Frederick Terman

We need startups to build democracy tech

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It’s time to actually make the world a better place.

Silicon Valley was birthed from an existential threat to the world. Nazi radar defense technology was decimating the Allied air forces. But American engineers heeded the call, and in a Harvard lab led by Stanford professor Frederick Terman, invented radar jammers that helped win the war.

Terman brought the engineering talent back to Stanford, turned it into the MIT of the West, won military contracts, pushed researchers to start companies and made Silicon Valley the center of innovation.

How the need to jam Nazi radar led to Silicon Valley

It’s time for engineers to heed the call once again. President Trump poses an existential threat to world peace, social equality, the environment and the future of American values. Now the resistance needs tech tools to fight back.

There are huge opportunities for startups to build these, though their success will be measured in progress and not just profit.

  • We need tools to organize opposition to his policies, raise money for the movement and protect vulnerable communities. They could help people plan protests and recruit attendees, communicate simply over encrypted channels, easily contact their legislators or register to vote, find the best causes to donate to with a quick click or text, rally friends to the cause and provide legal guidance.
  • We need tools to educate the populace, prevent surveillance and thwart the misinformation state. These could label fake news or teach readers to spot it, track policy changes, demystify complex government systems, identify weekly ways to contribute and fund responsible journalism.
  • We need tools to aid and disincentivize Trump’s voting base that was galvanized with fear about security and the economy. This includes ways to retrain people for future jobs, improve public and private education with personalized learning, reduce healthcare costs, prevent abuse of the financial system, protect our physical and digital infrastructure, minimize the impact of terror attacks and show everyone that America cares about the working class.

If you build this stuff, TechCrunch wants to hear about it. [You can email me at josh@techcrunch.com]. And if you’ve already built it and we haven’t covered it yet, let us know how you’ve adapted your tech for these dire times. We’ll be publishing stories about the best tools for the resistance.

[Update: Y Combinator, the top startup accelerator, has put out a “request for startups” in the civic tech space. Startups that fight fake news, ease the transition into the future of work and automation, or improve democracy should consider applying to YC.]

Some of our favorite existing democracy tech includes grassroots activism text message management tool Hustle, voter registration site Vote.org and encrypted chat app Signal. Tech can’t solve everything, and having too many options can dilute support. But these have already shown promise for instigating civic engagement.

So don’t just “change the world” for yourself like some HBO Silicon Valley parody. Change it for the better.