ideas that we believe in. – Thanks so much for your time, Sam. – Thank you.
– I really appreciate it. – [Man] Catch Bullish on Wednesdays, here at (light ambient music)

Reader Comments

  1. Haha.. what a joke ? crybabies Libtards! Just focus on the technology and stop this unnecessary bull (shit) unsubscribe!

  2. Screw you, Altman.
    The entire tech sector has such a low opinion of anyone that doesn't live in big cities, that it's just impossible to take you seriously on major issues.
    Stick to status updates and memes.
    Trump's policies will improve the lives of everyone, especially those minorities you like to claim as your political pawns.

  3. How about we talk about the role that unregulated tech played in putting us in the position we are in in the first place. If Facebook, for instance, didn't treat us all like a bunch of ad-eating pawns and nothing more (i.e. if it actually cared about its users AT ALL), 'fake news' would have played a much smaller part, if not any part, in the last election.

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