For most of the 20th Century, the U.S. was the world leader in science, technology, and innovation, with the best scientists, the best universities and the most advanced research and development programs. But all of that has begun to change as other countries and regions have become more advanced and more competitive and increasingly challenge U.S. dominance “
A recent article in the New York Times addressed the U.S. technological decline, and the ways Senators Obama and McCain have approached the issue. This story includes some eye-opening statistics about the loss of U.S. primacy in technology, innovation and R&D. At the top of the story, the Times points out the importance of this sector for America’s economy and role in the world:
For decades the United States dominated the technological revolution sweeping the globe. The nation’s science and engineering skills produced vast gains in productivity and wealth, powered its military and made it the de facto world leader. Today, the dominance is eroding.
One sees this in multiple indicators, but perhaps the most important is the country’s high-technology balance of trade. Until 2002, the U.S. always exported more high-tech products than it imported. In that year, the trend reversed, and the technology trade balance has steadily declined, with the annual gap exceeding $50 billion in 2007.
The U.S. has also fallen behind in spending on research and development, which drives high-tech innovation and development.
When was the last time you saw fast-food restaurant employees
actually key prices into the register? Today, clerks behind the
counter press buttons with pictures of cups, burgers, or bags of
fries. They never need to read or remember cost of items.
Futurist William Crossman, author of Vivo [Voice-In/Voice-Out]:
The Coming Age of Talking Computers, believes that tomorrow’s
mobile and virtual reality devices, using visual displays like
those in fast-food restaurants, will render reading, writing, and
text obsolete in the not-to-distant future.
Crossman explains why this transformation will take place.
“Before Homo sapiens ever existed, ancient proto-humans accessed
information by speaking, listening, smelling, tasting, and
touching. They relied on memory to store information they heard.
Speaking and listening was civilization’s preferred method of
communication for millions of years.
Then about 10,000 years ago an explosion of information emerged
with the onset of the agricultural revolution and memory overload
quickly followed. Human memories were no longer efficient and
reliable enough to store and share the huge volume of new ideas. To
overcome this problem, our forbearers developed a remarkable
technology that has lasted for thousands of years – written
Academic institutions are usually slow to make changes,
especially when it comes to integrating new methods of teaching. We
keep talking about how the web will shape education, but school
administrations don’t make it easy to take advantage of all the new
tools out there. For instance, most schools block access to
YouTube, leaving teachers no choice but to roll in the VCR cart every time they want to incorporate a video
into a classroom presentation.
Luckily, there are a few sites out there that provide the
platform for educators to upload and share media. Most notable is
TeacherTube, an obvious
YouTube copycat that’s been around for just over a year now. They
boast over 15,000 user-generated videos to supplement K-12
education, many of them tutorials for projects or instructional
videos. Teachers can upload material and collaborate with other
educators around the world, and most schools have allowed access to
It’s been a great way for teachers to generate new and
interesting lesson plans, and it allows students to review a
concept several times to make sure they understand it. It would
also be a great platform for students to share information with
each other from different schools or countries, and work on
projects together. But, despite its popularity and benefits to both
teachers and students, some schools are still wary of allowing
video-sharing sites to be used at school.
A comprehensive report asserts that web-mediated learning has been found to be more effective than face-to-face learning.
New York Times: Over the 12-year span, the report found 99 studies in which there were quantitative comparisons of online and classroom performance for the same courses. The analysis for the Department of Education found that, on average, students doing some or all of the course online would rank in the 59th percentile in tested performance, compared with the average classroom student scoring in the 50th percentile.
My initial reaction is that both learning settings are critical and that students empowered with laptops in a classroom setting, such as in Maine, would probably outperform both groups. That said, it certainly does open the doors wider to distance learning and, hopefully, sweeping educational reform.
Scientists and engineers are going to develop the solutions to our energy challenges. An obvious fact, but what if we’re not preparing people for those careers in the US? At the recent NanoTX’08 conference, Dr. Zvi Yaniv, CEO of Applied Nanotech, Inc. discusses the challenges of educating scientists and engineers in the US. All is not rosy, but all is not lost.
Dr. Zvi Yaniv is an expert in LCD technology. He received his PhD in Physics at the Kent State Liquid Crystal Institute in 1982. Shortly after he graduated, he was recruited by Energy Conversion Devices to run their LCD laboratory. Three years later, he spun out Optical Imaging Systems, OSI, Inc. “The premier Liquid Crystal Display Company in America, designing displays for our avionics, for F22, phantoms, helicopters,” he says. “And I loved it!”
Harvard education professor Daniel Koretz says we're not doing a good job teaching our children how to solve complex problems, thus failing to raise a generation possessing the new mandatory level of cognitive ability.
Koretz argues that we're teaching too much memorization and not enough "complex application of knowledge" and that "we need to back off the lower level skills to make room for the higher ones".
Intellectual attribution is far from perfect, but as we systematically quantify the nature of the vast Idea Sea in which we swim, we will also create a more effective and equitable market for new innovations.
Last week a pair of Nobel Prize winning scientists conceded that much of their research had been based on an earlier study by a geneticist who now drives a shuttle for $8/hour just to keep food on the table, but of course didn’t go so far as to offer him a share of the $1.5 million prize they’d been awarded. This example clearly brings into focus the limits of our current idea attribution economy, a system that clearly isn’t encouraging a Nobel-caliber scientist to continue innovating for broader social benefit.
But rather than jump on the IP- and patent-bashing bandwagon as many bloggers tend to do, I’d like to explore how our idea attribution system might evolve over the coming decade.
First, let me be clear about my definition of the term “idea”. Ideas can more specifically be broken down into memes – “ideas or behaviors that can pass from one person to another by learning or imitation”, memeplexes – “groups of religious, cultural, political, and idealogical doctrines and systems”, and temes – “information copied by books, phones, computers and the Internet”. These structures co-evolve with humans to ultimately form a massive sea of what we commonly refer to as ideas. Though individuals often combine memes into valuable new memeplexes, no one person can ever truly claim total ownership of a concept that is essentially an outgrowth of the idea sea.