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SOTU 2015: 5 big takeaways about tech and innovation

Technology and science themes once again played a central part in the US State of Union address. Here are five key takeaways from President Obama's 2015 SOTU.

obama-sotu-2015.jpg
Image: Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama gave his 2015 State of the Union address on Tuesday night, and technology and innovation were key themes. Obama mentioned those words frequently every year in the SOTU. The Washington Post found that his most commonly tech word is "innovation," closely followed by "technology," "science," and "solar."

This year, more diverse and pressing tech topics were brought to the forefront. Cybersecurity was mentioned in light of the recent Sony hacks; Net neutrality, which Obama has never mentioned in a SOTU before, was given a few moments; Tesla, Google, Instagram and eBay all got shoutouts; and he either mentioned or alluded to breakthrough innovations in clean energy, space exploration, 3D printing, and healthcare.

The White House posted the full transcript of the speech minutes before it started on Medium. Obama has given the US a big to-do list after last night's mentions of tech policy, expanded Wi-Fi, and clean energy.

Here are the five biggest takeaways:

1. Solar power is the future

There has been a surge in domestic energy production, both in fossil fuels and renewable energy. The US installed 22 times more solar in 2014 than it did in 2008, according to Greentech Media. In 2014, new solar jobs were added at a pace 20 times faster than the economy as a whole, and now, solar installations are occurring every 2.5 minutes.

"No challenge — no challenge — poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change," Obama said.

That indicates the potential for a stronger focus on renewable energy moving forward. Obama also mentioned the US-China climate agreement last year, which was the first time China agreed to cut carbon emissions and the US announced it would double its pace to cut them.

2. Pay attention to net neutrality and the open internet debate

Last night, Obama once again vowed to "protect a free and open internet." Part of the net neutrality plan he proposed last year was to add the internet to Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which would protect consumers by reclassifying the internet as something Americans have a right to, and an essential service. The Federal Communications Commission pushed back on that.

All that wasn't mentioned last night, but he did say he plans to "extend [the internet's] reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world."

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Image: Chuck Kennedy/The White House

3. We have to fix the gender pay gap

Women are more likely than men to graduate from college, attend graduate school, and they now make up 56% of the professional workforce. But women continue to earn less than men in every industry. There is often a discrepancy — some report 77 cents on the dollar, others say 82 — but the fact remains: the gender pay gap remains alive and well.

"That's why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. Really. It's 2015. It's time," Obama said.

This is a huge issue for the tech industry, because it is one of the worst offenders. Glassdoor recently released a report that showed women make less than men and are less satisfied with their jobs, according to a survey of 25 of the world's largest tech companies. And according to other studies, only a fraction of venture capitalists are women, and the number of women graduating with computer science degrees has continued to decrease in the last several decades, now at only 12%.

Last year, the Paycheck Fairness Act was blocked in the US Senate. Though the majority of senators (52) voted for the measure, the Senate's minority Republican leadership used a filibuster, which would have required the legislation to get 60 votes. It was the fourth time since 2011 that Senate Republicans have organized to block the legislation.

4. We need to talk more about cybersecurity

Last week, the president announced proposals on cybersecurity, including student data privacy, information sharing, and increased penalties for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But they weren't mentioned in the speech.

"And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children's information. If we don't act, we'll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable," was really the only cybersecurity reference from Obama in the SOTU.

2014 was a difficult year for cybersecurity, with the Sony hacks, the breaches of retailers such as Target and Home Depot, and the iCloud hacks, so this is likely to become a larger public issue in 2015.

5. The conversation about surveillance will continue

Obama said in the SOTU that he has not moved on from the surveillance debate, though he didn't go into any specific detail regarding the government's data gathering practices or past leaks. He briefly mentioned the importance of the privacy debate concerning drones.

"As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse. And next month, we'll issue a report on how we're keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy," he said.

This is a controversial topic right now since the US and UK are proposing to give police and intelligence agencies access to encrypted data and devices.

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About

Lyndsey Gilpin is a former Staff Writer for TechRepublic, covering sustainability and entrepreneurship. She's co-author of the book Follow the Geeks.

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