Opinion: Biden Is Sitting Atop a Technological Revolution, Not Leading It

When we look back on the convulsion that is going to reset America — the great technology-driven revolution that will extend to nearly every corner of American life — it may be named for President Joe Biden, but it won’t be his revolution. It is innovation’s revolution. He will help finance it and smooth it out, but it is already happening and is accelerating.

Biden’s typically soft speech to Congress (no stemwinder he) was a wish list of things dear to him, but also an acknowledgment of what already is in motion.

Technology is rampant and government’s role should be to provide partnership and, above all, standards, according to two savants of the tech world, Jeffrey DeCoux, chairman of the Autonomy Institute, and Morgan O’Brien, a visionary in U.S. wireless telecommunications, now executive chairman of Anterix, a company providing private broadband wireless networks to utilities. Above all, they said in an interview with me for the PBS program “White House Chronicle,” standards for the new technology are essential.

Partial interconnection with different appliances, from road sweepers to drone delivery vehicles speaking only to identical devices, will be self-defeating. The internet without international standards would have failed.

Biden is set to preside over the greatest industrial leap forward since steam provided shaft horsepower to make factories a reality. If Congress allows, the Biden administration will finance much of the upgrading of the old infrastructure. It also will be called upon to be part of the new infrastructure, the technological one. That will be expensive; both DeCoux and O’Brien warned that it will take huge sums of money to build out complete 5G broadband networks, which will carry the load of interconnectivity.

For the nation to leap forward, these networks need to bring 5G broadband to every corner of it, O’Brien said. It can’t be allowed to serve only those places where population density makes it profitable, like cities.

In his speech to Congress, Biden laid out a revolutionary abstract for the future of the nation. The human side of the Biden infrastructure plan — things like daycare, free community college, better health care, prescription drug pricing — is the true Biden agenda.

The technology revolution is seen by the president not for what it is, a resetting of everything in America, but rather as a way to job creation. It will create jobs, but that isn’t the driving force. The driver is and has been innovation: science helping people. That, in turn, will bring about a surge of productivity and prosperity, and with that, new jobs, quality jobs – robots will soon be flipping hamburgers and painting houses.

This other agenda, the one that will make the fundamental difference between the nation of today and the nation of tomorrow, is the technological revolution. The evolutionary forces for this upheaval have been gathering since the microprocessor started things moving in the 1970s.

At the core of the coming changes is interconnectivity. That is what will craft the future. Cars on highways will be connected with each other through thousands of sensors, and these will speed traffic and enhance safety both for those with drivers and new autonomous ones. Likewise, drones will deliver many goods and they will need to be interconnected and have superior flight management. Every aspect of endeavor will be involved, from managing railroads to increasing electricity resilience and the productivity of the electric infrastructure.

In an interview on the Digital Roundtable, a webinar from Texas State University, this week, Arshad Mansoor, president of the Electric Power Research Institute, said improved interconnectivity could increase available electricity from dams and power plants often without new construction. He explained that interconnectivity wouldn’t only be essential to managing diverse generating sources, like wind and solar, but also in wringing more out of the whole system.

Technology has gotten us through the pandemic. Most obviously in the huge speed at which vaccines were developed, but also in our ability to meet virtually and the effectiveness of online ordering and delivery.

By nature, and by record, Biden is a get-along-go-along politician, a zephyr, as we heard in his address to Congress. But history looks as though it will cast him as a transformative president, a notable leader presiding over great winds of change.

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