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May 11, 2005

Surrendering U.S. leadership in IT

ACM president and former CRA board chair David Patterson writes a pointed Op-Ed at C-Net today about whether the U.S. will lead critical IT innovation in the 21st Century, or whether the changing landscape for support of fundamental IT research will constrain that innovation pipeline.

If declining U.S. research funding simply slowed the pace of IT innovation, perhaps the upcoming House Science Committee hearing wouldn't be as critical to the nation as it is to the research community. However, the rest of the world isn't standing still.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently went to India to propose co-development of the next generation of IT, with China producing hardware and India developing software. He predicted the coming of the Asian century of the IT industry, as both countries strive for worldwide leadership in IT.

The history of IT is littered with companies that lost substantial leads in this fast-changing field. I see no reason why it couldn't happen to countries. Indeed, at the recent International Collegiate Programming Contest of the Association for Computing Machinery, four Asian teams finished in the top dozen, including the champion, while the best U.S. finish was 17th, the country's worst showing ever. If current U.S. government policies continue, IT leadership could easily be surrendered to Asia.

Allow me to suggest two questions for the hearing: Could loss of IT leadership--meaning, for example, that the IT available to the U.S. might be inferior to that of China or India--lead to a technological surprise akin to the one with Sputnik 50 years ago? And, if the U.S. must face serious competition for leadership, isn't it better to attract the best and brightest to U.S. universities to come and work to help grow the American economy, rather than have them innovate elsewhere?

Patterson's piece follows his earlier editorial with Edward Lazowska on "An Endless Frontier Postponed" (pdf) which runs in this week's issue of Science. Both pieces are well-timed given tomorrow's hearing of the House Science Committee on "The Future of Computer Science Research in the U.S.," which you can watch via the committee's real-time webcast.

We'll have lots more on the hearing later today and tomorrow....

Posted by PeterHarsha at May 11, 2005 10:50 AM | TrackBack
Posted to R&D in the Press