January 1st, 2015
08:43 PM ET

American innovation is in trouble

By Fareed Zakaria

If you ask people in Silicon Valley what makes it work, they will talk about many things — the ability to fail, the lack of hierarchy, the culture of competition. One thing almost no one mentions is the government. And yet, the Valley’s origins are deeply tied to government support. The reason there were so many engineers in California in the 1950s and 1960s was because large defense companies had attracted them there. Most of the legendary start-ups that fueled the computer revolution — Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel — got off the ground largely because the military, and later NASA, would buy their products until they became cheap and accessible enough for the broader commercial market. GPS, the technology that now powers the information revolution, was developed for the military.

And then there was government funding for research, which is sometimes thought of simply as large grants to universities for basic science but often was far more ingenious. My favorite example comes from Walter Isaacson’s fascinating new book, “The Innovators.” In the 1950s, the U.S. government funded a massive project at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, employing equal numbers of psychologists and engineers who worked together to find ways “that humans could interact more intuitively with computers and information could be presented with a friendlier interface.” Isaacson traces how this project led directly to the user-friendly computer screens of today as well as ARPANET, the precursor of the Internet.

Federal funding for basic research and technology should be utterly uncontroversial. It has been one of the greatest investments in human history. And yet it has fallen to its lowest level as a percentage of GDP in four decades.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: Fareed's Take

soundoff (1,644 Responses)
  1. Philip

    Hey Donna. Adumb is not here copy/pasting words. Perhaps we could discuss your perverted sense of Blasphemy here uninterrupted. And your having no idea what truth is as well.

    January 11, 2015 at 8:28 pm | Reply
    • Philip

      ...or not. Good night.

      January 11, 2015 at 9:24 pm | Reply
      • banasy©

        Hey, Philip.

        I am talking about blasphemy laws, which are defined by the stupid men interpreting their Book, and legislating them.

        There is nothing perverted about my view at all; I have no intention of dying for some stupid interpretation by some power-hungry men wishing to compare dick sizes in a struggle to use their religion for control of a populace that doesn't share their religion or beliefs.

        Do you understand? Finally? The US is not bound by your interpretation of Biblical laws, or it some guy's Islamic laws.

        Got it? Because I am getting mighty tired of having to repeat myself so you can score some point in your mind in some silly game in your mind that only you know the rules to.

        I never gave you my definition of truth. I don't know where that weird tangent came from, but I suspect my definition would not match yours, either.

        Your ideas are not the objective truth because you say so.

        Now, stop it. I doubt we will ever see eye to eye on any given subject; it is increasingly clear to me that you want total capitulation and agreement to anything you utter, and sorry, you just aren't that right or bright for that.

        Are we done?

        January 13, 2015 at 2:49 pm |
  2. Philip

    Good night @ chrissy too.

    January 11, 2015 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  3. Philip

    Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    January 11, 2015 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  4. Philip

    Sheesh. Good night u idiots.

    January 11, 2015 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  5. Muin

    It's not too bad now. Why create a system to give away money to so many middle class families for future reasearch or revolutionary invention? Why not just continue last 30 years system and make few carl icahn, waltons, gates and boy billionaires zuckerberg?

    January 12, 2015 at 2:41 am | Reply
    • Philip

      Because the average American is really stupid. You could give one a million dollars and a year later would be worse-off financially than before. No kidding. That's really how it is.

      January 12, 2015 at 9:04 am | Reply
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    When Steve Jobs the founder and creator of Apple Computers who was an Arab American and had a vision that computers, should not be scary to the average person but a tool to be used in the everyday household from doing our online bills to maintaining our business needs in the everyday markets. Ford and GM which has been the greatest American success story from the days of World War one and two, and when we drive the latest Ford Mustangs or GM Saturn's down the road these are all examples of great American innovation success stories in America. America has been a nation which has encouraged great ideas such as MacDonalds and Dunkin Donuts because America runs on Dunkin Donuts which is very true everyone loves Dunkin Donuts and so do I. The point is that our great society allows small time inventors to create an idea which helps our society, become the international leader when it comes exporting our products overseas which crave American made stuff from our cars to our food which can be seen around the world. As Americans we know that our country is like a business we use the best and brightest talent from across the globe, to produce products the American consumer would want in their homes and also their international markets would be interested exporting American products into their own country's as well. In the famous words of Uncle Charlie Wilson the famous RB singer, I may not have a bank account of seven figures, but I am rich as hell in own way just like our local American inventors who sacrifice their family time to create products that America needs to be successful in the international exporting markets. Without support for more America inventors will we see the decline or American products and see the rise of Asian made products, being exported to America and the rest of the world for years to come.

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  9. don

    I am terribly disappointed in Fareed's show today as he was so one-sided about the Iran deal. I suppose that will get him to another white house dinner. Should have just let Obama say what you said for him. I will quit watching!

    August 16, 2015 at 11:09 am | Reply
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