Celebrating American Presidents’ love for technology

Thomas Jefferson. Warren Harding. Herbert Hoover. Franklin D. Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln. This Presidents’ Day, Nuance is celebrating these individuals not just for leading the United States, but for their leading-edge adoption of technology innovation. To celebrate this relationship between American leadership and technology, see how Nuance uses technology to share Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address.
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Celebrating America’s technology-savvy presidents.

My family spent a fantastic day at Monticello last summer, strolling the maze of rooms and verdant gardens that President Jefferson took pains to build over the course of his later years. But, what was most striking for me about the tour was the wall-to-wall evidence of Jefferson’s technological obsessions. The man was a tinkerer by nature, inquisitive about all the latest inventions of his time and eager to improve on them. For example, he had this fascinating machine in his study that made a copy of the letters he wrote as he was writing them. It is hard to imagine how bleeding edge this contraption must have seemed to the general public in the pre-dawn years of the 19th Century. Jefferson was – to use the parlance of our times – an early adopter.

And, Jefferson was not alone among the U.S. Presidents in embracing the most ingenious technologies of their times, although he stood as one of the most extreme examples. In fact, even the luddites among them had to warm up to the latest breakthroughs in communications in order to get their word out during campaigns and in order to subtly say to the country “I am the voice of the future. I am a new alternative. Not like that other guy.” Without question, there is an unspoken optimism that comes in aligning oneself with the new, the edgy, the idea that is not yet time-tested.

When the campaigns are over, leaders who were true technophiles continue to leverage the power of the latest inventions. In 1922, technology booster Warren Harding was the first president to have his voice broadcast over the radio in a commemoration for Francis Scott Key. And while President Hoover spent much of his time regulating radio broadcasting, Franklin D. Roosevelt continued Harding’s trend of using the radio to speak to the people, hosting “Fireside Chats” to get his latest thoughts out to the public as quickly and widely as possible.

Keeping abreast of these advances has become so central to the presidency that in 1976, the Office of Science and Technology was formed. Its role is “to advise the President and others within the Executive Office of the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs.” And it’s a good thing such an institution was founded, because even if a president doesn’t embrace modern advances, modern advances will confront them. Today we see our president having to take stances on topics such as net neutrality, foreign attacks on corporate security systems and electronic medical records (which of course takes us into the realm of good old speech recognition).

Leaving this blur of bytes and microchips behind, moving backwards again in time, we find possibly the most surprising technology enthusiast of all – one who rivals even Jefferson. Most Americans grew up with an image of Abraham Lincoln as a down-home country lawyer. With that stereotype came the idea of someone who steers clear of “new-fangled contraptions.” But in fact, President Lincoln was a lover of technology. He is the only president to hold a patent (a bellows for lifting boats over shoals). He was fascinated with navigation, weaponry and most famously, the telegraph. He used the telegraph – the internet of his day – to stay in close contact with Northern generals on the front lines during the Civil War. When the Confederates cut that connection, he continued to interact with lesser ranks. Even when Ulysses Grant came on the scene and took deft command of the Union troops, Lincoln continued to stay in touch with the front. All told, he sent almost 1,000 telegraphs during his presidency.

Given this double helix relationship between American leadership and technology, I wanted to celebrate Presidents’ Day by dictating what is arguably the most famous presidential address of all time using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 12 (see the results below). Then, I went a step further with the help of our text-to-speech team and generated Lincoln’s great words using Vocalizer 6. It seemed only fitting because, well, Lincoln would have loved this stuff!

Happy Presidents’ Day from Nuance!

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
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Jonathan Bloom

About Jonathan Bloom

Jonathan Bloom is a senior user interface manager for Nuance’s Enterprise Division. He joined Nuance's team in 1999 as part of Dragon Systems where he was the company's first usability engineer. He has designed both graphic and speech interfaces for IVR’s, dictation software, automotive, and mobile applications. Jon took a detour for some time to work for a startup called SpeechCycle (now part of Synchronoss) where he contributed to the creation of an infrastructure for generating completely data-driven user interfaces. He lives in New Jersey and works out of Nuance's New York office. In addition to managing a team of senior designers, Jon also sits on Nuance’s Innovation Steering Committee and continues to design on his own projects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the New School Graduate Faculty. Jon is also a husband, father of two, self-published fiction author with a black belt in Isshinryu karate.