On Friday, two dozen computer science legends endorsed Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for the 2020 presidential election, according to The New York Times. The 24 tech trailblazers are all Turing Award Laureates, arguably the highest honor in the field, and believe that Donald Trump’s immigration policies are hindering the industry’s ability to entice new talent. Names you know, like Alphabet chair John Hennessy, to names you should know, like mother of programming abstractions Barbara Liskov, signed the endorsement letter as private citizens.
Taking a stand — This statement marks the first time Turing Award Laureates have ever endorsed a political candidate, arriving shortly after The Scientific American did so for the first time in its 175 year history. The letter underscores the value of immigrants and international collaboration in America’s ability to innovate and lead the world on many technological fronts.
Scientists and engineers from Silicon Valley giants like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft as well as creative innovators like Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull are concerned that Trump’s immigration policies have gone too far. In June, Trump doled out visa suspensions, particularly the kinds of specialized skill visas the tech industry often relies on for its foreign workers.
“The most brilliant people in the world want to come here and be grad students, but now they are being discouraged from coming here, and many are going elsewhere,” famed Google engineer David Patterson told the NYT before mentioning that the chief executives of Google, Microsoft, Nvidia, and Tesla are all immigrants.
Many of the signees also immigrated into the U.S. and believe that Biden and Harris “listen to experts before setting public policy.” While they acknowledge the validity of espionage concerns, they think current policies will hamper the industry’s growth.
Brian DeMarco, who is building out a new quantum computing center at the University of Illinois, told the NYT that staffing the massive lab is a challenge given the immense demand for STEM workers at the private, public, and academic level. At a time when exciting developments are taking place every day and the consumer-facing tech industry is in dire need of revamping its products with respect to privacy, this seems like the wrong time to close the U.S. off to outside perspectives. There’s a line between reasonable caution and paranoia (in most cases these days, fueled by xenophobia), and we’ve crossed over into the latter.
These tech industry leaders just don’t want us to lose sight of the line. You can read their letter in full here.