San Francisco -- Any reference to the US is generally associated with New York and Washington in the minds of Turkish people. This applies to Turkish state officials as well. With few exceptions, Turkish leaders tend to talk to US presidents at the White House and attend the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.
President Abdullah Gül and first lady Hayrünnisa Gül made an exception to this during their visit to the US. Mr. Gül met with US President Barack Obama not in Washington but in Obama’s constituency, Chicago, which was also hosting the NATO summit. For four days, Gül has been in the westernmost city of San Francisco, which stands out with its unique characteristics. Year ago, former President Cevdet Sunay had visited Chicago, but Gül is the first Turkish head of the state to ever go to San Francisco. Due to such a low frequency of visits from the Turkish side, the receptions in these two cities were quite popular. Turkish citizens with businesses or who work in various areas in the US came to attend the reception. Some of them had even come from remote places. Somalians who wanted to express their gratitude for the humanitarian aid Turkey sent to their countries and Arab associations that are sympathetic towards Turkey were also on Gül’s appointment list.
The theme of his visit to the western coast was also different: The visit focused on science, technology and the economy rather than on politics or diplomacy. Accompanied by Science and Technology Minister Nihat Ergün and Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK) President Yücel Altunbaşak, President Gül allocated three days to visit Silicon Valley, the hotbed of technological innovation. He planned this program in order to draw attention to the fact that Turkey must concentrate on high technology and information technology (IT) in order to gear up its development, he said.
It was extremely exciting to visit the IT and social media corporations that have become a part of everyone’s lives, such as Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Twitter. Established only six years ago, Facebook recently boosted its value to $100 billion with its initial public offering (IPO) last week. Yet this corporation that has about 900 million users worldwide is run by only 4,000 employees.
Another behemoth of Silicon Valley, Microsoft, employs 850 experts who hold doctor’s degrees in their respective areas in its research and development department. In response to the question, “What do you have planned for the future?” the company’s executives demoed striking projects, including a TV box that turns down its volume when the user receives a phone call and turns itself off when the user falls asleep. Having aimed to bring a PC to every desk in the world for 37 years, the company is now active in 190 countries, employing 90,000 people.
The ask-me-everything-boy of the Internet age, Google, has developed interests beyond searches, proving email domains and mapping services. Sergey Brin, one of the co-founders of the search mogul, surprised President Gül by demonstrating their driverless car project. Inviting Mr. and Mrs. Gül to try the car they have developed, Brin literally kidnapped his visitors before the perplexed gazes of Turkish and American bodyguards and proved to his guests that the driverless car can actually travel at up to 130 kilometers per hour. Earning more than 80 percent of its income from advertising, Google is interested in many areas, including energy.
The common feature of all the IT corporations we visited was that they had green, comfortable work environments, just like the campuses of US universities. Google’s building has 32 cafes and more than 15,000 brain-workers, and all snacks are organic and provided free of charge. The walls of the meeting rooms are like writing boards, ready for use at any time. Microsoft’s top executive noted that he has been in Silicon Valley for 35 years. “Our top priority is to recruit the best minds from universities,” he said.
Another common feature of these companies is their interest in Turkey’s dynamism and markets. The Turkish Education Ministry’s $8 billion tablet PC project whet the appetite of every IT giant in Silicon Valley. All of these companies employ Turkish engineers, another refreshing, common trait. The title of one Turkish executive is “director of shaping the future.” If you search for the mind-blowing machinery of old industrial facilities in the headquarters of these IT giants, you’ll find none. All you’ll find is an ordinary office with computers like those we use.
It is promising for the future of our country that our president, technology minister the head of TÜBİTAK, along with the media, have paid a visit to Silicon Valley. Moreover, Minister Ergün says the share of research and development (R&D) in the national income has doubled in 10 years to reach 1 percent. As the national income has tripled, the actual increase of R&D is about eight-fold. The 2023 target is to push this rate to 3 percent. We have already produced the likes of Herons and Predators.
Why shouldn’t Turkey have its own Silicon Valley? Don’t we have the computers, offices and minds required?