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 (1,704 Responses)
  1. Philip

    Lol. Poor BS. He thinks that the only suffering in the world is in Kashmir. Africa has more starving people than India and Pakistan combined. Violence? Just look at urban America . Gangs, drugs, corruption. On and on.
    We 're supposed to care about a plebiscite?
    Big deal. Who cares?

    January 3, 2015 at 9:13 am |
  2. Philip

    BS, keep taking to America about your plebiscite and India bashing. Get America fired up. If you're lucky, you should have two roaches, three mice, and one mule listening to you.

    January 3, 2015 at 9:24 am |
    • Cantor

      Which one of the three are you? None? You are a c unt.

      January 3, 2015 at 10:31 am |
  3. Philip

    Look here..Look there..where's BS? He's at the stable cleaning out the horse manure.

    January 3, 2015 at 9:32 am |
  4. Blue Saffroń

    What would life be without humor? Dull. Humor is an anthropological innovation.

    Let us revisit some cultural innovations.

    Americans use stuffing in Turkeys during Thanksgiving. In India candles are stuffed in va-gina of girls during raiping. The hinfus call it metal rodding. Two rituals two cultures two celebrations.

    January 3, 2015 at 10:10 am |
  5. Blue Saffroń

    Fareed, I reject your notion that innovation is an American thingie. I will debate this issue with you.

    Let me begin with posing a question at you.
    Who do you suppose invented "Sati" a marvel of innovation?

    I will return to check your answer and take the discussion to the next level. There is a point to be made.

    January 3, 2015 at 10:20 am |
    • Fareed From India

      I opine about innovation in a narrow tech band of american ingenuity knowing well my fellow hindu countrymen invented sati in India.

      Sati essentially entailed throwing a widow into a burning pile of wood of her pyring husband. Talk about equality of women. Truly a genius of an innovation by hindus in India and abroad. Eh, Blue Saffron?

      January 3, 2015 at 10:41 am |
      • Blue Saffroń

        Bingo! That is my point. Innovation is not the exclusive domain of Americans. And that federal funding may not be the only answer to innovation.

        January 3, 2015 at 11:01 am |
  6. Philip

    Fareed doesn't debate silly issues nor silly old men.

    January 3, 2015 at 10:24 am |
    • Cantor

      You like to be b utte f ukked by young men? Like Jerry Sandusky? LMFAO

      January 3, 2015 at 10:32 am |
    • Fareed From India

      @Philip please don't speak on my behalf. Go do what you hindus do best in India. RAIPE!

      January 3, 2015 at 10:44 am |
  7. Philip

    Changing your screen name again BS just to post more BS.?Great going. You can change your name. You can change your I-Con. But manure is still manure. That's your trade mark.

    January 3, 2015 at 10:51 am |
    • Blue Saffroń

      Are you speaking to yourself? People are debating there. Take part. Are you not educated enuf to partake and express yourself, boy?

      January 3, 2015 at 11:08 am |
  8. Blue Saffroń

    Folks, tell me who invented Devadasi? Sorta earliest form of bondage, slavery, women abuse, religious enslavement of seyxual connotation.

    January 3, 2015 at 11:05 am |
  9. Philip

    I hear the wind blowing by my window. Not to worry. It will go away. Eventually.

    January 3, 2015 at 11:20 am |
    • Chappel H

      Wind blowing in India must be disastrous. S hit smell all around. Yeah?

      January 3, 2015 at 11:25 am |
  10. Philip

    Blowing. Blowing. Blowing. My goodness, when will this nasty wind STFU?

    January 3, 2015 at 11:21 am |
  11. Blew Saffbut

    I am a shameful Pakistani. I've always posted trash on these blogs. That's my trademark.

    January 3, 2015 at 11:41 am |
  12. Blue Saffroń

    Continuing with our thesis, folks guess who invented the Kerosene Shower💀? An innovation of supreme intellect.

    January 3, 2015 at 11:56 am |
    • Gustav

      Please don't insult our intellect, Sir. Who else but our bros from India. Brides who don't bring adequate dowries are sprinkled with kerosene and lit up like July 4 fireworks.

