The Consumer Technology Association (CTA) held its annual Digital Patriots Dinner in Washington, D.C., last night to honor select public servants who have been exemplary in their promotion of innovation and technology.
Honored for their service were Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX). State Governors Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Doug Ducey (R-AZ) were honored with Innovation Champion Awards for leading their respective states in promoting innovation through legislation.
Rubio was honored with an Innovation Policy Ninja Award, primarily for his legislative efforts on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Rubio gave an impassioned address to the crowd of tech execs, assuring them that the disruption of the economy by technology gains is not only necessary but the key to the future.
“Nothing in this country looks like it did 55 years or 60 years ago — not even five or six years ago. My kids can literally learn anything they want instantaneously. Knowledge is at the fingertips of every American,” Rubio said.
He continued: "Leave the past behind. We have a chance to be more prosperous, with jobs that do not have a name yet, industries that don't even have a job yet. Technology does that. But government needs to embrace this future. Your industry is going to allow entrepreneurship, but we can only do it if we embrace innovation."
He finished with a pep talk to the room. "The industry you represent, and the technology you are innovating, won't just change the world, but will change this American century in a way that will empower more people than ever before."
But before he went, Rubio couldn't pass up the opportunity to tweak Booker, who he has worked with in great length to introduce bipartisan legislation that supports innovation to the Congress.
"I'll tease Booker for weeks now because I'm a ninja, and he's not," said Rubio.
Booker, who accepted a Digital Patriot Award, then took the stage and with an evangelist's fervor stoked the fire of innovation. CTA president/CEO Gary Shapiro introduced him as a "self-certified tech geek who uses his technology as part of his public service."
Booker took on many demons in his address — the country's political divide, the death of optimism, the racial and class divide — but, like Rubio, struck an optimistic chord.
"You all are evidencing what I believe is desperately needed in this country, which is a radical change in paradigms: one of fairness and equality. This country's focus needs to be on growth and opportunity, giving everyone a fair shot to get on that playing field. But, unfortunately, our paradigm has changed temporarily. We focus on left and right and what we should really be focused on is the future vs. the past."
But Booker, like Rubio, stressed that technology and innovation can solve the economic challenges the U.S., and the world, faces.
Booker concluded by exhorting those in public service, and in every walk of life, to embrace the wisdom of an elderly constituent of his in the Central Ward of Newark, N.J. "The world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you, and if you're one of those people that only sees problems and darkness and despair, that's all you're ever going to be. But if you're one of those stubborn people, where every time you open your eyes you see hope and opportunity, possibility, you see love, you see the face of God, then you can be one of those people that helps people."
Even Shapiro commented, after the speech: "I am moved."