President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night was dominated by Ukraine, inflation and COVID, but he had far more to say about tech than any of his recent predecessors. From promoting high-tech manufacturing to protecting kids, Biden was urging Congress to stop playing around and finally, actually channel its enthusiasm for bashing tech into some sort of action.
After all, Biden can’t make the laws. By signaling the bills he’d like to sign and the kinds of solutions he’d be willing to fund, though, he can set priorities. Here’s what he said should be at the top of the list.
Bringing chips to America
Biden touted Intel's plan to build a $20 billion cluster of factories in Ohio, even bringing CEO Pat Gelsinger to the State of the Union as his guest. Biden called the Columbus plants “a field of dreams” and “the ground on which America’s future will be built.”
He also urged the House and Senate to reconcile their respective versions of U.S. competitiveness bills, which focus heavily on domestic semiconductor manufacturing, and ready a unified approach for his signature. If they do, Biden noted that Intel could spend up to $100 billion.
Keeping kids safe online
Biden lamented the mental health struggles of young people, which he linked in part to “the harms of social media.” He said he wants to ban the collection of personal data on kids and stop ad targeting to them — and insisted protecting children is part of a bipartisan agenda. “We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” Biden said.
The White House also called earlier in the day for platforms to put the safety of young users at the center of their design, and for an end to “discriminatory algorithmic decision-making that limits opportunities for young Americans.” To underscore the point, Biden invited Meta whistleblower Frances Haugen as another of his guests.
Protecting online privacy
President Biden also seemed to call for general online privacy legislation, which he touted as a way to protect kids. But definitely don’t hold your breath on this one: The bipartisan hopes supporting such a bill have been dashed over and over in the face of arguments over the details.
Biden reiterated his support for the PRO Act, which would help gig workers unionize (among other things). “When a majority of workers want to form a union, they shouldn’t be able to be stopped,” he said. He also announced his administration's intention to hire workers “based on skills, not just their degrees.”
Biden returned to his concern about corporate consolidation. “Capitalism without competition is exploitation,” he said. While he didn’t call out tech directly — or give a nod to the tech-focused antitrust legislation moving through Congress — he previously has made clear it’s a target of his administration’s efforts. He also reiterated his call for a 15% global minimum tax for corporations.
The tech companies may be reassuring themselves that Congress is still too scrambled to come down hard on them. But if they were hoping to go unmentioned entirely, Biden’s speech was a reminder lawmakers will want to come together. Eventually.