Techworld

Obama talks about math, online privacy and an open Internet in Google+ hangout

President also hit with questions patent trolls and high school programming classes during the 'Fireside Hangout'

During a Google+ 'Fireside Hangout' on Thursday night, President Barack Obama talked about his daughters' math and science studies, the benefits of making computer programming a required high school class and the need to keep the Internet open.

The hangout, which attracted more than 36,000 viewers at its peak, drew questions ranging from the state of the penny to gun violence to the minimum wage. Tech issues were also a popular subject of questioners during the nearly hour-long event.

Just two days after his State of the Union address, Obama fielded real-time questions in what the administration called a "Fireside Hangout" -- a 21st century version of the famous Fireside Chats that President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered over the radio airwaves in the 1930s and 1940s.

"We need to have more girls interested in math, science and engineering," Obama said during the chat. "We have half the population way under-represented in those fields. That means we have all that talent downstream that is not being encouraged."

Obama talked about high-tech education after he was asked about his daughters, Malia and Sasha, studying math and science.

"We say math and science is part of your overall educational experience," he said. "We don't want you intimidated by it. We want you to continue to pursue it so your options remain open as you get older."

The president said he would support making computer programming a required high school-level class.

"I think it makes sense," he said, adding that high school education needs to be relevant. "Given how pervasive computers and the Internet are now and how integral they are to our economy and how fascinated kids are with them, it's important that they know how to produce stuff and not just consume stuff."

Obama noted that Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that he taught himself programming as a youth mainly as a means to get into gaming.

If high school students were told that they could someday create their own games if they studied math, students might be more engaged, Obama said. "It prepares young people to be job-ready, but it [also] engages kids because they feel like, 'I get this.'"

Obama also took a question about patent trolls and how they affect high-tech startups.

Patent troll is a negative term for companies that buy patents and then make money from lawsuits instead of producing something.

"A couple of years ago, we advanced patent reform but it hasn't captured all the problems," the president said. "Folks who don't produce anything themselves [are] trying to hijack someone else's idea. Our efforts at patent reform only go about half the way they need to go."

He also said he's focused on protecting people's online privacy, as well as the Internet itself.

"The technology is changing so fast," he added. "We want to protect privacy. We want to protect people's civil liberties."

Also, he said, "We want to make sure the Internet stays open. I'm an ardent believer that what's powerful about the Internet is its openness and its capacity for people to get out there and introduce a new idea with low barriers to entry. We also want to make sure that people's ideas are protected."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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