Political Animals

Every Tech Tangent President Obama Went Down During Last Night’s SOTU

Hackers, high tech high schools, Mac manufacturing, and a Makerbot in every pot.
(GIF: Twitter/Bizweekgraphics)

(GIF: Twitter/Bizweekgraphics)

Despite Anonymous’ worst intentions, the State of the Union went off without a hitch last night–save for reducing the state of political discourse to water gulping memes. Every generation gets the joyless Twitter account it deserves, we suppose.

President Obama has relied heavily on technological innovation to get him reelected, and is fond of citing the industry as a potential source of economic growth. But this is the first SOTU where tech got real air time at the podium. Chances are that will only increase.

Here’s hoping, next time around, the tech bubble won’t be invoked in the same grim paragraph as the housing market.

What’s more, certain sections of the speech read like chapters from Eric Schmidt’s upcoming book The New Digital Age, which also tries to make predictions about the pervasiveness of technology and how that plays into the future of terrorism and cyber-warfare. Speaking of, you know what $2.51 billion in Google stock could buy you? A whole mess of campaign advertising. Hmmmm.


Apple CEO Tim Cook got a seat in Michelle Obama’s viewing box last night–apparently so that the camera could pan up to his awkward-smize when President Obama said, “And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.”

Less Foxconn guilt sounds great, right? Not so fast. Estimates show that Apple’s Mac production would only add about 200 jobs.


In the same tear about increasing manufacturing, President Obama dropped the mic on 3D printing and his proposal to launch a network of tech hubs:

“There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend.  Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.  A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.  There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.  So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.  And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.”

As to be expected, the rhetoric around the concept was vague and it’s unclear how the DOD and DOE would employ the technology. We’ll just keep on the lookout for drone components at Shapeways until someone clues us in.


Don’t think POTUS forgot about you, biotech! The next space race, he enthused, will happen in our minds:

“If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas.  Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy.  Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful.  Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation.  Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.”

Good time to start raising funds for that biotech sector, New York.


The importance STEM education also got a shout out last night, with a nod to New York City in particular. But rather than Union Square’s Software and Engineering Academy, the President pointed to P-Tech in Brooklyn, another quasi public-private partnership:

“Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job.  Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job.  At schools like P-Tech in Brooklyn, a collaboration between New York Public Schools, the City University of New York, and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering.”


Before the speech, reporters were briefed on the President’s new executive order on cybersecurity. He led into that last night by delineating potential threats. Naturally, the word Stuxnet did not pass his lips:

“America must also face the rapidly growing threat from cyber-attacks.  We know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mail.  We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets.  Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems.  We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”

(For the full text of last night’s speech as delivered, head over to The American Prospect. For SOTU Vines–yes, Vines–head over to RebelMouse.)

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com