Global Innovation Sweepstakes: A Quest to Win the Future

While the United States remains at the top of the global tech-innovation hierarchy, its position is in real jeopardy. By MATHEW J. BURROWS

The world is on the cusp of an unprecedented technological revolution, one that will have far-reaching social, economic, and geostrategic consequences. This tech revolution will change the way we live, work, manufacture goods, fight wars, and communicate. What is unfolding is a convergence of technologies, the melding of the digital with the real economy, in a synergy of artificial intelligence (AI), big data (the cloud), robotics, biotech, advanced manufacturing, the Internet of Things (IoT), nano-engineering and -manufacturing, and over the horizon, quantum computing.

How the United States and other major actors position themselves as innovators and adaptors of emerging technologies will determine their economic fate and geo — strategic standing. And while the United States remains at the top of the global tech-innovation hierarchy, its position is in real jeopardy. Several nations are fast approaching.

In this century, the world’s most advanced countries will be those best positioned to create and adapt to new and disruptive technologies. Whoever ends up on top will reap tremendous gains. Those who do not will fall behind. The authors of this report believe that countries fall into one of three general categories: those countries on the cutting edge of tech-based innovation, those that easily adapt to and absorb new technologies, and those that are lagging. These categories are not mutually exclusive — some coun — tries straddle categories — but the gaps between leaders and those on the bottom rungs will grow larger.

The key recommendations in this report deal not just with the potential problems between states, but also address some of the inequities that are growing within societies due in part to emerging technologies. The entire world has become more prosperous than ever before; the digital revolution has played a key part in this development, accelerating the rise of China and other emerging markets. However, technology has increased income inequalities. Women and minorities are grossly underrepresented in tech firms and jobs. Will emerging technologies, such as AI, be different? Will inequalities widen further? How will the geopolitical landscape, indeed the global order writ large , change if China replaces the United States as the world’s innovation leader? This report seeks to answer the fundamental questions raised by the unfolding technological revolution. It follows an earlier one focused solely on US innovation that was also produced by the Foresight, Strategy, and Risks (FSR) Initiative of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security in partnership with Qualcomm. The first report saw a United States that was losing its edge and recommended actions to help to shore up US leadership.

This report, which moves onto the global level, is by the same authors of the previous one — FSR’s Robert Manning and Peter Engelke — with Samuel Klein. The research was conducted using a similar methodology of visiting innovation hubs and speaking with people on the ground. For this second report, the authors visited ten countries and conducted telephone interviews with scientists and technologists in other nations. They read hundreds of secondary publications and consulted numerous data sources. The country visits allowed the authors to meet with a diverse range of people across multiple points on the innovation ecosystem compass: entrepreneurs; government officials (at local and national levels); venture capitalists; owners of incubators, accelerators, and co-working spaces; academics and university administrators; and local tech- innovation “thought leaders.” Altogether, the authors spoke with roughly two hundred people around the world, usually off-the-record to get the most uncompromised views. The interviewees’ insights drive this report’s findings, and a few of the interviewees contributed essays that are featured in this report.

by MATHEW J. BURROWS Director of the Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Atlantic Council.

Read the full report at www.atlanticcouncil.org/innovates