Here's a transcript of my chat with Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft and polymath inventor, on innovation:
Fareed Zakaria: One of the things you've talked about is when we talk about nuclear power, you keep talking about, well, the Chinese are doing this. The South Koreans are doing this. They're actually doing better than we are in many areas. How worried are you that the United States is no longer going to be the place that invents the future?
Nathan Myhrvold: I'm very worried. You know, current course and speed, we're very good at inventing, but we're also undermining our ability to do that in lots of ways. In the case of nuclear, we decided as a nation to stop building nuclear plants 30 years ago. Pretty hard to have good innovation on new plants if you stop building them.
And what about in other technologies?
The trouble is when you get successful, it's easy to get fat, dumb and happy and lazy about things. And, unfortunately, as a nation, we often tended to do that.
China recently announced that it's going on a big policy push to file more patents and have the strongest patent system and the largest number of patents in the world. While they're getting serious, we tend to fiddle while Rome burns.
Do you worry about funding for basic research and science?
Absolutely. A lot of the prosperity that the United States got in the tech sector was due to fundamental investments that DARPA and other government agencies made through the '60s, '70s and '80s. They're not making the same kinds of investments now.
In part, we say, "Hey, the industry is there; industry will take care of it." But while industry can take care of a class of things, really basic fundamental research still has to come from the government.
You know, one that's striking me historically is the United States became the world's inventor at a stage when we were a developing country. The 19th Century - America was primarily an agricultural nation, starting to move into heavy industry.
But even by 1850, we had invented things like the telegraph and the cotton gin. Thomas Edison came and invented tons of other things. We became the world's inventor and we were the equivalent of Brazil today. And if you think about that, that's a very remarkable transition.
So we've got the spirit. We have the ability to do it. You just got to make sure the government and policies and other things don't get in the way of it. And if we can manage to not get lazy, I think we can play a very important role as the world's inventors for a long time to come.
There's a combination of innovation, change, thoughtfulness and risk taking that's been unique here. It wouldn't be unique forever and we can't be cavalier about that.