As we emerge from the fog of the COVID-19 pandemic, friends, colleagues, and leading minds have all asked me some variation of the question: How do you remain so hopeful?
While the pandemic has undoubtedly unleashed a tsunami of hardships for millions at home and abroad, the pandemic has also brought to the forefront fundamental questions about, among other issues, our economy, equity, and the role science and technology can play in improving our collective lives.
Let’s leave those pressing questions to the scholars, politicians, and private markets to figure out. What I do know is that Representative Ro Khanna — the most tech-savvy member of Congress and a rising star in our country — has set forth a unique and thoughtful roadmap for answering some of these difficult, century-defining, challenges.
Representative Khanna is the son of Indian immigrants and an alumnus of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School. He has clerked for a federal appeals judge, served in the Obama Administration’s Department of Commerce, and now represents Silicon Valley’s district in Congress. In his latest book, Dignity in a Digital Age, he outlines tangible and concrete ways bipartisan approaches to the current digital revolution can empower workers in every corner of our country while healing current divides and mitigating future wounds.
From ‘Democratizing the Digital Revolution’ to an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ to ‘Digital Public Infrastructure’, Khanna proposes bold ideas to encourage innovation and economic participation while fiercely defending the idea that nobody should have to leave their hometown to find a dignified job. Not only does Khanna propose innovative ideas, but his congressional record also demonstrates a keen ability to work with his colleagues from across the aisle to advance digital capabilities in government. Some of the bipartisan legislation he’s introduced include The Federal Rotational Cyber Workforce Program Act of 2021 which would establish a rotational cyber workforce program and The Endless Frontier Act that would establish a Directorate for Technology and Innovation at the National Science Foundation — wonky, but important, pieces of legislation to encourage innovation.
As the Founder and CEO of the Institute for Education (IFE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to harnessing the power of soft diplomacy, innovation, data, and technology to promote bipartisanship and our Civic Tech Service, many of the themes Khanna discussed hit close to home. One of our major programs at IFE, CS@SC, aims to provide underrepresented kids, particularly girls, with an opportunity to learn computer science.
Khanna makes it clear — and I agree — that computer coding, especially for workers and older folks whose jobs have been displaced due to technological advancements, is not an elixir. Still, his overarching thesis that leveling the digital playing field across the country, not just in so-called “tech hubs,” will have an untold net-positive impact is spot on. (We have seen this firsthand with the nearly 7,000 K-12 students that have graduated from our CS@CS programs!)
As a leading global social-tech thinker who also happens to serve in government (a precious commodity given the outsized role technologically-queasy septuagenarians have in our government), Khanna and his innovative ideas outlined in Dignity in a Digital Age represent a much-needed breath of fresh air and a clear roadmap.
It’s no secret that in this ever-changing, deeply polarized, world more must be done to address inequities, particularly digital inequities, from coast-to-coast. This I believe is the challenge of our times and what will save our country now and for years to come. However, what ultimately gives me hope is that leaders like Ro Khanna are answering the call and doing their part to unleash an equitable technological revolution that will save our country and bring us closer together.