Cambridge, MA--A shortage of engineers. Less money spent on research and development. These on-going scenarios prompted the United States Council of Competitiveness to sponsor a two-day National Innovation Summit at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus. On March 12 and 13, more than 150 CEOs of both large and small businesses; federal officials, including Vice President Albert Gore, and state governors; university presidents; and labor officials discussed how to keep the United States ahead of its world competitors and avoid lapsing into complacency.
If the U.S. wants to maintain its current standard of living, continued technological innovations are critical, said Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., (R-WI), chairman of the House Committee on Science. "We need to spread the gospel on how important science is to maintaining our lifestyle."
Participants from Gary T. DiCamillo, CEO of Polaroid Corp., to Vice President Gore, called for a collaborative effort on the part of all sectors of the American economy--businesses, schools, and the federal government. In a survey, 59 of 129 votes predicted a bleak future for innovation in the U.S. The reason? A shrinking talent pool.
To offset this, speakers placed particular emphasis on science education for children from K through 12. John Young, founder of the Council on Competitiveness, suggested treating public schools more like corporations. He called for investments in education equivalent to a company expenditure of R&D money.
"A targeted two-year agenda involving industry, education, labor, and state and federal government is what participants expect," said John Yochelson, president of the council. So that is what they got. By the end of Friday, attendees identified three primary principles, including:
- Vitalize the national innovation system through involving the Congress, the Administration, and the private sector;
- Provide a positive climate and a solid infrastructure for innovation by invigorating private sector efforts and resources. The private sector includes industry, labor, and universities; and
- Initiate a public-private partnership that focuses on building and expanding the skills of our workforce for today and generations to come.
To inspire a greater interest in science, Gore proposed that NASA build a micro satellite to provide live images of the earth from space. The satellite, Triana, will show the motions of changing clouds, the advance of hurricanes, and large-scale fires in oil fields or forests at the precise moment they occur. "This...will allow people around the globe to gaze at our planet as it travels in its orbit around the sun for the first time in history," the vice president said.
State-of-the-art technology demonstrations offset the bleak prognosis. Los Alamos and Argonne National Laboratories demonstrated working examples of new fuel cell technologies.