US President Donald Trump is scheming with IBM and other tech giants to build a gigantic Matrix-style information technology infrastructure to rule people’s lives.
Trump says he is willing to spend whatever it takes to get the US back to the position of global IT leader, and is willing to let IBM thoroughly assess the government’s technology requirements and then take over everything in the world.
IBM, of course, is the company which bought the technology used in the first ever census in the US, in 1890.
And the company has been associated with big data and big government – and even Orwellian “Big Brother” – concepts ever since.
Now, the company is being asked by Trump to do a deal on government IT, which is apparently in dire need of overhaul.
The entire US governmental IT infrastructure is said to be antiquated, and simply keeping it operational is costing tens of billions of dollars a year.
Trump – who believes himself to be the best dealmaker in the world, possibly in the history of the world – jokingly offered a fraction of the cost the government currently spends, and even that would be for an entirely new IT infrastructure. Although he may have said it in jest, he may well use it as an opening gambit in discussions with IT providers.
Speaking at a news conference at which IBM CEO Ginni Romnetty was present, Trump said: “We have a computer system in this country that’s 40 years old. So when you hear we are hacked and we’re this and we are like easy targets… one of the things we are doing is, in fact, we are working with a very, very wonderful woman from IBM and others.”
Addressing Romnetty and other IT providers directly, Trump made it clear that he wants a “massive” upgrade which will inevitably involve brand new equipment rather than cranking up current systems.
“We’re going to have a massive programme to modernise our equipment, and ideally get brand new equipment,” said Trump. “The cost of maintaining our computers is a number that is so high that it’s not even a believable number.
“I’ve heard anywhere – is this possible? – from $39 billion to $89 billion a year… That’s for keeping our computers updated and running.”
Talking to Romnetty, he continued: “I think we can buy a whole new system for less money than that, wouldn’t you say? I hope so.”
He added jokingly, “We’ll give you $10 billion right now”, for the entire job.
As well as Romnetty, the audience at the meeting included GM CEO Mary Barra, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, and Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, among others.
From the Trump team, notable attendees included advisors Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, and Elaine Chao, who was appointed Transport Secretary recently amid growing interest in and development of autonomous systems.
It’s a crucial time for transport infrastructure around the world, especially in advanced nations, because whereas before, roads were just tarmac, dotted with traffic lights, now they are going to be upgraded to make them suitable for autonomous cars.
And, of course, autonomous cars does not necessarily mean driverless cars – it can mean the hundreds of thousands of cars already on the roads which feature what’s called advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS.
ADAS can mean any number of specific technologies, such as autonomous braking, parking assistance, lane changing, and so on – all of these features are being integrated into almost all new cars rolling off the production lines.
And in order for them to work more effectively, the infrastructure – roads, traffic lights, traffics signs, and so on – all have to be made smart, or more intelligent, meaning more chips everywhere, and everything connected.
Cars themselves are increasingly being connected to infrastructure, often referred to as vehicle-to-x systems. Such systems will enable onboard computers to communicate with traffic lights, for example, and if the road ahead is clear – which sounds very unlikely – then the traffic light will be green rather than red, meaning that drivers will not have to wait at a red light while there’s no other traffic around, which is unimaginable.
In her first public statement since becoming transport secretary, Chao likened Trump to a catalytic converter.
Speaking at a public meeting, Chao said the government is reviewing autonomous vehicle technologies. “This administration is evaluating this guidance and will consult with you and other stakeholders as we update it and amend it, to ensure that it strikes the right balance,” she said.
She added that the Trump administration wanted to ensure it “is a catalyst for safe, efficient technologies, not an impediment. In particular, I want to challenge Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technology”.
She did, however, warn that autonomous technologies could mean the loss of many jobs, particularly in freight transport.
“The new automated technologies have the potential of dramatically changing commercial transportation and private travel, expanding access for millions within our borders,” said Chao.
“Automated technology has the potential to help eliminate human error and reduce crashes and fatalities significantly.”
She added that she will also be keeping her eyes on how the technology affects sectors such as logistics, where driverless trucks are being tested and introduced. “As a former secretary of labor I’m very concerned about that,” said Chao. “We do have to transition people [into other careers] and keep that in mind.”