to make sure that the best innovative
thinking was available to defense.
Defense is far from the only area
where the public interest sorely needs
the input of technical people. The Inter-
net and social media have radically trans-
formed commerce and community, but
they’ve also created new opportunities for
hostility, lies, and isolation. Now a vari-
ety of actors—including government—are
urging digital companies like Facebook to
address those challenges. It’s in their best
interest to do so, because if the technolo-
gists themselves don’t do it, the problems
will instead be “solved” by lawyers, legis-
lators, and regulators.
There’s also technology’s effect on
jobs. Driverless cars will make roads
safer and give hours of time back to com-
muters. They’ll also eliminate the jobs
of millions of people who make their
living driving trucks, cabs, and delivery
vehicles. Perhaps technology can help
by creating new types of jobs. Keeping
the American dream real, so that people
have a chance to improve their lives, is
essential to a cohesive society—as today’s
politics sometimes show.
Meanwhile, as some old jobs go
away, many companies report having
trouble finding qualified employees for
new jobs. Here again, technology can
help—by making technical training
more widespread, making it available
at various levels, and making it lifelong,
via online delivery.
Remembering the lessons the atomic
physics generation taught me when I
was starting out gives me hope about
the role technologists can play in handling the bright opportunities—and
civic dilemmas—that innovation brings.
So too does my experience as secretary
Young technologists I have met want
to make a di;erence. They know that the
progress of science cannot be stopped,
but it can also be shaped for good. They
know that if they don’t join the e;ort,
choices will be made by politicians or
judges who might not have much technical background or insight. Worse, the
effects of change might fall victim to
forces of backwardness and darkness.
Many of these people don’t necessarily
want jobs in government or philanthropy,
at least not for an entire career. They
want to join the most powerful engine of
making a di;erence: private companies
fueled by technology. But they also want
to be sure they invent solutions to problems that technology creates, just like
the atomic bomb scientists who invented
arms control in a distant era.
Ash Carter was secretary of defense from
2015 to 2017. He is an Innovation Fellow
at MIT and director of the Harvard
Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science
and International A;airs.