Biden and Trump show major differences in technology policy

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By Jasper Thomas

As President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump prepare to face off in the 2024 presidential election, their opposing approaches to technology could significantly alter U.S. technology policy, especially if Trump emerges victorious.

The US president is a key figure in guiding US policy on technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and semiconductor chips. The last four years under the Biden administration have focused on competing with China by boosting domestic chip manufacturing and imposing export controls, while also challenging U.S. tech companies on antitrust issues and setting an example in developing AI security were preceded by requiring federal authorities to follow instructions on AI use.

If Trump wins the election, the US could focus less on regulating technologies like AI and tightening trade restrictions with China, relocating critical supply chains and protecting national interests.

Regardless of who wins the 2024 election, it is imperative that the US president leads the next era of digital technology policy – otherwise Europe will lay the foundation for technology rules, said Tom Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The European Union has already adopted the EU AI Law and is in the process of implementing the Digital Markets Law and the Digital Services for Digital Platforms Law.

We are pretty close to the point where our failure to answer such questions will result in Europe ending up writing the rules, which would be a tragedy.

Tom WheelerVisiting Scholar, Brookings Institution

Wheeler said U.S. leaders have largely ignored responding to changes that digital technology has brought to commerce and culture – something he said needs to change under the next administration.

“Are we going to talk about privacy forever? Will we rely on antitrust laws written in a very different era? How do we deal with questions of trust and truth? We’ve been looking the other way for 25 years,” Wheeler said. “We’re pretty close to the point where our failure to answer questions like this will result in Europe ending up writing the rules, which would be a tragedy.”

Biden, Trump on climate, China and AI

Climate technology policy will likely represent the most significant difference between a Biden and a Trump administration.

Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act, which created clean energy incentives for businesses. In contrast, the previous Trump administration denied climate change and rolled back environmental protections to boost the natural gas, oil and coal industries.

Additionally, the Biden administration has focused primarily on clean energy technologies such as solar and wind, but a second Trump administration could shift that focus to nuclear energy, said Arthur Herman, senior fellow and director of the Quantum Alliance Initiative at the Hudson Institute. Herman also served on the National Security Council under the former Trump administration.

In fact, Herman said that under Trump, nuclear power would likely become a central part of the U.S. approach to developing more carbon-free energy.

“With Trump, we will see nuclear power move to the forefront of energy and technology policy,” he said.

China will also be a focus for a second Trump term, Herman said. This would have an impact on US technology policy, which has already been made clear by Trump and Biden’s approach to China. During the Trump administration, tariffs were imposed on Chinese goods such as aluminum, steel and solar panels. Meanwhile, the Biden administration imposed export controls on advanced AI technologies to China.

“The Trump administration will view China’s role with some suspicion,” Herman said. “How do these technologies support or undermine our national interests, particularly given China’s role as a strategic antagonist but also as a technological and economic competitor?”

Herman said climate policy and China go hand in hand for the Trump administration. He cited China as an example of why Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement on carbon emissions, which Herman said harmed U.S. national interests and benefited China.

“Green policies, particularly from the Biden administration, would be viewed from the perspective of Trump and the Republicans as policies that play into the hands of China, both economically and strategically,” he said.

AI has it too moved into focus last year for Biden and Congress. However, Wheeler said that regulation of AI will likely depend more on who gains control of the House and Senate after November’s elections. The Biden administration has already highlighted the limits of the White House in regulating the use of AI.

“Everyone thinks the presidency is a huge, powerful position,” Wheeler said. “It is clear that there are limits to what it can order in such circumstances and there needs to be legislation.”

Relocation of domestic production, cooperation with large technology companies

The CHIPS and Science Act passed under the Biden administration was aimed at boosting domestic chip production. Several companies have already received millions from the CHIPS Act to build chip production facilities in the United States

Herman said shifting U.S. industry is an effort that will likely continue under a second Trump administration, including a refocus of efforts on tariffs to force international competitors to negotiate better deals for U.S. goods and services.

However, Herman believes that under a Trump administration there would be less government funding for these initiatives and a greater focus on “constructive tax policy” to allow private companies to invest in technology research and development when the companies see opportunities. He expects the Trump administration to incentivize the private sector to address technological challenges by “creating an environment that supports investment capital in these areas.”

Herman said there will also likely be a difference between the way Biden and Trump approach big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Meta. Although both administrations have targeted the companies over antitrust concerns, the Biden administration has sought to work with the companies to understand technologies like AI.

Herman said that under a second Trump administration, he expects a pushback against big tech companies over their “ability to influence regulation.”

“Big tech companies are treated at a distance and with suspicion,” he said.

Ultimately, Brookings’ Wheeler said it would be difficult to predict how a second Trump administration would approach specific technology policies, especially given the Trump administration’s history of personally making policy decisions. Wheeler pointed to Trump’s anger with media outlets like NBC, which led him to question whether the FCC should revoke the network’s license. Wheeler also pointed to Trump’s opposition to the AT&T-Time Warner merger because he didn’t like CNN.

“It’s a very fluid situation,” Wheeler said. “I think it’s safe to assume that he’s going to take action against the federal government … and at the same time how he can use that power for his own needs. And who knows what that means.”

For more on Trump and Biden’s approach to technology policy, check out TechTarget’s editorial guide to the candidates’ stance on technology.

Makenzie Holland is a senior news reporter covering Big Tech and federal regulation. Before joining TechTarget Editorial, she worked as a general assignment reporter Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

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