On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order that bars citizens from seven Muslim-majority nations — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — entry to the United States for at least 90 days, kicking off a swift and strong reaction from the science and technology community. High-profile tech companies, Apple, Google, HPE and others, have issued statements opposing the ban. That same ripple of concern is rushing through the scientific community.
As reported in the Washington Post on Monday, thousands of academics, including 50 Nobel laureates, joined together to protest the ban. A petition criticizing the action was signed by 14,800 verified U.S. faculty members and more than 18,000 supporters as of Wednesday morning.
A multisociety coalition of 164 organizations — professional scientific, engineering and education societies, national associations, and universities — also denounced the immigration order. Their Jan. 31 letter to Donald Trump reads in part: “The Executive Order will discourage many of the best and brightest international students, scholars, engineers and scientists from studying and working, attending academic and scientific conferences, or seeking to build new businesses in the United States. Implementation of this policy will compromise the United States’ ability to attract international scientific talent and maintain scientific and economic leadership.”
The Association for Computing Machinery, the world’s largest scientific and educational computing society, expressed its concern over President Trump’s order and urged an end to the ban. In a statement issued Monday, the ACM said it “supports the statute of International Council for Science in that the free and responsible practice of science is fundamental to scientific advancement and human and environmental well-being, [and] such practice, in all its aspects, requires freedom of movement, association, expression and communication for scientists. All individuals are entitled to participate in any ACM activity.”
To capture the rising chorus of voices on this issue, we reached out to the HPC leadership community and found a number of people willing to go on record and others who declined, citing wariness about possible reprisals; one person spoke to us on the condition of anonymity. We also collected some of the sentiments from the larger tech community.
Thomas Sterling, Director, Center for Research in Extreme Scale Technologies, Indiana University
“Science discovery, knowledge, and understanding is reserved for no single self-selected elitist group but is a shared fabric of all societies as are their benefits to all of humanity. Only artificial barriers such as political boundaries, restrictive belief systems, and economic obstacles impede the dissemination and free flow of ideas and their creative application to common challenges among all peoples such as health, climate, food production, and lack of want. HPC is a tool, both a product and enabler of the universal culture of science and engineering, and ultimately human knowledge. Where any one body is precluded from the natural exchange of concepts and the advancement of methods such as HPC, all suffer to a degree due to limits on creativity and human productivity.
“The HPC community as it impacts a diversity of fields is an international body exemplified by the dynamics of cooperation through the movement of peoples in all directions whether of senior experts for short forums around the world, students for extended stays at universities across continents for periods of study, or the immigration of trained practitioners residing permanently in new adopted lands. This ebb and flow of human capital enriches all societies and refreshes their capabilities. The last week has seen a disruption of international communities and cooperation including science and engineering.
“In April, I and others from a number of countries were to be invited to participate in an international forum on topics related to computing including HPC in Tehran, Iran. Building bridges with our colleagues there and welcoming them into our world societies without borders is a wonderful opportunity to facilitate the likelihood of world prosperity and is a responsibility of all thought-leaders contributing to advances of our shared civilization. Now this small step is being withdrawn with both the U.S. and Iran blocking travel of each other’s citizens to their respective nations. The acts precipitating these circumstances are neither noble nor of any profit. They satisfy only narrow views of small minds with short horizons, without perspective or vision of a better world nearly in our grasp but possibly lost for a generation as we drift back into our tribal caves, dark and dank without enlightened images of a greater world.”
Unnamed source, a prominent and long-time member of the HPC community with experience in the federal government, in private industry and academia
“It’s a 90-day ban, and there are all kinds of court challenges that have already started. It’s not clear what implementation long-term would even look like. I think people are upset and that’s probably a good thing, that’s what keeps a balance in our political system. But I think it’s not clear, to me at least…it’s a 90-day ban, there’s a lot of things changing right now, we don’t know enough to say anything helpful. So I feel like everybody is sort of, they were waiting for something to be upset about and here we are. So they’re all ready to go. But I’m not sure it’s the right thing.
“I don’t know if it’s an overreaction, it’s an early reaction. It’s too early. We just don’t know enough for people to be this upset in high end computing. Now maybe in other areas, such as civil rights or areas of the business community where travel is a lot more fluid. Maybe they do know enough and have already seen enough where it’s already impacted them. But for us, half of these countries are on the terrorist counties Watch List anyway, or at least some of them. And for government HPC facilities, those people were already not permitted to participate. Countries like Iran are already severely restricted in terms of what they can do in the defense and security space, which is where a lot of the supercomputers are.
“For people who were tired of things being the same, they might get a little relief from that emotion. Things will change, I just think it’s too early to know whether they’ll be on balance good or bad, and I’m willing to wait and see. A lot of people around me aren’t, they are very excited.”
Steve Conway, Research Vice President in IDC’s High Performance Computing group
“I have worked for large technology companies in the U.S., and in order to compete they have to be able to hire the best and the brightest from around the world. If there are any restrictions that aren’t necessary, that really inhibits American companies’ ability to compete globally, and they can fall behind. We have to be able to hire the best and the brightest from anywhere in the word. And of course all employers in all countries have the right to exclude people who have proven that they are not trustworthy, and so forth, and that’s OK. But a ban can be too broad and too unspecific if it really filters out people who can really help the U.S. economy.
“I’ve said this in meetings in Washington, that arguably the single biggest advantage America has in the whole area of business competition is our university system, particularly at the graduate level. There’s nothing in the world that compares with it. And it’s a magnet, it attracts not just people from the U.S. but people from all over the world. That’s an investment by our country, and we ought to be able to hold onto as many of the best people coming out of our educational system as we can. If they want to contribute to our economy, we certainly shouldn’t be turning them away.”
