Innovation and National Security: Keeping Our Edge

dj patil
dj patil
Sep 18 · 8 min read

The world as we know it is changing faster than ever. Just consider what the world looked like over the past decade from a few popular brands and products:

  • 2007: iphone, Kindle, and Airbnb launch
  • 2008: Tesla Roadster launches
  • 2009: turn-by-turn directions on phone; and WhatsApp and Uber launch
  • 2010: videos on mobile phones are adopted; Pinterest, Instagram and ipad launch
  • 2011: Snapchat launch
  • 2012: Lyft and Tesla Models S launches

These products have had a staggering impact on our society transforming the way we consume content, interact, and experience the world. Behind all of these products are advancements in technology from increasing power of computing, storage, and batteries. And given the advancements we expect to see from genomics, AI, data science, to quantum computing, the world as we know will be radically different in the next decade.

The United States has disproportionately benefited from these advancements due to our national research and development (R&D) strategy, immigration, etc. But, what happens in an increasing global world with easier access to technologies? As we enter this next phase of globalization, it is critical to make sure that the United State continues to preserve its competitive and national security advantage. And from the values perspective, we must continue to push for higher ideals so that that technology works for us and not against us.

To look into these issues, the Council on Foreign Relations sponsored an Independent Task Force. And today we’re pleased to release our findings in our report, Innovation and National Security: Keeping Our Edge

This topic is deeply personal to me for a few reasons. First, I’m an immigrant to the U.S. and this country has given me incredible opportunities. Second, I’m trained as a mathematician and science is my first love. Third, having had the opportunity to serve twice in public service, I’ve witnessed first hand how critical innovation is to national security.

The quote that I think sums it up best is from Ash Carter the 25th Secretary of Defense, “Security is like oxygen, if have it you don’t pay attention to it”.

We’ve stopped paying attention to it.

For 75 years, the U.S. has led the world in innovation. And we’ve benefited massively from GPS, touch screens, the internet, data science, to solar panels. The foundation of this has been research sponsored by the U.S. Federal Government. But now we risk falling behind other nations. U.S. federal R&D as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) peaked at above 2% in the 1970s and has declined since, from a little over 1% in 2001 to 0.7% in 2018. In 2015, for the first time since World War II, the federal government provided less than half of all funding for basic research.

The status quo is about to change and the impact will be massive. China in investing heavily, having increased its R&D expenditures by an average of 18% annually since 2000. China already graduates almost three times the number of undergrads with degrees in science, technology, math, and engineering than the United States. And Beijing soon will be one one of the leading powers in emerging technologies. Additionally, as the barriers to technologies are lowered, we’ll see non-state actors adopt technologies in new ways with potentially destabilizing impacts.

We also have a cultural problem that we need to recognize. While there always has been a gap between the policy and technology communities, political disputes over immigration, climate change, and other issues have widened the distance. Silicon Valley and Washington increasingly view each other with distrust. And that slow the progress of both advancing technology as well as hinders national security.

Finally, our ability to attract, retain, and develop talent is central to the U.S. dominance in science and entrepreneurship. Many of our Nobel Prize winners are immigrants and so are the founders of many notable and admired companies. Yet, the U.S. is seeing a decline in its ability to attract highly educated immigrants, and the number of new international students enrolling at American institutions fell by 6.6% during the 2017– 18 academic year, after a 3.3% decline the year before. And we’re not fully utilizing American talent, either. Minorities and women remain underrepresented in STEM fields. Only 2.2% of Latinos, 2.7% of African Americans, and 3.3% of American Indians and Alaska Natives hold a university degree in STEM fields. Women constitute 47% of the overall workforce but only 28% of the science and engineering workforce, and women in tech jobs leave the field at a rate 45% higher than men.

So what do we need to do?

