Thursday, November 6, 2008

Obama's Technology Policy and Priorities

Technology will likely get significant attention by President-elect Barack H. Obama, in spite of the more urgent issues of two wars, a sputtering economy and ballooning US national debt. While there will be the usual rush by various special interest groups in the high tech world to try and influence US technology policy to favor their particular sectors or products, it is important for the new administration to see each technology in the broader context of national challenges such as government transparency, climate change, energy independence, delivering cost-effective healthcare broadly, improving education, encouraging innovation and overcoming major national economic challenges.

Obama understands the difference that online networking technology made in raising record amount of $700m for his campaign, and energizing the young people to get involved as campaign organizers, workers and voters. It can be expected that Obama will continue to promote and use the online media to reach out to the American people and inspire them to bring real change in America. Obama campaign has talked about appointing a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) to oversee US technology policy investments in the incoming Obama administration. The CTO’s mandate would be different from the Cybersecurity czar appointed under the Bush Administration. Bush’s czar helped defend against cyber threats. Obama’s CTO, by contrast, would ensure government officials hold open meetings, broadcast live webcasts of those meetings, and use blogging software, wikis and open comments to communicate policies with Americans, according to the plan. Such broad use of online media by the US government will benefit Silicon Valley high-tech businesses and encourage the use of technology by state and local governments in the US and other parts of the world. It'll also keep a lot of young people, who were energized by Obama, engaged in discussion and help solve major national issues. "Obama understood the intersection of demographics and technology and promised engagement and interaction," Don Tapscott, best-selling author and researcher, said in an interview recently. "But if he now says to young people, 'Thanks, now go passive for four years until my re-election,' there will be outrage. It will make the reaction of the 1960s generation look like kid stuff." The technology exists for Mr. Obama to improve government transparency and pursue the online relationships with his under-thirty supporters. However, Mr. Obama will have to make sure that people he surrounds himself with in the White House can take advantage of it.

Matt Marshall of Venture Beat has published details of Obama’s new technology policy and plans, which cover everything from providing new subsidies for internet broadband access to increased permanent visas for immigrants needed by the high-tech industry.

The president-elect has often talked about energy policy and dealing with its impact on climate change as a priority. He wants to create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future. Transformation in the way people and businesses use technology could reduce annual man-made global emissions by 15 per cent by 2020 and deliver energy efficiency savings to global businesses of over $ 800 billion, according to a new report published by independent non-profit The Climate Group and the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI). The choice of the CTO by Obama must reflect this priority. In addition to the CTO, the Obama administration should seriously consider appointing Nobel laureate Al Gore as a high-profile and high-powered ambassador to inspire and lead a global green revolution.

During his campaign, Obama has displayed protectionist tendencies in response to the middle class concerns for well-paying jobs being moved to countries such as India. In his speech to the Democratic National Convention, Obama pledged to halt tax sops to companies that ship jobs overseas. If Obama sticks to this promise, it will mean trouble ahead for India's IT industry. India's software and services exports stood at about $40 billion during the financial year 2008, a growth of 29%, with US as its largest market. Can Obama really curb outsourcing? It seems unlikely.

As the emerging economies in Brazil, Russia, India, China and the rest of the world try and emulate the US pattern of production and consumption, it is clear that this development model will not be sustainable for long. What is needed is a fundamental change in how we produce, market, distribute and consume various products and services. An accelerated change away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy is absolutely urgent. Such a fundamental change in architecture of our industrialized society will require a significant focus and commitment of human intellectual capital by the US.

Changing the economic incentives and transforming the industrial architecture will not be easy. The powerful lobbies of auto, steel, industrial equipment, farmers, financial services and information technology industries will likely resist any major changes that affect how they do business. Each of them will use their power and influence in Washington to get a larger share of funds in terms of tax credits or corporate welfare for themselves, at the expense of dealing with the larger national challenges. If Obama can inspire and lead such an effort to change how people produce, consume and live, the rewards are potentially very large in terms of creating millions of new jobs, enabling a healthier environment, persuading and supporting the emerging economies to limit carbon emissions, and saving the earth and the human race from total destruction.

Here is a Nov 2007 video clip of Obama's speech on technology at Googleplex in Mountain View, CA:

Here's another November 2007 video clip of Obama talking about technology, Pakistan, Middle East, Africa, war and peace and other matters:

1 comment:

Riaz Haq said...

In Silicon valley recently, the US federal government has pumped in about $500 million each into two green tech startups..Solyndra pv solar and Tesla all-electric cars. Obama was here this week to promote green tech and spoke to Solyndra employees.

In addition, there is $1 billion in federal grants being offered to biotech firms under the new healthcare bill.

The reason for US supremacy is partly explained by how much of its public funds it spends on higher education. A 2006 report from the London-based Center for European Reform, "The Future of European Universities" points out that the United States invests 2.6 percent of its GDP in higher education, compared with 1.2 percent in Europe and 1.1 percent in Japan.