John Gustafson, Visiting Scientist, A*STAR – Agency for Science, Technology and Research, inventor of Gusatfon’s law
“After 18 months in Singapore, I can say with confidence that Singapore is a model for how to handle immigration and travel. Of the 5.5 million people living in Singapore, 2 million are not Singaporeans, the highest non-citizen percentage of any country. The Singapore government is on good terms with the rest of the world, but it is very selective and careful with who is allowed in as a long-term resident, with screening that takes months by the Ministry of Manpower. They have just the right balance between caution and openness. Despite the amount of time they take, they are actually quite efficient and effective, and no one malicious ever seems to make it through that filter. Once you get the corruption out of government, it’s amazing what it is able to accomplish.”
Bob Sorensen, Research Vice President in IDC’s High Performance Computing group
“Throughout its history, U.S. high technology capabilities in the academic, government, and commercial sectors have always benefitted from access to the best and brightest minds in the world. Indeed, the ability to attract highly skilled scientists and engineers from around the world is one of the United States’ most important competitive advantages. Any barriers that impede the free flow of those people, and the intellectual capability they engender, can only diminish the ability of the U.S. to remain at the forefront of global scientific and technological development, which in the long run could have serious implications for both U.S. national security concerns and its global economics competitiveness.”
Shahin Khan, Founding Partner, OrionX.net & Founder, StartupHPC.com
“I usually take several steps back on these things and try to see them in the larger context while remaining sensitive to immediate issues.
“The supercomputing community has always been a model of how government, academic, and industrial organizations can cooperate to advance humanity, not just in science and technology but also in business and policy. This is especially important if we look at current global challenges in the context of the transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. There are left-over problems of Industrial Age: most notably climate change, but also some social and economic constructs; and there are new problems stemming from digitization: automation, globalization, awareness, and digital mistrust. The shear complexity of these old and new grand-challenge problems, and to solve them while avoiding unintended consequences, demands supercomputing and its unique cooperative model.”
Sharan Kalwani, HPC Practitioner
“The recent temporary U.S. presidential executive orders appear to be have been rushed through and not carefully thought out or consulted with the different arms of the U.S. government. The HPC industry is truly a global one and as it continues to forge ahead and prepare to tackle some of the most unprecedented challenges facing all of humanity, the only way forward is via global co-operation and alliances. Steps such as this one, only serve to heighten tensions and hinder progress, as the HPC industry needs all the global acumen & talent they can harness to make breakthroughs.”
The Tech Industry Response
“We’re a nation of immigrants whose diverse backgrounds, ideas, and points of view have helped us build and invent as a nation for over 240 years,” wrote Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in a company-wide email. “No nation is better at harnessing the energies and talents of immigrants. It’s a distinctive competitive advantage for our country—one we should not weaken.
“To our employees in the US and around the world who may be directly affected by this order, I want you to know that the full extent of Amazon’s resources are behind you.”
“It’s painful to see the personal cost of this executive order on our colleagues,” said Google CEO Sundar Pichai in a memo to employees. Google reports more than 100 employees are affected by the order, according to Bloomberg.
“As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world,” wrote Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, in a LinkedIn post. “We will continue to advocate on this important topic.”
Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard Enterprise and chairperson of HP, sent an email to HPE employees on Monday morning (source: Axios):
“HPE will continue to support its diverse and global family of employees through these challenging times. We are in this together. We will also continue to advocate for immigration policies that recognize America’s core principles and the contributions immigrants make to our collective strength and prosperity. Even while securing its borders, America must not turn its back on the ideals that have motivated generations and inspired the world.”
“IBM has long believed in diversity, inclusion and tolerance. As we shared with IBMers this weekend, we have always sought to enable the balance between the responsible flow of people, ideas, commerce and information with the needs of security, everywhere in the world,” IBM said in a memo (link).
“As IBMers, we have learned, through era after era, that the path forward – for innovation, for prosperity and for civil society – is the path of engagement and openness to the world. Our company will continue to work and advocate for this.”
The note that Brian Krzanich shared with all its employees was documented by The Oregonian.
I wanted to get a note out to you that goes beyond the statement on our Policy blog or my latest tweet, about the recent directives around immigration. First, as the grandson of immigrants and the CEO of a company that was co-founded by an immigrant, we believe that lawful immigration is critical to the future of our company and this nation. One of the founding cultural behaviors at Intel is constructive confrontation where you focus on the issue, and not on the person or organization. The statement we submitted today does just that. It focuses on the issues. We will continue to make our voice heard that we believe immigration is an important part of making Intel and America all that we can be. I have heard from many of you and share your concern over the recent executive order and want you to know it is not a policy we can support.
At Intel we believe that immigration is an important part of our diversity and inclusion efforts. Inclusion is about making everyone feel welcome and a part of our community. There are employees at Intel that are directly affected by this order. The HR and Legal teams are working with them in every way possible and we will continue to support them until their situations are resolved. I know I can count on all of you to role model our culture and support these employees and their families.
I am committing to all of you – as employees of what I believe to be the greatest company on the planet – that we will not back down from these values and commitments. There will always be forces from outside of the company that will try and distract us from our mission. The key to our success will be our unrelenting focus. As our founder Robert Noyce said: “Do not be encumbered by the past, go out and do something wonderful today.” Each of us can go out and do something wonderful to role model our values.
As mentioned in Quartz, some companies and tech leaders were noteworthy for their silence. “Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Trump advisors IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz, and Google cofounder Larry Page were notably absent from those speaking out,” said Quartz.
A broad coalition of tech companies has formed to challenge the new immigration order. The group was expected to meet yesterday (Tuesday) to discuss legal strategies for blocking the travel ban. Github organized the meeting, according to Reuters, and Google, Netflix, Yelp, Salesforce and SpaceX were among the companies invited.