With election day upon us, it's worth noting that technology policy has gotten next to no attention by either presidential candidate. During all the stump speeches and debates, neither man has made technology a part of his campaign promises.
It's been there indirectly in at least in some of the campaign pledges. President Barack Obama says he'll continue high investment in alternative sources of energy, for example. And he has declared a goal of recruiting and preparing 100,000 new math and science teachers. Governor Mitt Romney talks about innovation driving the US economy and criticizes China for alleged intellectual property theft.
The relative silence on technology is amazing, given the fact that it plays a role now, and will in the future, in most of the issues that have dominated this campaign. For example:
- Education. Everyone knows our K-12 schools are not working so well. Technology is changing the nature of learning, however, and tech companies are full of new ideas and innovations that could improve education.
- Infrastructure. Old roads and bridges can not only be repaired and rebuilt, but retrofitted with sensors that can help monitor structural integrity. Federal systems like air traffic control could be modernized. And the broadband network in the United States is disgraceful; US broadband penetration ranks well below that of South Korea and several Nordic countries. (Obama's Federal Communications Chairman is trying to implement a National Broadband Plan, but so far with only limited success.) That's an issue that has a direct bearing on the competitiveness of this country in the world economy.
- Taxes. Regardless of whether they go up, the whole system of collecting revenue could use a major overhaul. For example, is there really a good reason for citizens to do their own taxes? I've heard suggestions that the government could simply ask for your information in an online form and calculate your taxes. If Congress does try to reform the tax code, technology could play a big role.
- Jobs. Technology is causing a major structural change in the job market. The old, industrial 9-5 job with healthcare and pension is nearly gone, yet no one on the campaign trail has dared to say it. At the same time, Silicon Valley is a hotbed of job creation. With all the talk by both candidates about creating jobs, it's striking that neither talks much about the tech industry.