October 27, 2016      

Hillary Clinton. First lady? Check. U.S. senator? Check. Secretary of state? Check. President of the United States? Working on it, as described in her “Hillary for America” slogan. But how would her administration affect the U.S. robotics industry?

It isn’t political to say that Clinton has a lot of government experience. But of all her public-policy stances over the past few decades that have been examined, robotics remains largely untouched.

We’ve already looked at how Donald Trump’s proposals might affect U.S. robotics policy. How would a Clinton presidency (another one) be relevant to one of the most important technologies worldwide?

The Initiative on Technology & Innovation

In late June, Hillary Clinton’s campaign unveiled the “Initiative on Technology & Innovation.” It is made up of five parts that promise to bring technology and innovation to the entire economy and population. For a U.S. robotics company, parts of the third, fourth, and fifth sections matter the most.

The third section, on “Advancing America’s Global Leadership in Tech and Innovation,” includes a subsection titled “Grow American Technology Exports.” The key passage here is the stated goal to “pursue policies to protect U.S. trade secrets and IP, and resist calls for forced tech transfer or localization of data.

The fourth section, “Setting Rules of the Road to Promote Innovation While Protecting Privacy,” includes three important subsections. They are as follows:

  • “Encourage States and Localities to Reduce Barriers to Entry” — to help innovative technology companies break through the regulatory bureaucracy that holds them back;
  • “Improve the Patent System to Reward Innovators” — to protect patent holders from certain court cases and improve transparency around patents; and
  • “Commercial Data Privacy” — to create privacy policies that manage the flow of data created by the Internet of Things (IoT), big data and other technologies.

The fifth section, “Smarter and More Innovative Government,” revolves around modernizing the government using new technologies.

The U.S. robotics industry is indirectly addressed in Clinton's platform.

Caricature of Hillary Clinton as a movie robot.

The most important subsection here is “Use the Best and Most Cost-Effective Technology,” which seeks to “stop projects that are over budget or failing to meet user needs, and also more feasible for small and medium-sized businesses to support public-service projects.”

Together, these three sections point to two distinct features of Hillary Clinton’s strategy for innovation. First, tap new technologies in ways that can fuel and protect important industries. And, use new technologies to enable ordinary people to tap the government in new ways.

Will U.S. robotics and artificial intelligence developments naturally follow from this?

Attempt to address student debt

There is another subsection in the “Initiative on Technology & Innovation” that is relevant to robotics. However, it is linked to a bigger issue — student debt. This is also related to the nation’s technical skills shortage and the need for trades.

In the U.S., student debt has crossed the $1.3 trillion mark and is increasing by $2,726 every second.

To tackle this, Clinton has proposed that millennials who want to start new businesses can put their debt on hold or freeze it for up to three years with no payments. Theoretically, this could extend to early employees of an enterprise (they could also freeze their debt).

In the past, student debt may have held back robotics ideas or forced millennials to seek out academic or private funding because of their debt load.

Under Clinton, will some millennials just freeze their student debt and use their income to fuel their robotics startups instead? How would this affect the federal deficit and U.S. economy?

More on manufacturing and taxes

Like her Republican rival, a major pillar of Hillary Clinton’s economic strategy is around manufacturing.

She has proposed several steps, such as investing $10 billion in a “Make It in America” initiative that would bring together parties including business and government to fuel manufacturing.

Hillary Clinton at a factory.

Hillary Clinton at an automotive plant in Detroit.

Another step is to get tough with companies that move jobs and revenue to other countries. However, there is no mention of what steps — if any — will be taken if these same businesses resort to automation.

Will they face a penalty, and if so, will this deter companies from selling or purchasing automation technologies?

U.S. robotics may be connected to another step in Clinton’s manufacturing plan, which calls for tax incentives for communities that “have faced or are about to face significant manufacturing job losses.” Is this a preparatory step for future job losses stemming from industrial automation?

While her Republican rival has offered to reduce taxes and supposedly make up the lost revenue through cuts to agencies such as the U.S. Department of Education or the Environmental Protection Agency, Clinton plans to raise taxes on the wealthy. This could also affect investments and the business climate, as would the respective candidates’ approaches to regulation, energy, the national infrastructure, and security.

Clinton Global Initiative offers U.S. robotics clues

Should Hillary Clinton win on Nov. 8, she will likely tap knowledge banks she has used in the past or is familiar with, such as the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI). This could bode well for U.S. robotics.

In September 2015, one of the speakers was none other than SoftBank’s Pepper. If CGI is still paying attention to robotics, will this translate into Clinton having actual robotics policies?

More on Robotics Policies:

Cause and effect?

Perhaps one of the most telltale signs of what a Hillary Clinton presidency might mean for U.S. robotics comes from an interview with her that was published on LinkedIn.

When asked about the effect of automation on the U.S. economy, Clinton replied:

We haven’t yet figured out how to sort of jump over who we are as human beings to take advantage of all of the advances in technology. So we’ve got to do some serious thinking about how we make technology more of an ally as opposed to an adversary. How do we create more jobs because of technology?”

This response is key to understanding how she could influence and change industrial automation and U.S. robotics. For any robotics companies unsure of what a Clinton presidency would mean for them, ask a simple question: “Will my innovation create jobs?”