President Obama pledged during his campaign to appoint the nation’s first-ever chief technology officer. As CTO of Cisco Systems–a leading maker of the Internet’s routing and switching equipment–Padmasree Warrior is a leading candidate for the job.
Warrior sees the federal CTO as helping revitalize the economy by advising how information technology can drive down health-care costs, revamp the electrical grid, and improve education. Whether or not she ends up in Washington, Warrior is already in a position to help chart the future of the Internet through Cisco’s networking strategy and investments. She spoke about this future with Technology Review chief correspondent David Talbot.
Technology Review:Are you going to be the first national CTO?
Padmasree Warrior: I can’t comment on that.
TR: Your name is all over the media, and you aren’t denying it.
PW: (laughing) That’s the media’s issue, not mine!
TR: What should the national CTO do?
PW: In terms of the top areas of focus, the first is to work on e-government initiatives, allowing government to be more efficient and open. The second area is to leverage innovation to boost the economy. The third area being talked about is cybersecurity. If you look at President Obama’s agenda for technology and the importance he feels it has in terms of putting the United States back as a technology leader–and leveraging technology to boost the economy–the CTO can have a huge impact in that agenda.
TR: But how does more broadband installation boost the economy, beyond creating one-off construction jobs?
PW: There are many areas we can look at, such as modernizing health care with health-presence solutions–like a doctor from a remote area interacting with a patient who might not otherwise have access–and making the energy grid more efficient with smart-grid technologies. Collaboration, virtual networking, and visual communications will be the e-businesses of the next decade, and this will drive productivity. To do all of that, we need to have broadband connectivity nationwide.
TR: Cisco is planning to make more acquisitions in the area of video. What is the future of networking?
PW: One of the things we see happening is combining video communications with social networking–what we call “visual networking,” which will change the way we do business and how we communicate with our families. Initially, teleconferencing was for business meetings, but we see it moving also into the consumer space and in new areas like health care and education. Some things have to be done to change infrastructure to allow this to happen, like putting intelligence in the network, so it can recognize an HD-format video, and adjust network characteristics as needed without compromising the quality of service.