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President Obama Calls on Tech to Combat America's 'Urgent Challenges'

Obama calls for employing technology to fight climate change.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama outlined a progressive agenda that called for reigniting the nation’s spirit of innovation and employing technology to combat urgent challenges like climate change.

“Our unique strengths as a nation — our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery and innovation, our diversity and commitment to the rule of law — these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come,” Obama said.

Obama fleetingly touched on what he saw as the accomplishments of the last seven years of his administration — rebounding from the worst economic crisis in generations, reforming the health-care system and achieving marriage equality — before outlining the challenges ahead for the nation “regardless of who the next president is.”

The president focused first on education, highlighting the bipartisan support for reforms to the No Child Left Behind act and other accomplishments, such as improving high school graduation rates. Obama said the nation should build on this progress by, among other things, offering every student in America hands-on computer science and math classes so they are prepared to enter the workforce “job-ready on day one.”

The administration signaled that education would be one theme of the final address when it invited Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella to attend as a guest. The software giant pledged $75 million for a new initiative to make computer science education more mainstream in American schools.

Obama called for reigniting the “spirit of innovation” that was alive 60 years ago, when the nation was confronted with the Russians beating America into space. The nation responded, he noted, not with denials of the science, but with a dedicated space program.

“That spirit of discovery is in our DNA,” Obama said. “We’re Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. We’re Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.”

Obama counted among his administration’s accomplishments the reaffirming of the concept of net neutrality and efforts to bring Internet access to more students and low-income Americans. Then he issued a “moonshot” challenge: Devoting resources to the National Institutes of Health to cure cancer — a mission he placed in the hands of Vice President Joe Biden, who last year lost his son Beau to the disease.

“Because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control,” Obama said. “For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all. Can you do that, Joe?”

Obama took on climate change deniers — saying to those who challenge the science, “you’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.”

The president said the U.S. should accelerate its transition to clean fuels, calling for continued investment in new forms of energy that would result in more jobs and lower energy bills for consumers.

“None of this will happen overnight, and yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo,” Obama said. “But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve — that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.