America’s new Chief Technology Officer and Director for Technology, Aneesh Chopra, spoke at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) Line Shows and Digital Downtown Conference Program last Thursday, giving his first public appearance in his new position. Previously Secretary of Technology in Virginia for Governor Kaine, Chopra was appointed by the president on April 18 of this year.
The CEA show was held in New York on June 10 and 11 this year, combining new product exhibits with speeches from industry experts. As a “mid-year reality check and innovations showcase,” the program offered attendees the chance to see the future of technology as well as discuss the issues of today. The goal of the program, according to the CEA, is to “address technology’s greatest innovations and business opportunities.”
Addressing the show’s attendants, Chopra outlined the four main goals or pillars of his plans. Besides the theme of technological innovation, Chopra’s pillars focused on the potential for economic growth, several key priorities of the administration, the security of the nation’s infrastructure, and using market strategies for government service.
In addition to his four-pillar plan, Chopra addressed a few issues such as the nation’s bandwidth consumption, which is expected to be five times higher by 2013. America’s rate of technological growth and innovation also needs some help, said Chopra, especially in public policy, which is falling behind the consumer sector. The “spirit of entrepreneurialism,” specifically related to technology, also holds much potential and interest for Chopra.
In his first pillar, Chopra believes that in order to realize the potential for economic growth, technology-based innovation will be beneficial in the long run. As an example illustrating his theme, “we can do more with less,” Chopra contended that the shift to digital television will benefit the nation long-term with its better picture and sound quality as well as free space for “public safety communications,” says the government Web site explaining the shift, www.dtv.gov
Although it was delayed by a few months, Chopra supported the move, saying that the government reduced by 50% the number of households not ready for the switch. With a call center, Web site, and volunteers available to help with problems, Chopra encouraged this citizen connection to the federal government. In fact, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) received over 300,000 calls on Friday regarding the new system, according to The New York Times.
Concerning the Obama administration’s key priorities, Chopra discussed as his second pillar the significance of healthcare, America’s energy situation and dependence on foreign oil, and the nation’s education system. All three are in need of a makeover, according to Chopra, and his focus on Thursday centered on education.
He described America’s “standstill” status in higher education, as other countries are in the midst of exceeding the nation’s percentage of the population with a college degree. Over the last 10 years, said Chopra, the U.S. has seen only a 3% increase in citizens with a college degree, hovering around 40%. To obtain a high-quality workforce, Chopra emphasized the necessity of a good education.
To illustrate his point, Chopra detailed his work in reducing the number of people from his home state, Virginia, lacking a high school diploma, which tallied in at 1 million at the time. After seeing the popularity of satellite boxes featuring “on-demand” programs, Chopra helped implement a plan to include GED coursework as another “on-demand” option. After a month, he said, there were 6000 classes downloaded.
Without relying on a new policy or law, Virginia was able to provide this service free of charge for customers of several companies such as Comcast. While Chopra saw the necessity of policy reform, he encouraged innovation and entrepreneurialism as it could be done with a little ingenuity and an eye on societal gain.
The third pillar of Chopra’s plan focuses America’s infrastructure and its security. As reported by Chopra, every day the system faces challenges to its safety by both individuals and countries trying to “exploit our weaknesses.” Preserving the nation’s network defense, therefore, is a high priority for the new CTO.
With his fourth and last pillar, Chopra hopes to combine government with the American market, saying that his goal is to “bring retail 2.0 into government service itself.” By using sales tactics and market practices, he hopes to revolutionize the way government services are carried out. A goal-driven approach, Chopra anticipates government services, such as job placement, as cheaper, more effective, and more innovative.
Meet The Press
In his closing remarks, the new CTO underscored a “spirit of commonwealth” where a sense of community takes center stage. This idea that every American can help improve society depends upon having the time to develop new ideas and strive for innovation. He gave the example of Google employees who are given their “20% time,” usually one day a week, to develop new ideas and innovative projects of their choice, and asked them—as well as all Americans—to consider societal and economic gain in their pursuits.
During a Q&A session following his speech, Chopra asserted that his success will be measurable by an upcoming personal blog with a scorecard containing goals, such as “driving innovation, technology-based innovation, advancing the president’s core priorities, and a secure and reliable infrastructure.” These milestones will be accessible to the American people as a kind of public report card.
Several questions posed by the press contained an undercurrent of tension, with an emphasis on the need for change. A few of the topics included the future of America’s national Internet infrastructure, the connection between the art world and technology, and American-based manufacturing and employment.
Regarding these issues, Chopra revealed plans to create a “national broadband plan by February 2010,” an “intersection of design and innovation \\[focusing on\\] commerce with art,” and a combined effort from universities, public policy, and advanced manufacturing in technological advancement. With his emphasis on innovation and a positive outlook, Chopra called on American ideals to face the current economic crisis.