Although Al Gore may have ‘invented’ the Internet, history will prove that Barack Obama was the first POTUS 2.0. Obama’s legacy will be one that encompasses a federal push for science and technology, arguably not seen since JFK pushed for space exploration, and one future historians may view as a 21st century Age of Enlightenment.
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Not only did Obama invoke the names of Grace Hopper, Sally Ride and other prominent scientists and technologists during his speech, but his invitation to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to the SOTU address symbolizes the importance with which Obama regards tech (and telling, perhaps, of his fondness for science and technology).
He scoffed at climate change deniers. “If anyone still wants to dispute climate change … have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”
Obama’s Been ‘Down’ with Tech From Day One
However, Obama’s elevation of technology as national interest has been a hallmark of his presidency since his first term. Even before he was elected, many pundits credited his campaign’s cleverÂ use of the Internet for winning the vote. On his first day in office, he created the position of United States Chief Technology Officer.
The Obama administration launched myriad technology-related programs and efforts in his first term, including Digital Promise;Â the National Robotics Initiative;Â expanded broadband access through the Recovery Act; and placed the power of online petitioning the White House into the hands of the people with We the People.
His second term saw efforts such as TechHire, a federal program to prepare more Americans for high-tech jobs in the 21st century. He urged the FCC to take a tough stance for net neutrality, that is, keeping the Internet open and not subject to the greed of data carriers and telcos.
Not Always a Honeymoon
Still, the tech industry and Obama have had conflict. In the interest of national security, the White House at one point, demanded tech companies such as Apple, give federal agencies “backdoor” access to the high-level encryption on personal devices such as iPhones.
Of course, the tech industry balked. The heads of Google, Apple, and Microsoft protested, telling the Obama administration that creating such access would defeat the purpose of encryption and leave these devices prone to hacking.
And what did Obama do? He backed off. His administration decided it was not in the best interests of the country or for technological security to force legislation on the issue. This is the type of reasoning and leadership that makes him so ideal for dealing with Silicon Valley.
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