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What If the Next President Knew How to Code?

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 24/03/2016 Robin Raskin

From Hammurabi to Mendel, from Thomas Jefferson to Charles Darwin, we are compulsively drawn to classifying, categorizing and coding the world around us. Coding of all kinds, whether it's a cryptographic language, a body of laws or a bunch of computer instructions, imposes a basic logic and order. To code is to create processes that impose a semblance of order on the frenzied, seemingly random world we live in. And those who create code wield power.
Personalized medicine, genetically modified babies, self-driving cars and the Internet of Things, the seat of power belongs to those who code. In the code lie important ethical decisions. Apple's Tim Cook and Google's Eric Schmidt hold the power to decide what constitutes privacy. The Qualcomm's and Cisco's, the Microsoft's and the Facebook's -- the billions of lines of code they generate create the rules of behavior for the postmodern world. The lines of code that power an Uber or an Airbnb are transforming our world at a pace that's breathtaking.
Today, IBM's Watson, an artificial intelligence machine, is voraciously reading, storing and coding everything that's ever been written. One of the hopes is that it can draw into its vast database of knowledge, making inferences and connections to help doctors match symptoms to diagnoses in ways that they never could before. As I write, coders are tapping out the rules for how refrigerators will chat with groceries (boot them out if they're spoiled), how culpable drones might be in murder, how robots will walk amongst us, and how to create a virtual reality that may be far more seductive (and productive) than our reality.
Our current crop of politicians is woefully unaware of the new seat of power. Or worse still, they're playing ostrich about its magnitude. Barack Obama gets the post-political world. He made the pilgrimage to SXSW to forge a relationship between coders and lawmakers. He was on an HR mission. "The reason I'm here is to recruit all of you," he said. "We can start by coming up with new platforms, new ideas across disciplines and across skill sets to solve some of the big problems we're facing today." Perhaps Python or Ruby on Rails is not his native tongue but he knows where the next seat of power lies.
The current candidates for President are in various states of tech-denial, as their temperaments show. Trump, in a 2007 deposition reported, "I don't do the email thing," and in 2013, according to a Business Insider report, said he uses email but, not much. Also, he dictates his tweets to a staff aide. Ted Cruz calls net neutrality the Obamacare of the Internet. If email and social media are the poker tell for this batch of candidates then to crib off the AOL slogan, "we've got trouble."
Bernie Sanders, like a jazz musician, gets the rhythm of the tech world and has mastered the social web. His website is visual and twitter-esque in its language, but we haven't seen him allude to the simplest of things that a Democratic Socialist might do, like call for an Internet sales tax to help fund equal access to bandwidth. Hilary Clinton, as smart and connected as she is, can't seem to manage to even talk about her use of personal email in a way that shows an understanding. And while both candidates call for higher job creation and better wages, neither has contributed much insight into the gig economy.
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Cadres of coders are making decisions about our world, transcribing decisions into and/or and if/then statements and parsimonious algorithms. The next President doesn't need to learn how to program their own "hello world" (a simple programming exercise used to teach basic syntax) but, they do need to viscerally understand the elements of high tech systems and code. Our forefathers understood the power of laws they created; so they created laws built to last. The next President needs to understand code in the same way. A law or computer program may look like it's a temporary fix for what needs fixing, it's not. The upshot of these collective lines of laws and codes shape what we are.
At the heart, the next President needs to be a "systems guy." They'll need to figure out how to work with technologists so that they get out in front, and are not caught forever in the rear view mirror trying to deal with the unanticipated consequences of code.
Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today's digital consumer.

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