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Tech President, The Next Generation

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It is Obama 2.0. The current president of the United States is set to stay in the job until January 20th, 2017. In “tech-years” that is an enormous amount of time, so forecasts are tough. But what are the technology issues that will dominate over the next four years of the new Obama Administration? Here’s several bets, starting with a tech-meets-foreign policy issue that Noah Shachtman, contributing editor at Wired, calls them “Killer Robots.”

“One sort of tech and military issue is what is going to happen to this ever expanding drone war that the Obama Administration has launched around the planet. You know, we are talking about hundreds of drone strikes in places like Yemen and Pakistan and Somalia, and there’s talks about why didn’t we use drones in Libya and Mexico. And this is increasingly the go-to tool of U.S. statecraft. The small problem is: Where does it end?”

Shachtman, also at Brookings, lists corporate cyber security as a tech priority over the next four years. During the last administration, several attempts to push companies to harden their computer systems got little traction.
“So you are now left with this situation where there is a growing concern that crooks and industrial spies are cleaning out our most important companies,” Shachtman says, “but there’s been almost no agreement on how to stop that.”

And, as Declan McCullagh, the chief political correspondent for CNET highlighs, there is the matter of whether companies that provide Internet service can play favorites, known as net-neutrality.

“Net-neutrality is the idea that broadband providers should treat all websites neutrally. They should treat them the same. In other words, a Verizon or AT&T shouldn’t prioritize Google over Yahoo if they have a deal with Yahoo but not one with Google. There is little evidence that this is actually happening or that websites are being blocked, but it is a possibility.”

Access is another biggie — to what extent is it in the country’s interest to be sure most people get fast Internet. Susan Crawford, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute who focuses on internet access and worked for a time for the Obama Administration, says, “It’s being provided by a few giant companies that are almost laughably profitable, and the cable industry in particular faces no competition and they are actively constraining demand through usage based pricing and data caps so they don’t have to expand their services. Meanwhile, a third of Americans don’t sign up for Internet access because it’s too expensive and the country as a whole isn’t making the upgrade to fiber that many other countries are. This is a huge issue for the country and it’s going to confront this next administration.”

Fixing America’s education system is supposed to be a priority, and tech will offer some ways forward. Jonathan Zittrain, cofounder of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, believes to help schools, the new administration may look at ways to create a new digital repository for textbooks that could make an alternate future of education sound something like this:

“The government now has the full rights to the textbook and can put it into the public domain. Every school district now no longer has to buy all those texts and the text can actually be put into a digital form that different teachers and students, as part of their assignments, can enhance, can edit — and then there’d be some process where different school districts would get to choose what variants they find most helpful for their students.”

Zittrain argues this could save public education enormous amounts of money.
And, before we go, this must be a record of some kind for an already popular website. The New York Times is the number six news site in the U.S., but the day before the election one blog accounted for 20 percent of all New York Times web traffic. According to the New Republic, that would be our recent guest Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog, the one with the analysis of everybody else’s election polling data. His track record seems to be holding up, looking at the returns.

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