Good morning, everybody, and I’m going to be brief because I really want to get to the conversation with you.
Dean Hoffman, Dr. Curran, thank you for hosting me today. It’s really an honor to be here with you and with all the students and faculty who are here. And with our new Ambassador-at-Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy Nate Fick who has been on the job all of a month, has been to the West Coast twice and to Singapore and also tries to find his way into the building, never easy at the State Department. And of course the most important people here — all of the students as well as those watching online.
As was noted, before I came back into government I was teaching at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and painfully Ash Carter, the former Secretary of Defense who was a colleague at the Kennedy School, passed away suddenly. He was a great leader in science and technology, and I’m sure many of you know him and feel the loss as I do.
Whenever I’m on a college campus or meeting with students, I do feel my inner professor coming out, so I’m going to start by giving you an assignment but it’s not hard. It’s an easy one. I want all of you, especially the young women among you, to start thinking about what questions you want to ask us or what comments you want to make because I truly want this to be a conversation. Now I say especially young women because often when I’m with audiences women are slow to raise their hands. They think they need to have a perfect question or a perfect comment to make. Just do what the guys do who raise their hands. They have no idea what they’re going to ask, but they raise their hands anyway because they think by the time they’re called on they’ll say something and they’ll do it with enough confidence that I’ll think it’s very smart. So just do the same thing.
Most of all I want to hear what’s on your mind, what you’re thinking about, what you hope to see, what your ideas are. Because with my white hair, I’m the past. You all are the future. You all are the future.
It’s great to be back in Seattle, a longstanding hub of American innovation from business to music to technology. Sixty years ago, and I was there as a 13 year old, at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, a new invention made its debut. They called it a “space-age cordless telephone”. It’s the first time the monorail ran as well. And it was designed to dazzle diners at the rotating restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, which I also went to.
People were amazed. Not only could they witness 360-degree views of the gorgeous mountains and coastline without moving a muscle; they could also brag to their friends about it on the phone without tangled cords getting in the way.
Over my lifetime I’ve watched the concept of a cordless phone evolve from a novelty to an expensive status symbol to a foundational technology that people all over the world rely on to live their lives. Even in the least developed parts of the world, people use their cell phone for everything from banking to predicting crop yields. By historical standards, this change was fast—the printing press took centuries to go global—but it still spanned most of my adult life… and generations of devices most of you have probably never heard of.
In the coming years new and emerging technologies carry the potential to change our world on a much shorter timeline. 5G just launched six years ago. Only six years ago, and it is already reshaping the world’s communication network architecture.
Other new and emerging technologies, particularly in the fields of advanced computing, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology, all carry the potential to transform the world. Not just technologically, not just economically, but politically and geostrategically as well.
That’s because we are living in an era of renewed great power competition. Two weeks ago President Biden laid out his foreign policy vision in the new National Security Strategy. I’ll quote from the opening. “The post-Cold War era is definitively over, and competition is underway between the major powers to shape what comes next. Competition to develop and deploy foundational technologies that will transform our security and economy is intensifying.” As Secretary Blinken put it at Stanford last week, a big part of the upcoming competition between major powers is going to be driven by technology.
It’s clear that new technologies are reshaping how we live, how we work, and how we learn. Advances in clean energy are changing how we power our economies. New climate-smart agricultural practices are shifting how farmers grow food and cope with extreme weather like lots of rain and little sunshine. Biotechnology is uncovering new medical advances and new methods of manufacturing them. The Internet is enabling new ways of advancing research, of sharing knowledge, and of bringing us together.
But we have also seen new technologies used for darker purposes, as well. We’ve seen authoritarian leaders use surveillance technologies to crack down on dissent and suppress critical voices. We’ve witnessed the power of social media exploited to spread disinformation and lies, to sow distrust and division, even to encourage acts of violence.
To take a practical example, just look at what’s going on in Iran right now. Protests sparked by the tragic and senseless death of Mahsa Amini… today is day 40, which in Iranian world is an anniversary of this tragic event… in the custody of the so-called morality police… those protests have bridged every major city across the country and in her home city thousands protested today. The knee-jerk reaction of Iranian authorities is not to listen, not to apologize. Instead, they wish to shut down the Internet, spread this information, and block apps that millions of Iranians rely on to connect with each other and to sustain their livelihoods.
