From teaching kids to code to expanding access the open Internet, the tech industry played a prominent role in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night.
One of the key questions Obama centered his speech around: “How do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?”
Tech has indeed worked both for and against Obama throughout the last few years of his administration. The president has frequently butted heads with Silicon Valley over how much access the federal government should have to encrypted private data and the government has endlessly battled the spread of Islamic State (ISIS) propaganda across the web and social media.
But he’s also embraced the power of technology across issues ranging from combatting climate change with cleaner energy initiatives to making guns safer with smart firearm technology to growing the economy with more STEM education.
While Obama didn’t delve into too much detail on any one of these topics, frequent references were made to Silicon Valley’s influence throughout the speech.
“We’ve protected an open internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online,” Obama said at one point. “We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.”
However, he also mentioned one of the darker sides of more widespread access to the web: “[Terrorists] use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.”
Days before the speech, Obama held a summit with tech leaders at the White House to crack down on the proliferation of ISIS and Al-Qaeda propaganda across social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
The focus on technology was also underscored by the First Lady’s invitation of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as an honorary guest. The Seattle-based tech giant committed to spend $75 million on a new initiative to expand computer science education in America’s schools and upped its paid parental leave policy to 20 weeks for mothers and 12 weeks for non-birth parents — two initiatives in line with topics the President touched on during his speech.
It was also evident in how the speech was disseminated. It was the first-ever State of the Union speech to be made available on Amazon Instant Video, and it was also live-streamed on YouTube. Hours before the speech, President Obama made his first-ever appearance on Facebook’s live video streaming platform.
Most of all, Obama’s message had to do with the inevitability of progress as he warned Americans not to “fear the future.”
“Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control,” Obama said. “And each time, we overcame those fears.”