In his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, President Obama touted the value of technology and innovation as the key ingredients with which America would set about "winning the future" and laid out a five-year plan to bring high-speed wireless Internet access to 98 percent of Americans.
"We're the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook," Obama said. "In America, innovation doesn't just change our lives. It is how we make our living."
But it has also radically changed how we make our living, causing some jobs to become obsolete and allowing others to be exported elsewhere. The president acknowledged technology's disruptive force even as he emphasized the role it must play in job creation over the coming years.
"In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100. Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there's an Internet connection," said Obama.
Unlocking technology's potential will require a massive investment in infrastructure that will allow nearly all Americans to have access to high-speed Internet connections.
Obama was vague on specifics regarding how he intends to ensure 98% of Americans are able to get tap into high-speed Internet networks, noting only that the government will be "[making] it possible for businesses to deploy the next generation of high-speed wireless coverage."
A 2010 Commerce Department study found 40 percent of Americans lacked high-speed Internet access in their homes. As FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski pointed out in a blog post on The Huffington Post, just 65 percent of American homes have broadband access. Adoption rates are significantly higher else: Singapore boasts an 88 percent adoption rate, and South Korea 95 percent.
"This isn't about faster Internet or fewer dropped calls," Obama explained. "It's about connecting every part of America to the digital age. It's about a rural community in Iowa or Alabama where farmers and small business owners will be able to sell their products all over the world. It's about a firefighter who can download the design of a burning building onto a handheld device; a student who can take classes with a digital textbook; or a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor."
Obama went on to emphasize the close ties between education and innovation.
He pointed to the priority other nations, particularly China and India, have placed on innovating by training the next generation of engineers and scientists, efforts that appear to be paying off: China now claims the world's fastest supercomputer, Obama noted.
"We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world," he said. "The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation."
He added, "We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair."
Read the full text of his speech here.