Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the National Technology Awards

February 19, 1985

The President. Thank you very much. I hope you haven't said everything. [Laughter]

Secretary Baldrige. No, I haven't. [Laughter]

The President. All right.

Well, Secretary Baldrige and ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon and welcome to the White House.

You know, one of the last times that this grand old mansion played host to an event concerning technology was back in '76 -- 1876. President Rutherford B. Hayes was shown a recently invented device. ``That's an amazing invention,'' he said, ``but who would ever want to use one of them?'' He was talking about a telephone. I thought at the time that he might be mistaken. [Laughter]

But in those days, most Americans were tied to the land. And the most familiar means of transportation were the sailing ship and the horse. Then, advances like the telephone and the electric light, the internal combustion engine, transformed our nation, enabling us to achieve the highest standard of living in the world; to lead longer, richer, and fuller lives; and to share our bounty with millions beyond our borders.

Today we see all around us the beginnings of a second transformation, a quantum technological leap that's making possible still greater prosperity and individual fulfillment than we've ever known. This new technology is affecting every aspect of our lives. In manufacturing, lightweight and inexpensive materials like fiber composites and ceramics are taking the place of costly metals. In transportation, cars and airplanes are being equipped with inexpensive microchips that keep track of maintenance needs and enable engines to run better on less fuel. In the home, computers are putting art, literature, and vast sums of information at families' fingertips.

Perhaps the most exciting advances are taking place in medicine. A diagnostic process, for example, has been made faster, safer, and more accurate by the advent of technologies like cat scanning and the use of soundwaves. Biotechnology is enabling us to produce human growth hormones more easily and inexpensively -- a godsend to children whose growth might otherwise be impaired. Research is advancing against cancer, and new drugs are combating high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Countless medical breakthroughs have meant that, for the past decade, the life expectancy of Americans has gone up.

As technology goes on providing new goods, services, and techniques of production, our entire economy is expanding and worker productivity is up. At one semiconductor plant in Pennsylvania in 1957, workers produced five transistors a day for $7.50 apiece. And they now produce over a million for less than a penny apiece.

Perhaps the best news of all concerns new job formation. Employment in the computer industry has skyrocketed. Computers and robotics are also bringing new efficiency to our older industries, helping them modernize their plants and compete better. And today American cars are once again as advanced as those built anywhere on Earth.

Economic growth is our most powerful tool for reducing poverty and fostering vigor and self-esteem among the millions in America's work force. I expect today's burgeoning technology to work hand in hand with the incentives in our tax reform plan to keep our economy growing and creating ever-wider opportunities for all Americans.

Our administration has made a firm commitment to technological progress. Both of them are probably true, but one we view as nothing less than a commitment to human creativity and imagination. While we're cutting back, wherever possible, unnecessary government spending, we're continuing our strong commitment to basic research and development.

We have cut personal income tax rates; we plan to cut them again. This could spur savings, and higher savings could, in turn, boost the capital formation so important in funding new high-technology ventures. And we've rolled back needless government regulations to help provide the freedom needed by those at the frontiers of technology to experiment with new hypotheses and techniques.

In space, we're opening the way to private enterprise; the space shuttle program is already working closely with private industry. And in 1985 NASA is scheduled to deploy eight commercial communications satellites. Space technology will continue to grow even more rapidly as we pursue our plans to launch a permanently manned space station -- and to do so within a decade.

In defense, we're putting technology at the service of a decade's old dream: the elimination of nuclear weapons. Our Strategic Defense Initiative represents, perhaps, the most dramatic and wide-reaching research effort to explore the means for making nuclear weapons obsolete.

Let me make one thing plain: The Strategic Defense Initiative is not a bargaining chip. It's an historic effort on behalf of our national defense and peace throughout the world, and we intend to see it through.

The story of American technology is long and proud. It might be said to have begun with a blacksmith at his bellows, hammering out fine tools, and the Yankee craftsman using simple wood planes, saws, and mallets to fashion the fastest sailing ships on the ocean. And then came the railroad men, driving spikes across our country.

And today the story continues with the workers who built the computer in a child's room; the engineers who designed the communications satellite that silently rotates with the Earth, shining in the sunlight against the blackness of space; and the men and women of skill and determination who helped to put American footprints on the Moon.

In a few moments, 14 Americans will become the first recipients of the National Technology Awards, and you are heroes, each one of you, just as surely as were Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. You sing the songs of a people using their hands and minds in freedom, the songs of Americans at work making their lives even more full. And it's only fitting that our nation should pay you honor. And on behalf of the American people, I congratulate you.

Thank you, and God bless you. And, Mac, you take over.

Note: The President spoke at 1:33 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. Following his remarks, the President and Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige presented the awards to Joseph F. Sutter of Boeing Commercial Airplane Co.; Bob O. Evans, Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., and Erich Bloch, formerly of IBM Corp.; Allen E. Puckett and Harold A. Rosen of Hughes Aircraft Co.; Marvin M. Johnson of Phillips Petroleum Co.; John T. Parsons and Frank L. Stulen of John T. Parsons Co.; Steven P. Jobs and Stephen G. Wozniak of Apple Computer, Inc.; Ralph Landau, formerly with Halson S.D. Group, Inc.; and Ian Ross and William O. Baker of AT&T Bell Laboratories, Inc.