Technology, for all of us, is a means, not an end. A tool, not a destination. Technology can be used to lift people up or keep them down. We cannot take for granted that improvements in technology will lead to improvements in our lives. We must prepare for the risks.
When I was sworn in as Deputy Secretary of State about 18 months ago, one of the first things Secretary Blinken asked me to do was to co-lead a comprehensive review of our cyber and emerging technology strategy at the State Department. Just about everyone recognized that the United States urgently needed to strengthen our global leadership on cybersecurity, digital policy, and emerging technology. As a result of that work, we launched a new Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy in April. We did this to significantly increase our capacity to address the cyberspace and digital issues facing the United States and other countries; integrate the economic, security, and values components of cyberspace; and to deepen our pool of expertise so we can engage partners around the world on these issues.
I am so thrilled to have the head of that new bureau, Ambassador Nate Fick, here with us today. I am so thrilled he came because that meant he could take the lead on this, no longer an ignorant Deputy Secretary of State. Though Nate will continue to collaborate with my office, at least in the first year, as we figure this all out. Nate is the United States’ first-ever Ambassador-at-Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy. And as I noted, he’s been keeping a busy schedule. His second trip to the West Coast in as many weeks, and he managed a stop in Singapore in between. As we heard, he’s a diplomat, but also a technology expert and entrepreneur, an executive, with combat experience as well as a Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan for good measure. And I know your dad served as the DCM in Afghanistan, one of the easier posts. Nate personifies what our country needs to be competitive in the face of the foreign policy challenges that lie ahead: a deep understanding of the interconnectedness between technology, national security, economic competitiveness, and democracy.
And that brings me to the heart of what I want to say to you today. Whether you are studying international affairs or biotechnology, cybersecurity or law, you too will need to understand these connections.
I am very grateful to be speaking with an audience of students and faculty representing a wide range of fields, from social sciences to STEM. For those of you studying one of the social sciences, I hope you will consider a career in public service—maybe even at the State Department. I did, and it’s one of the best decisions I made in my life. The work is interesting; the work is rewarding. You work hard, really hard, but it’s meaningful, and it gives you an opportunity to improve the lives of the American people and of people all over the world.
I’d also encourage those in the social sciences such as me to take a STEM class, even a few, or find another way to get smart about new and emerging technologies. You might not get your best grades, I certainly didn’t, but I promise it will be worth it because we need our current and future policy makers—most of whom don’t have STEM backgrounds—to understand enough about technology to be persuasive and effective in their jobs.
For those of you who are studying STEM fields, I hope you too will consider a career in public service. Even at the State Department. There is no question we need STEM expertise in the government and particularly at the Department of State. Jessica [Lewis] can tell you all about that in the political-military arena. And we are expanding opportunities to hire people who have academic backgrounds like you, including for Nate’s team. I’m looking at the cyber security students in the room. I’m looking at all of you.
But even if you don’t end up in government, there are other ways to contribute to our national security, to our economic competitiveness, and fundamentally to our democracy. One of those ways is to understand the broader context in which new technologies are being developed. So take some classes on international relations and political economy. Another is to train and work on issues that are central to our national security. Right now, that includes semiconductors, biotechnology and quantum information science. In a few years, who know what it will be? Nate and I were at T-Mobile yesterday asking, “so what the heck will 6G really be?” You can be part of shaping that world.
Because it comes down to this: it’s up to us—all of us—to build the future of cyberspace and technology we want to see. Policy makers and engineers. Cyber security experts and lawyers. All of us, all of us expanding our horizons, all of us listening to and learning from each other, all of us seeing the connections between technology and economic development and foreign policy. This is how we ensure technology reflects our democratic values and lifts up people and societies. This is how we make sure technology of the future is a force for good.
So thank you again for being here today. And for all those who have tuned in. Ambassador Fick and I look forward to taking your questions. Jessica can join us too if you want to know about the world political-military affairs. So thank you all for having us here today. Thanks so much.