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Photo: J. Scott Applewhite / Pool / AP/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama said at a tech conference Wednesday that one key to his decision-making was relying on staff and surrounding himself with a diversity of viewpoints, before adding:

"The other thing that is helpful is not watching TV or reading social media."

Why it matters: Obama has largely avoided major criticisms of President Trump, but he used his comments at a conference for Splunk, a company that helps businesses make sense of their data, to draw a contrast between the two administrations.

  • Obama admitted during his speech that he made mistakes in hiring. "I won’t say we enforced perfectly the 'no-jerk rule,' but its a pretty good rule. I won’t say who violated that rule."
  • He then added: "I'm proud of the fact we didn’t have indictments. I’ve said that before but that is pretty rare in modern day." Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation resulted in the indictments of 6 former Trump advisers.

Other highlights: Obama said there are tough calls you have to make as president, citing the decision to go after Osama bin Laden as a 50-50 call and bailing out Chrysler as a 60-40-type decision.

  • To make those calls, Obama said, you need the facts without spin or sugar coating, as well as a diversity of opinion.
  • Obama added that it's also important that the people who serve in the administration aren't there for fame or money: "Are folks here because they want to serve the American people?"

Obama cited health care as one of the key areas where Big Data can help, both to cut costs and improve outcomes.

  • "Almost our entire federal deficit, at least when I was president, could be accounted by what we spend on health care vs. what other industrialized countries spend" to get similar outcomes.
  • The government, he said, has tons of data from running Medicare and Medicaid. "All that stuff is really powerful. It can be powerful for researchers, it can be powerful for policymakers."
  • But, he added, medical data is at the same time highly personal and individual privacy needs to be protected.

Obama said that there are "a handful of big issues that if we don’t get right we have real problems. You can anticipate what those might be. Climate change is a big problem."

  • "Ultimately, it is a moral decision we make that we are, as much as possible, going to mitigate this problem we’ve created."
  • Obama also warned about income inequality and people living in filter bubbles, a problem he said is exacerbated by social media. "That's not healthy for a democracy and it's not healthy between countries. That's how wars get started and bad things happen."

On a lighter note, Obama acknowledged he remains a Chicago Bulls fan, but admitted: "It’s been a while since we were as competitive as we would like."

  • As for the local team, the Golden State Warriors, Obama praised the team and its coach and said it can survive the loss of star Kevin Durant. "You’ll be fine. Steve Kerr is a great coach, and more than that he is a good man."
  • There may be some rebuilding needed, but he said the team has created a culture that will endure and help that process. "Their best players just care about the team and are willing to make sacrifices."

Go deeper

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.