Dear Mr. President: Let's talk tech

Top IT luminaries demand action from the next administration

Science and technology may not have been the focus of the recent debates between presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama, but both candidates have outlined some broad policy proposals and goals. That's a good thing, because, as some of the top technology thinkers in the United States today recently shared with Computerworld, the next president will have to tackle the country's ongoing decline in global technological competitiveness.

Obama says he'll "change the posture of our federal government from being one of the most anti-science administrations in American history to one that embraces science and technology." He has promised to double federal funding of basic research over 10 years, to appoint the nation's first chief technology officer, to make the R&D tax credit for corporations permanent and to "restore the basic principle that government decisions should be based on the best-available, scientifically valid evidence and not on the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees."

McCain has not said directly what he might do about the level of federal spending on research, but he has said he favors technology-friendly policies aimed at the private sector through "broad pools of capital, low taxes and incentives for research in America...and streamlining burdensome regulations." He says he'd make the R&D tax credit permanent and set it equal to 10% of the wages a company pays its R&D workers, and he says he'd allow companies to write off the cost of new technology and equipment in the first year.

Both candidates have outlined educational reforms that they say will make the U.S. more competitive in science and technology.

Computerworld recently asked nine high-tech luminaries to offer their advice to the next U.S. president. Their answers appear below. They represent the views of the individuals and not necessarily those of their employers.

Henry Chesbrough

Henry Chesbrough

Adjunct professor and executive director, Center for Open Innovation, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley

The economic situation is as bad as it has been in decades. Innovation must be at the forefront of economic policies in [the new] administration. Innovation is widely distributed around the world, not concentrated in a few large firms in the U.S. alone. So policies must promote the division of innovation labor. These include support for start-ups and small businesses. Universities and national labs must be allowed to engage with industry on translating research results into commercial products. Markets for the sale and resale of intellectual property must be supported. Open initiatives must be promoted, especially where government can help set industry standards.

The environment for innovation must also be enhanced. More money must be appropriated for basic research. Ph.D. graduates should receive green cards to allow them to stay in the U.S. H1-B visas should be expanded. The R&D tax credit should be made permanent. And a new initiative in alternative energy led by the government -- but involving universities, industry, venture capitalists, nonprofits and research labs -- should be started immediately.

Judy Estrin
Judy Estrin

Judy Estrin

CEO, JLabs LLC; author of Closing the Innovation Gap

The future of our economy and our quality of life will depend on our ability to sustain a culture that supports and promotes the ability to innovate. The nation faces major challenges -- energy independence and climate change, national security and the need for affordable, quality health care -- that threaten our future. Each of these challenges also brings opportunities, if we give innovation the attention it deserves.

One of the most crucial roles of the next administration will be to foster the right environment for innovation through wise funding and smart policy. But it must also re-energize the nation by embracing these challenges, providing a vision to inspire and engage the country at large, and bring out the innovator in each of us.

Vinton Cerf
Vinton Cerf

Vinton Cerf

Internet pioneer; chief Internet evangelist, Google Inc.

We must take a global leadership role on energy and global warming. We should:

1. Focus our national R&D capacity on developing renewable energy at costs competitive with coal.

2. Continue work on clean coal and restart nuclear power development.

3. Begin a major campaign for reduction in fossil fuel consumption: 100 mpg hybrids and all-electric transportation.

4. Charge DARPA with development of new, lightweight, strong materials for automobile, air- and spacecraft bodies.

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