One activity humans should be exceptionally good at is innovation. Being able to conceive of new ways to shape the material world to our advantage is what differentiates us from animals. Yet, surprisingly, while humans are great at creating ideas, they are extremely poor managers of the social processes that create stellar new projects.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced the launch of a new award to encourage innovation and help revitalize U.S. solar manufacturing. It will be known as the American-Made Solar Prize, a competition for entrepreneurs to develop ideas into concepts that improve the solar industry.
The next wave of technological innovation is shaping up differently. China’s rulers have identified the industries they want to dominate this century, from robotics to biotechnology and artificial intelligence, or AI. Chinese firms with a project in those fields don’t have to sweat through pitches to venture capitalists: government coffers are open.
The greatest threat to the American workforce is not automation. It is not the digital revolution. It is the stagnation of innovation. If the U.S. continues on its current trajectory it will be surpassed by China and Russia before the next generation. As of now, this is a threat, but if we do not act soon, it will mark the extinction of the American workforce as we know it.
Panting warnings that the United States is falling dangerously behind our opponents in the race for military innovation are commonplace. The United States is a strange country in which outside critics and defense insiders, both in government and in private industry, are quick to attack the very innovation system that has produced the many incredible weapons that give the United States its global reputation for military-technological leadership.
Innovation has been the lifeblood of America since the country’s founding fathers established a patent office in 1790. In recent years, the pace of innovation has certainly increased, especially for engineers who design chips and systems. We have now reached a point where the 10 millionth utility patent is about to be granted.
We are told often it’s because we learn the most from our mistakes. If we aren’t failing, we aren’t pushing the boundaries of what is possible. In my 25 years in business, I’ve come to believe that there is actually a deeper, more emotional reason failure is important to each of us, personally and professionally.
Artificial intelligence is an emerging field that provides new benefits and capabilities, according to Ed McLaughlin, MasterCard president of operations and technology, “I don’t think there’s a company, an industry, a country which isn’t interested in advancing artificial intelligence right now,” he told Liz Claman during a FOX Business interview on Wednesday.
The Polsky Innovation Indicator found that 71 percent of Americans believe research universities are a “major force” in driving U.S. innovation, considerably more than the number who said that of large corporations, startup businesses or government. The survey also points to real challenges for global competitiveness, with just one in four people viewing America as the global leader in innovation.
The United States military is losing the innovation battle. This is not hyperbole. Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, made this point last December. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, she said, “The current pace at which we develop advanced capability is being eclipsed by those nations that pose the greatest threat to our security, seriously eroding our measure of overmatch.”