As a measure to weather a stagnant economy, Obama promoted a $500 million plan to jumpstart the US economy and create jobs through high-tech research-and-development during his most recent weekly internet and radio address.
Obama first publicly announced this new initiative—the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership—on Friday at a speech he made at Carnegie Mellon University. The effort will incorporate the brain power of major engineering universities such as Georgia Tech, Stanford, and UC Berkeley with US manufacturers ranging from Johnson & Johnson to Honeywell.
Of the $500 million in funding, $70 million will go to advanced robotics projects. Prior to the announcement, the president viewed tiny robots with cameras affixed to them that can explore water and sewer pipes and potentially save city governments millions in infrastructure costs. Obama also saw droids that can defuse bombs, mow lawns, and scrape paint, according to the Associated Press.
"I’m pleased to report that the robots you manufacture here seem peaceful, at least for now," Obama said to some laughter during his speech.
He then added:
American innovation has always been sparked by individual scientists and entrepreneurs, often at universities… But a lot of companies don’t invest in early ideas because it won’t pay off right away. And that’s where government can step in. That’s how we ended up with some of the world-changing innovations that fueled our growth and prosperity and created countless jobs…
Obama gave an example: In the 1990s, the National Science Foundation helped fund Stanford’s Digital Library Project. Two Ph.D. students “got excited about the research that was being done,” he said, and launched a company called Google.
Obama said that the initiative would ultimately support businesses, manufacturers, factory workers, astronauts, and even military personnel:
[t]he purpose of this partnership is to prove that the United States of America has your back, is going to be supporting you—because that’s the kind of adventurous, pioneering spirit that we need right now. That’s the spirit that’s given us the tools and toughness to overcome every obstacle and adapt to every circumstance. And if we remember that spirit, if we combine our creativity, our innovation, and our optimism, if we come together in common cause, as we've done so many times before, then we will thrive again.
Not all tech projects are created equal
Obama's new initiative is perhaps not surprising, given his ongoing advocacy of high-tech innovation and implementation. In addition to leveraging social media to his advantage in the 2008 presidential election and promoting technological innovation in his January 2011 State of the Union Address, he appointed Vivek Kundra as the country’s first-even chief information officer (CIO) less than two months after being sworn into office.
But in a sign that not all tech innovative projects are created equal, Kundra resigned suddenly in mid-June and effective this August to take a fellowship at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
Kundra, who was born in New Delhi, has been heralded for leading the federal government shift to Internet-based technology. He has been credited with saving $3 billion in "wasteful information technology spending," moving the government to cloud computing, and strengthening cyber security, according to Jacob Lew, the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
As CIO, Kundra took a significant role in implementing Obama’s Open Government Initiative, which seeks to provide increased transparency in government spending and data. Various web sites created under this initiative give the public access to hundreds of agency data sets and allows citizens to track government spending and contracts.
Though Kunda’s resignation appeared to be an abrupt move, it did not surprise some observers. In response to demands that the Obama administration respond to the growing federal deficit, the e-government initiative funding was cut from $35 million to $8 million earlier this year.
In his weekly Washington Post column, technology and entrepreneur scholar Vivek Wadhwa said Kundra's departure was only logical. Wadhwa asked rhetorically in this column: “Why preside over a portfolio of shuttered initiatives?”