‘Building Back Better’ Requires a New Approach to US Science and Technology
(TheHill.com) Contributor Daniel Gerstein warns that “. it’s questionable whether the U.S. still holds global leadership in technology areas such as artificial intelligence (AI), biotechnology, quantum computing and advanced manufacturing.” In this editorial, he calls for “a more fully reimagined U.S. science and technology enterprise that should also identify issues on the horizon with economic or national security implications. For example, research and development as a percent of the federal budget has gone down from almost 12 percent in the mid-1960s to less than 3 percent in 2019. Is that enough to maintain U.S. leadership in critical technology areas? And what about the automation? How technology will reshape the future of work should be analyzed now so that the labor pool can be shaped appropriately.”
NOTE: The author of this editorial, Daniel M. Gerstein, formerly served as the undersecretary (acting) and deputy undersecretary in the Science and Technology Directorate of the Department of Homeland Security from 2011-2014. He is an adjunct professor at American University and his recent book is “The Story of Technology: How We Got Here and What the Future Holds.”
Gerstein points out, “In the Cold War, government spending on research and development was required for developing better weapons systems to counter the Soviet Union, and technology for national security concerns took precedence over that for economic prosperity. Today, the government-industry relationship has been inverted. Private industry now spends more than double annually what the government does on research and development, which now means industry largely sets the agenda on which new technologies are a priority to be developed.”
These recent changes in the technology development landscape have resulted in a crescendo of government insiders, experts and pundits alike offering recommendations on how the U.S. should respond. However, it is time to acknowledge the national science and technology enterprise needs more than a response. It needs a makeover.
Calls for change suggest that the current U.S. approach to science and technology is not working. Sorting through the ideas and building a coherent plan, however, needs to be more than a pick-up game. It should be high priority going forward. No less than our future economic prosperity and national security are at stake.