Experts participating in a conference hosted by The Brookings Institution Wednesday suggested, among other things, that Congress do more to keep up with the fast pace of innovation in technology.
Darrell West, Vice President and Director of Governonace Studies at the think tank based in Washington, D.C. and author of a similarly titled paper guided three of the nation’s leading high-tech and innovation experts through a discussion centered around the role of technology in job creation and economic growth. The conference, titled “Technology and the Innovation Economy: How to Harness New Engines for Growth,” also focused on specific advances that could help jump-start America’s economy both within and outside the technology sector.
Guests included Chief Technology Officer of Intel and the Director of Intel Labs Justin Rattner, Senior Innovation Advisor to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Eric Nakajima and Senior Vice President of Federal Government Affairs at TechAmerica Kevin Richards.
High tech employment represent 5.7 million jobs, and one out of every 10 dollars of the U.S. payroll, according to an October TechAmerica study Richards cited during the conference. “The average high-tech wage is 93 percent higher than the average private sector wage in the U.S.,” he continued. But Richards quickly jumped to potential solutions.
“What are the enabling factors for high tech job creation?,” asked Richards rhetorically. “At TechAmerica, we refer to them as the Four Ts: technology, talent, tax and trade.”
To create technological advances, he said, you need a “robust federal investment in basic research,” including in broadband. Meanwhile, in terms of talent, Richards called on the U.S. to invest in STEM education. “And in terms of taxes,” he continued, “we really need corporate tax reform. ... A lot of our companies weren’t around when tax reform happened in 1996.” Finally, according to Richards, the U.S. needs to open new markets to goods and services to create more jobs within the high tech sector.
The conversation turned to the products created by high-tech. “This is the emergence of the internet of things — and I really want to underline internet of things,’” said Intel’s Rattner. “Because those things are going to talk to one another. But they’re also going to create literally a tidal wave of data.” Rattner went on to describe how Intel’s conversations with the big cloud computing companies, such as Amazon and even China’s Baidu centered around storage, and not computing, with the need for storage growing faster than for computing.
Meanwhile, the technology to store data at the rate needed to meet demand, said Rattner, had yet to be developed.
“The money is in the data,” emphasized Rattner, “and this is a huge opportunity for the U.S. to really step out in front of countries elsewhere in the world.”
“Data analytics,” followed up West, “You heard it here. It’s the equivalent of plastics in 1966.”
The conversation then turned to the nation’s high-tech brain drain. According to Nakajima, Massachusetts was doing its part to fight the trend through internship programs, giving young people an opportunity to see STEM careers up close and personal. The process, according to Nakajima, helped young people translate their classroom experience into real-life experience as a member of the workforce with potential future employers. The state is also working to compensate for the decline in federal funding for research and development. “We are incredibly dependent in terms of our innovation pipeline on funding that’s coming out of DOE, NIH, NSF,” said Nakajima, highlighting a persistent concern among university researchers.
But every assessment of U.S. performance wasn’t negative. “I really think that the U.S. today leads the world in the innovation economy,” said TechAmerica’s Richards, citing the United States’ dominance in intellectual property and research and development. “I think that Congress and the administration needs a forward-looking innovation policy. And I think that Congress’s approach to innovation is very parochial. There are several committees that have jurisdiction over technology and innovation policy. So, it can be a struggle to have laws keep up with the pace of innovation.”
“What would would really be useful, coming from the federal government, in particular,” said Intel’s Rattner, “is one or more, and I would just take one — I’d be happy with one — vision for the future. ... In any discussion about innovation, we always say Kennedy’s declaration about putting a man on the moon. But that was a vision and you cannot overstate that the impact that vision had on almost everything we did in those days.”
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