U.S. tech chief enlightens Farm

May 26, 2011, 2:01 a.m.
U.S. tech chief enlightens Farm
Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer, was the final speaker for this year's DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar Series. (JIN ZHU/The Stanford Daily)

Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. Chief Technology Officer (CTO), gave an overview of the government’s efforts to encourage entrepreneurship yesterday. His talk was the last session of the DFJ Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar.

Chopra reports directly to President Barack Obama and is responsible for advancing “the president’s technology agenda by fostering new ideas and encouraging government-wide coordination,” according to the White House website.

“If I am successful, I will convince you that there has never been a better time to be an innovator,” Chopra said to an audience of Stanford students, professors, entrepreneurs and community members.

Chopra described three sectors that are ripe for technological innovation and investment: healthcare, education and clean energy.

“Can you imagine being a billionaire and solving the healthcare system at the same time?” Chopra said.

He continued to describe the “huge potential for entrepreneurship” in healthcare, such as digitizing the system and moving hospitals and doctors from paper to record-based systems. Chopra also pointed to new market opportunities that will result from shifting the payment system from one that focuses on volume to one that focuses on value.

On the education front, Chopra described a need to move from print to digital learning. For example, he spoke about the development of digital tutors, a machine learning system that determines student’s needs and then presents materials in a way that best matches individual’s level and learning style.

The third field Chopra mentioned was clean energy, which shows great potential for investment. He touched upon the need to modernize the smart grid and improve energy efficiency through better monitoring systems.

The government plays an important role in encouraging innovation in these fields, Chopra said. He highlighted a range of initiatives that the Obama administration has undertaken, such as investing in wireless connectivity and human capital, as well as shaping good market conditions for innovation through cyber policy, patents and regulatory barriers reductions.

He also mentioned Obama’s Open Government Directive, which makes data universally available to the public through websites like data.gov. Chopra said that making more data public and available for entrepreneurs to explore would fuel new products and services.

“I appreciated hearing about efforts to make data more accessible to the public and the opportunities that arise when given access to data,” said Pat Kuehnle ’11, who interned at the Department of Education right after the Open Government initiative was launched.

Chopra also underscored the need to fix the current broken immigration system in order to retain the “best and brightest innovators.” Chopra, who was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and is a second-generation immigrant from India, said this issue deeply resonates with him. He mentioned that a comprehensive immigration overhaul could include granting green cards to doctoral and master’s students upon graduation or issuing “startup visas” to entrepreneurs.

According to Chopra, the equivalent of bottom-up change as applied to the technology sector is entrepreneurship. By tapping into places like the Silicon Valley, one can overcome the political stalemate in Washington and bring change.

Chopra’s visit served not only to inform people about government initiatives that build infrastructure that supports entrepreneurs, but also to encourage entrepreneurs to serve their country by entering healthcare, education and clean technology sectors.

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