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Tech burned money in Cantor loss, but not as much as others

Eric Cantor's surprising loss may damage tech's lobbying strength in Congress.
Eric Cantor's surprising loss may damage tech's lobbying strength in Congress.

The loss of his seat by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has rocked the political world from coast to coast. In Silicon Valley, the shockwaves also carried a price tag: $82,000. That’s how much technology firms contributed to Cantor’s re-election effort in 2014. (The largest contributor was Oracle at $25,000.)

But the tech industry did not blow as much money in Cantor’s stunning defeat as some other industries. According to a report in Computerworld, the securities industry ponied up $677,000 and real estate interests contributed another $268,000.

This could be viewed as a good news/bad news situation. Tech backed the wrong horse and it only cost them eighty grand. But it’s also reasonable to speculate that perhaps Cantor might have fared better if the tech industry had contributed at a level closer to the other interest groups, despite the prevailing feeling that the powerful Republican had an “easy” race.

The small amount of tech-backed money has surprised a number of political observers, since Cantor was widely viewed as the key legislator the industry needed to get immigration reform passed. Now they have no one as influential in Congress to carry the ball on an issue considered critical to many Silicon Valley companies. That could end up costing them a lot more than the nearly $1 million generously contributed to Cantor by the other groups.

In other tech news:

X Prize – At the GSummit in San Francisco on “gamification” last month, one of the presenters was Eileen Bartholomew whose fulltime job is to come up with new and different prizes for world competitions. She works for X Prize, a set of public competitions that challenges entrants to solve big challenges around the globe. It’s a foundation and their first big prize competition was the $10 million Ansari award to the first private spaceship that carried 3 people 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface twice over 2 weeks.

It took eight years, but the prize was won by a company who ended up selling their technology to Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic. Now space tourism is upon us. Are you interested in trying your luck? Current active prizes include one for building a device that can diagnose patients as well as a doctor, and another that can launch and land on the moon and transmit video back to Earth. Step right up!

Google Glass – At the MIT Digital Summit (also in San Francisco this past June), Technology Review editor Jason Pontin grilled Google Glass inventor Thad Starner about news reports over the past year that some people are not exactly thrilled when Glass wearers show up at a meeting wearing their picture and video recording eye frames. When Starner dismissed concerns about Glass by saying that they always seemed to surface in response to negative press accounts, Pontin quickly cited a meeting he personally attended where a Glass wearer was politely, but firmly asked to leave the room. Starner squirmed a bit in response before finally saying, “The good outweighs the harm.” As much as Google would like to see their ground-breaking product universally adopted, it’s hard to hear this kind of exchange without feeling that ultimately Glass will be a true “niche” product, meant to be used by some but not nearly all.

Her: The Movie – Does the technology industry have a “cult film” in the making? In three separate conferences over the course of a month, several speakers talked in almost rapturous terms about “Her,” a modestly-budgeted film released in the end of 2013 by the writer and director Spike Jonze. The plot is based on a lonely writer who forms an unlikely relationship with his female-voiced operating system that caters to his every need. Conference speakers are showing clips and quoting the movie at length as evidence that this will be the future in our Siri-connected society. This premise is eerily similar to what moviegoers saw in 2001: A Space Odyssey when it was released in 1969, with a talking computer named “Hal” and some astronauts. That one didn’t turn out so well.