In 1957, we experienced a technological earthquake with the launch of Sputnik by the Russians. It was a disruption we didn’t see coming, but it ushered in a sea change in the way world leaders prioritized science and technology policy.
This seismic event sparked an unprecedented national commitment to the United States space program and federal government investments in science and technology that we continue to build on as a nation. Less than 12 years later, the United States planted a flag on the moon and made a down payment on our future as a technology leader.
These strategic national investments have spurred decades of innovation and made today’s digital innovations possible. They also firmly established the United States as a technological innovator, with long-term benefits in aviation, microelectronics, communications, navigation, and more. However, somewhere along the way, the priorities changed. Federal investment spending in infrastructure, research and development (R&D), as well as education and training fell from 6% of GDP in the 1960s to 2% of GDP in 2018. As a result, the US technological leadership in some areas is no longer a given.
Over the past year, we have experienced our own “Sputnik moment”. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a technological earthquake that caught many of us off guard. It was a wake-up call that reminded us of the importance of connectivity and forced us to recognize that access to digital tools and infrastructure is unequal in our society. But the pandemic has also brought out the best of human ingenuity, accelerating the digital transformation of the U.S. and global economies, while changing the way governments, healthcare providers, businesses of all sizes, academia and other organizations operate and do business.
As the United States emerges from the pandemic, public and private sector leaders must seize the opportunities presented by emerging technologies. Other governments are rushing to develop, deploy and lead the technologies of the future. If we don’t invest in our science and technology leadership, we will fall behind.
The Atlantic Council’s GeoTech Commission recently completed a 14-month period in-depth and bipartite study with a series of recommendations on how governments should respond to the geopolitical impacts of new technologies and data. To this end, we call on leaders of Congress and the Biden administration to make bold strategic investments in our national technology infrastructure and workforce to ensure the United States remains at the forefront of innovation. and that emerging technologies are a force for good. . Policymakers – on both sides of the aisle – must recognize the high stakes of today’s technological revolution.
First, let’s start with the people. In total, skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, along with training underpin two-thirds of US jobs (67%), 69% of US GDP, and $ 2.3 trillion in annual federal tax revenue. Yet unless Congress acts, then according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the United States will face a shortage of nearly 3.4 million skilled technical workers by 2022. We must invest in education and training as well as pursue a smart immigration policy. to ensure that the U.S. workforce has the skills to meet these needs.
Second, with regard to critical technologies, the United States currently lacks adequate domestic capacity to produce advanced semiconductors. Policymakers have rightly focused on making strategic investments to close this gap in the supply chain. Congress has taken a significant step forward by passing legislation allowing several incentives to boost U.S. semiconductor capabilities, although Congress has yet to secure the necessary funding. Such necessary funding is not about the well-being of businesses – appropriation of funding is about ensuring that the United States has a resilient supply chain capable of withstanding any future disruption – pandemic or otherwise. Lawmakers should do so without delay.
Third, it will take more than revitalizing the US manufacturing industry to stay at the forefront of innovation. We need to invest in the digital infrastructure that will power the smart factories of tomorrow and help the transition to a greener economy. We need to leverage US strengths in research and development, high performance computing, and machine learning to optimize operations, drive energy efficiency, and leverage tools like cloud platforms for management. and supply chain security. Our government must also invest in modernizing its own IT infrastructure and embracing emerging technologies to provide better and faster services to the American people.
Fourth, governments and industry must also modernize their approach to the future of space development. Over the next five years, thousands more satellites will be in orbit providing services to people around the world in communication, navigation, agriculture, resource management, disaster, relief and security monitoring. With hundreds of players and thousands of satellites operating between the Earth and the Moon, the risks of interference and collisions are significant. The US government should work with partner countries and the space industry on the agreements necessary for safe operations in space.
Fifth, we need to focus on partnerships. If government and technology work together, we can better navigate this digital landscape to improve the health and well-being of all in a way that promotes privacy, improves data security, and fosters trust in tools on. which we all rely more and more on to navigate our daily lives. .
We must build, fund, and nurture this innovation wheel to maintain America’s scientific and technological leadership, as well as to shape a better future for all.
We know the challenges we face, as well as the opportunities available to us. It’s time to act.
David Bray is Executive Director of the Atlantic Council’s Commission on the Geopolitical Impacts of New Technologies and Data. Business Insider named him one of the “24 Americans Who Change the World.”
Max Peterson is vice president of the global public sector at Amazon Web Services.