Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Washington and Silicon Valley Need Each Other

The Personal Democracy Forum, an organization that examines how technology and politics can work together for change, poses and interesting question. Can the government attract Silicon Valley talent? The piece references the use of technology during the 2008 campaign and the new Google office in Reston, Va. as a couple proof points for a cozier partnership. But the post misses a significant point. It's about infrastructure.

The latest stimulus package puts a huge emphasis on infrastructure, and politicians from both sides of the aisle have touted the benefits of "shovel-ready" projects to build roads and bridges. It goes beyond that. The real question to ask is whether Washington can reach out to Silicon Valley to help modernize our nation's systems. We are posed with a choice. We can build like we're in the 1930's or build like we're in the 21st century. If the answer the the latter, then Washington needs Silicon Valley, and it must come up with appealing ways to attract the Valley's spirit of innovation and creative problem solving.

Check out yesterday's piece in the Wall Street Journal called "Smart Roads. Smart Bridges. Smart Grids" (subscription required). Here's an excerpt:

It's time the U.S. got a lot smarter.

Federal, state and local governments are about to pour tens of billions of dollars into the nation's infrastructure. The big question: Will we simply spend the money the way we've been doing for decades -- on more concrete and steel? Or will we use it to make our roads, bridges and other assets much more intelligent?

Imagine highways that alert motorists of a traffic jam before it forms. Or bridges that report when they're at risk of collapse. Or an electric grid that fixes itself when blackouts hit.

This vision -- known as "smart" infrastructure -- promises to make the nation more productive and competitive, while helping the environment and saving lives. Not to mention saving money by making what we've got work better and break down less often.

But fail to upgrade, advocates warn, and the country may be locked into the old way of building for decades to come.

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