  1. Read the report. We detail our findings and explain our recommendations. I’ve also put them below.
  2. Share the report with others. We need the discussion to begin. Contact your congressional representatives and ask them to read the report too.
  3. Discuss the report. Get groups of people together and talk about the report. I’d like to hear from you, so post your comments below. Democracy works best when we have open conversations.

Our Recommendations:

Restore Federal Funding for Research and Development

• The White House and Congress should restore federal funding for research and development to its historical average. This would mean increasing funding from 0.7 percent to 1.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) annually, or from $146 billion to about $230 billion (in 2018 dollars). Only the government can make the type of investments in basic science that ignite discoveries; such investments are too big and risky for any single private enterprise to undertake.

• Federal and state governments should make an additional strategic investment in universities. The investment, of up to $20 billion a year for five years, should support cross-disciplinary work in areas of pressing economic and national security interest.

• The White House should announce moonshot approaches to society-wide national security problems. This would support innovation in foundational and general-purpose technologies, including AI and data science, advanced battery storage, advanced semiconductors, genomics and synthetic biology, 5G, quantum information systems, and robotics.

Attract and Educate a Science and Technology Workforce

• The White House, Congress, and academia should develop a twenty first-century National Defense Education Act (NDEA), with the goal of expanding the pipeline of talent in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. A twenty-first-century NDEA would support up to twenty-five thousand competitive STEM undergraduate scholarships and five thousand graduate fellowships.

• Universities, federal and state government, and business should address the underrepresentation of minorities and women in STEM fields through mentoring, training, research experience, and academic and career advising. They should also provide financial support for room and board, tuition and fees, and books, as well as assessments of job placement opportunities in STEM fields, highlighting employers with clear track records of fairness in hiring, promotion, and pay.

• Federal agencies, the private sector, and universities should work together to support debt forgiveness for students going into specialized technology sectors.

• The United States needs to make it easier for foreign graduates of U.S. universities in scientific and technical fields to remain and work in the country. Congress should “staple a green card to an advanced diploma,” granting lawful permanent residence to those who earn a STEM master’s degree or doctorate. Congress should also pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

• Congress should pass legislation that permits immigrants to live and work in the United States if they can raise funds to start new companies.

• The federal government should make targeted — rather than sweeping — efforts to prevent the theft of scientific knowledge from American universities.

Support Technology Adoption in the Defense Sector

• Federal agencies and each of the military services should dedicate between 0.5 and 1 percent of their budgets to the rapid integration of technology. The heads of each agency should also hire a domain specialist deputy for fast-track technologies (for example, data sciences, robotics, and genomics) from outside the government for a two- to four-year assignment.

• Congress should establish a new service academy, the U.S. Digital Service Academy, and a Reserve Officer Training Corps for advanced technologies (ROTC-T) to foster the next generation of tech talent.

• Lifelong career paths should be complemented with more short-term, flexible options. The White House and Congress should bring people from the technology industry into all three branches of the government for temporary rotations. They should also develop new fellowships to encourage the circulation of technologists, military officers, and federal officials between the technology sector and the Defense Department. Bolster and Scale Technology Alliances and Ecosystems

• The State and Treasury Departments should create a technology alliance to develop common policies for the use and control of emerging technologies. • The Department of Commerce should work with major trading partners to promote the secure and free flow of data and the development of common technology standards.

• The Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation should encourage American start-ups in AI and data science, genomics and synthetic biology, quantum information systems, and other frontier technologies to invest in, export to, and form R&D partnerships with firms in emerging technology ecosystems. The goal would be fostering early adopters, developers, and customers who will build on U.S. technologies.

• The Department of Energy (DOE), Department of State, National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and other relevant agencies should develop a network of international cooperative science and technology partnerships, open to governments and the private sector, to apply frontier technologies to shared global challenges, such as climate change. Federal agencies should not only fund efforts that will include cooperation with other nations’ science organizations but should also provide R&D and tax incentives for tech firms to form international collaborative partnerships.

The full report can be found here

dj patil

Written by

dj patil

Making tech and data work for you

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade