Although Washington and Lincoln did not have access to the tech today’s presidents do, their styles, curiosity, and early dabbling suggest they would have done just fine.

Spencer Chin, Senior Editor

February 15, 2024

3 Min Read
Our founding fathers were tech-friendly
The mindset and early dabbling with tech suggest that both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would have been comfortable dealing with all tech available today. David Tomlinson/The Image Bank/Via Getty Images

At a Glance

  • A query of popular AI tools indicates both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln would have embraced today's technologies.
  • Both presidents used existing technologies during their eras to help govern the country more effectively.

Monday is President’s Day, when we honor two of the most honored and well-known U.S. presidents─George Washington, founding father and the first president; and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president and savior of the republic. In those days, presidents had no telephones, computers, or televisions. Nor did they have access to e-mail and social media, the latter of which has become a hot button for public opinions and instant messages.

I wondered how both would have handled the avalanche of technology available today. To expedite getting potential answers, I “cheated” by querying both ChatGPT and Microsoft Bing Copilot. The answers provided, perhaps not all that surprisingly, indicated their combination of mindset, leadership style, and innate curiosity would have led them to embrace today’s technology in its many forms.

ChatGPT based its answer on leadership styles, citing four characteristics both presidents have that would have made them conducive to using and deploying technology. I’ve excerpted ChatGPT’s responses below.

  • Adaptation: Both Washington and Lincoln understood the importance of adapting to changing circumstances. In today's world, successful individuals and organizations must be willing to adapt to new tools and methods to stay competitive.”

  • Visionary Leadership: Washington and Lincoln were visionary leaders who could see beyond immediate challenges and envision a better future. Similarly, in the realm of technology, having a clear vision of how technology can be utilized for the betterment of society or an organization is crucial for success.”

  • “Effective Communication: Both leaders were able to convey their ideas and rally support for their causes. In today's digital age, effective communication skills are more important than ever.”

  • “Strategic Decision-Making: Washington and Lincoln were adept at making strategic decisions that often had far-reaching consequences. In the realm of technology, leaders must make decisions about which technologies to adopt, how to implement them, and how to allocate resources effectively.”

When I posed the same question to Microsoft Bing Copilot, the answers focused not so much on the presidents’ attitudes─ though they were still important─but instead on their historical flirtations with the technology and events available during their respective eras.

Washington Loved Hot-Air Balloons

With Washington, Copilot said the first president showed more than a passing interest in hot-air balloons, which were being demonstrated around the time. Copilot added that Washington was fascinated with early hot-air balloon flights and half-expected travelers from Paris to arrive via air rather than via ship.

Copilot also cited Washington’s early awareness of national security and the need to gather intelligence. Washington developed spy rings and secret agents to collect information behind enemy lines. And, quoting sources, the tool said Washington skillfully supplied the British with misinformation to mislead his adversaries about his true intentions.

Lincoln a Tech Geek?

Copilot’s answer about Lincoln’s tech-savviness indicates he could be considered a tech geek despite spending years on a farm. According to Copilot, Lincoln represented railroads as an attorney. Later, during Civil War, Lincoln was the first president to extensively use the telegraph, invented in the 1830s, as a communications tool. He used the telegraph to provide real-time instructions to generals, receive updates from the front lines, and coordinate military efforts. The YouTube video below provides further proof.

Copilot also noted Lincoln encouraged weapons development and even tested some new rifles himself on the White House lawn. Lincoln personally tested rifles, carbines, and even an early version of a hand-cranked machine gun. He ordered Brig. Gen. James Ripley to test new weapons offered by inventors.

Copilot summarizes its answer but stating that both Washington and Lincoln were forward-thinking leaders who embraced technology and adapted it to their respective contexts.

About the Author(s)

Spencer Chin

Senior Editor, Design News

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News, covering the electronics beat, which includes semiconductors, components, power, embedded systems, artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and other related subjects. He is always open to ideas for coverage. Spencer has spent many years covering electronics for brands including Electronic Products, Electronic Buyers News, EE Times, Power Electronics, and electronics360. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him at @spencerchin.

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