Oct 1, 2019

Exclusive: Aspen report finds U.S. losing innovation edge

A report that will be released Wednesday from the bipartisan Aspen Cybersecurity Group suggests that the United States is losing its grip as a global innovation leader and needs government action to resecure its edge.

Why it matters: Innovation isn't just an economic issue (though it is certainly that). It has huge national security and geopolitical implications, too.

  • "Will America lead the technology that secures Americans?" asked Lisa Monaco, co-chair of the Aspen group, in an interview with Axios. "Will American values be reflected in the technologies of the future?"

The Aspen Cybersecurity Group is co-chaired by Monaco, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty. Its members include 2 former heads of the NSA, high ranking executives from Apple, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson and Duke Energy, and several prominent academics.

The big picture: The U.S. faces substantial competition in innovation from China. Even countries like South Korea and Israel outspend the United States in government funding for research.

  • The Aspen report identifies 5 factors behind America's tech leadership: the decimation of infrastructure in competing nations from World War II, federal spending on foundational science, importing innovators through immigration, Cold War competition and spending on education.
  • The U.S. can't (and shouldn't) hope to replicate its "world war victor" advantage. But, per the report, lawmakers can and should leverage the other 4 categories — even though so much recent legislation has moved in the opposite direction.

The proposal: The Aspen report advocates...

  • Federal funding of half the total U.S. R&D budget — that was the norm until the 1980s when privately funded research took over. It has since declined further. The government currently funds around 22.5% of basic research.
  • Increasing the tolerance for risk in research, including funding curiosity-based science with no clear application.
  • Increased education spending, including training in tech ethics and strategically retraining people who started in other career paths. That would expand the potential workforce while introducing other fields' modes of thought into the tech world.
  • Bolstering the tech workforce at all levels through immigration.
  • Easing barriers to trade while improving protections on intellectual property theft.
  • Focusing on moonshot-like goals to increase urgency and provide deadlines.
Go deeper