For the past six decades, Silicon Valley's innovative and entrepreneurial prowess has helped bolster the nation's economic prosperity and given the United States a technological edge over its global competitors.
But increasingly, think tanks, tech experts and media outlets are reporting that the valley and the country are finally losing their innovative edge. It's essential that the valley take these reports seriously. The threat is real. Ignoring our weaknesses and our competitors' strategic maneuvering is a certain path to failure.
The latest warning comes from the National Science Foundation, an independent government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering. The agency's policy-making board last week issued a 600-page report to Congress, identifying what it described as the nation's clearly shrinking lead in science and technology.
“The global scientific landscape has shifted over the last decade, as Asia now performs more of the world's research and development than the U.S.,” warns Ray Bowen, one of the report's authors and president emeritus of Texas A&M University.
Since 2001, the report says, the United States' share of the world's R&D has decreased from 37 percent to 30 percent. Meanwhile, the share of R&D by Asian countries has increased from 25 percent to 34 percent, with China as the clear growth leader.
China's high-tech manufacturing industry has grown nearly sixfold in the past decade, according to the report, and its investment of $29 billion in the emerging clean energy field is almost double that of the U.S. The United States is also losing its significant lead in the number of workers with science and engineering skills and in the performance of youth at every educational level, from elementary school through college. China has tripled its number of researchers in the past 15 years and has far surpassed the United States in the number of undergraduate university degrees to students, including those studying science and engineering.
A further concern is the availability Americans have to high-speed Internet, in comparison to their global competitors. The United States ranks only 14th in the world, with only 70 percent of its residents having access to high-speed service. That's far behind South Korea, where 94 percent of residents have high-speed Internet that's faster but costs two-thirds less than in the U.S.
The valley needs to push Congress to increase its R&D spending, and California and the nation as a whole have a lot of work to do to improve our education efforts, particularly in math and the sciences. It's also absolutely essential that we expand broadband access more rapidly and put net neutrality regulations in place to open up competition.
Silicon Valley's resources and business culture are the envy of practically every region and nation in the world. But the valley will remain the global innovation capital only if the nation and state maintain their overall competitive advantage in science and technology.