DJ Patil And Phaedra Chrousos Pitch Public Service For Technologists

Today at Disrupt SF, our own Sarah Buhr took to the stage with DJ Patil, this nation’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Data Policy and Chief Data Scientist, and Phaedra Chrousos, who heads the country’s Office of Citizen Services.

The talk was framed by the fact that technology and politics, formerly separate worlds, are increasingly finding themselves standing side by side. It can be an uncomfortable combination, given that cultural differences that yawn between Silicon Valley and the capital.

Patil stressed the importance of privacy, encryption, and the use of data responsibly, saying that “what is ethical behavior” at the “data science level” is an important question that we are working to solve. That comment may not be surprising, given his role in the current administration, but that the sentiment exists at the highest level of our government is encouraging in and of itself.

The issue of data privacy is doubly important at the moment, because it involves the government and technology sectors. Where companies land on the question of encryption, for example, can put them at odds with broad swaths of the defense complex. That Patil mentioned encryption, and the government’s usage of it, is notable.

Encryption: Not going to kill you.

Aside from the topic of pure technology, both Patil and Chrousos spoke directly about citizenship, and our shared responsibility to our larger polity. “America is what you make of it, so we need people to roll of their sleeves and make something of it,” according to Chrousos, who also said that people can work in the government on a short-term basis if they want, even perhaps for a year or so.

Both appear to believe that technology isn’t a foe of the government, but instead something that can bolster our national structures. Patil said that data, to pick an example, has the “power […] to make America better.”

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That two government officials came to Disrupt is notable. Add that to other political appearances over our last few events, and we almost have a trend. To quote a technology CEO that I can’t name here, tech companies want to get along with the government because they have no choice.

Therefore, there is, at least on this side of the nation, some appetite for deal making. And if Patil and Chrousos are representative of our larger governmental organs, perhaps there is willingness over on the East Coast, as well.