In his State of the Union speech, President Obama made a lofty pitch: "now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race," he said. To that end, Obama is announcing a number of energy and technology initiatives, including new high-tech "manufacturing hubs," a "challenge" for new science and technology-related high school classes, and a new Energy Security Trust that will direct oil and gas revenue to fund research and technology that the president hopes will "shift our cars and trucks off oil for good." Curiously, Obama's speech included no mention of actual space efforts, despite NASA's success with its latest rover mission.
President Obama lauded the White House's efforts last year to create a 3D printing lab in Youngstown, Ohio, and announced the launch of three additional manufacturing hubs to bring high-tech jobs to yet-unnamed regions. Obama says in his speech that 3D printing "has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything," and that "there's no reason this can't happen in other towns." President Obama says he will call on Congress to "create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made in America." The president says businesses within these hubs will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy "to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs."
"Now is not the time to gut job-creating investments in science and innovation."
Some of those high-tech jobs are at Apple and Intel, which President Obama specifically called out; "after locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home," he said. "And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again." Apple announced in December that it would bring some Mac production back to the US with a $100 million investment, and CEO Tim Cook (who was in attendance at the speech) said that Apple has a duty to create jobs.
President Obama also proposes a "new challenge to redesign America's high schools" to prepare students for high-tech jobs. The president says that schools will be given yet-unspecified rewards for developing "new partnerships with colleges and employers," and for creating "classes that focus on science, technology, engineering, and math" (STEM). There's no word yet on what this new challenge will entail beyond the administration's existing STEM efforts, but it's clear the speech was focused on broad strokes in technology matters.
While the president's mention of top technology issues may please his Silicon Valley supporters, he'll ultimately have to win familiar battles in Congress, where the idea of funding something vaguely like a Space Race could face skepticism. President Obama's prior calls for tech and energy spending have been dogged by a Congressional climate of austerity, though it has made some progress in priority areas like cybersecurity; during his speech, the president announced a long-anticipated executive order on cybersecurity that allows the government to share more information it has on so-called "cyber threats" with private companies.