The U.S. Has a New Chief Geek

Megan Smith at the “Google's Made With Code” launch event to inspire girls to code, on June 19 Photograph by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic for Google

The U.S. officially has a new chief technology officer: Megan Smith, a longtime Google executive and most recently a vice president at Google’s far-out technology lab, Google X.

We reported Smith’s impending appointment last week; she becomes the third person to fill the position, after Todd Park and Aneesh Chopra. President Obama also named Alexander “Amac” Macgillivray, a former attorney for Twitter and Google, to be Smith’s deputy. As chief council for Twitter for four years, Macgillivray fought to prevent authoritarian governments from blocking provocative material while still complying with local laws.

As CTO, a role created by the Obama administration, Smith will serve as a liaison between the White House and the technology community as she advises the government on more efficient ways to use technology. And while Chopra and Park both had backgrounds in health-care technology, Smith and Macgillivray will deepen the White House’s already close ties to Silicon Valley and particularly to Google, which is working on boundary-pushing technologies such as driverless cars and aerial drones.

They also increase diversity in an administration that’s recently been criticized for lacking it. Smith is the first woman to hold the CTO job, and a lesbian who previously ran PlanetOut, a website for the LGBT Web community. Macgillivray holds dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship.

One of Smith’s strengths lies in pulling together contributors from all parts of the technology community to brainstorm ambitious solutions to global problems. She’s a driving force behind Solve for X, a three-day conference started in 2012, where outsiders joined Google executives to share big ideas. Presentations on the Solve for X website address how to use robots to bring manufacturing back to the U.S. and how to reengineer mosquitoes to fight, rather than spread, disease.

For a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story on Google X last year, Smith told me that such collaborations are the wave of the future and key to solving the world’s most pressing problems. “Bill Clinton calls the 21st century a century of creative collaboration,” she said. “There’s a bunch of this emerging. Solve for X is an example of that, and we are hoping more people will join in. We want to push more people to think about moonshot thinking, and about pushing harder on farther-out goals, rather than doing iterative work.”

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