      January 3, 2015 at 12:03 pm |
    • Hannah

      Pakistanis I know are very educated, sophisticated and polished people who are very family oriented.

      January 3, 2015 at 6:41 pm |
    • Blue Saffron'

      I eat kitty poop.

      January 3, 2015 at 9:09 pm |
  13. Blue Saffroń

    You nailed it @Gustav ! Well done! Gies to show innovativeness is neither dependent on federal funding (India has none – broke as a door knob) nor has cultural barriers ( hinduism at work in India killing maiming raiping). I rest my case.

    January 3, 2015 at 12:25 pm |
  14. Blue Saffroń

    A Case Study

    Yes, speed is of the utmost importance when it helps humanity achieve its goals. The implications of techological advancements is critical as regards its application to advance democratic principles.

    Just like US is letting the Puerto Ricans decide their fate, a plebiscite needs to be held in Kashmir under UN supervision to allow these people to decide their future. That is what democracy is all about.

    Therefore, the only Technology Transfer that India needs is how to hold plebiscite in Indian Occupied Kashmir. It took Putin of Russia a week to hold plebiscite in Crimea. India has not been able to accomplish this in 70 years. YES, 70 YEARS !! RUB YOUR EYES !!!

    So India should import this technology from Russia pronto.

    January 3, 2015 at 1:07 pm |
  15. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

    Innovators in the USA may have become less enthusiastic because they realized the folly of allowing a profit motive to contaminate their desire for excellent creativity.
    Thank God for Marx!
    What we need is a government bureau to build laboratories and workshops for young scientists' dream time and work periods. The workers will receive an enhanced minimum wage, while residing in Kibbutz-like spaces supplied with green energy and whole foods.
    Money is the root of all evil, Doesn't it say exactly that, @ Philip?
    As soon as young persons become more idealistic and disdainful of worldly things, there will be more innovation from The People.

    January 3, 2015 at 1:51 pm |
  16. chri§§y

    I have posted on this thread exactly 3 times only. The first post, then a post to Blue Saffron yesterday @ 8:05 and another yesterday am @ 11:06! And my phone is older than most of the mentality posting on here now so my name is NEVER in blue! Plus you cant even spell it correctly! And the s m u t many of you post is getting quite disgusting! Particularly Philip! You really need to give your obsession with all things banasy and i a rest! You do NOT know us NOR WILL YOU EVER!

    January 3, 2015 at 2:01 pm |
  17. chri§§y

    And good afternoon @ Joey...hope your holidays were great!

    January 3, 2015 at 2:04 pm |
  18. Joey Isotta-Fraschini ©

    About innovation...
    Werner Heisenberg, really wanting to tie the Third Reich an atomic bomb.
    How different might things be now?

    January 3, 2015 at 2:22 pm |
  19. krm10070

    Silicon Valley, government funding as triggers and drivers of innovation are cold war hippy era concepts. To measure the expenditures relative to GDP is a misnomer as well. All we have gotten are weapons of mass destruction.

    I tend to agree with Blue Saffron's thesis. I am also a proponent of private sector financial leadership in innovation.

    January 3, 2015 at 2:34 pm |
  20. krm10070

    One cannot talk about human history and american innovation in the same breath. The former thousands of years old the latter a few hundred. Both based on the platform of slavery and human agony for capital formation, however. That dictates interjecting other cultures into this paradigm. This blog fails to recognize the nuances of such an approach and thus loses its logical stance.

    January 3, 2015 at 2:44 pm |
    • Hannah

      So true. Enjoyed your perspective.

      January 3, 2015 at 6:38 pm |
    • Hannah

      I also enjoy a pile of warm steaming cow poop. It smells like Blue Saffron's breath.

      January 4, 2015 at 6:11 am |
  21. chri§§y

    @ Joey THIS IS HOW I POST MY NAME chri§§y! Not chrussty not chri$$y and NOT chrissy! And it is ALWAYS in black not BLUE! I dont really care if you or anyone else dislikes how i post it but i do care when someone b@st@rdises it to post filth!

    January 3, 2015 at 2:55 pm |
  22. Blue Saffroń

    Well articulated @krm10070. Let us take the example of Chinese model of primary R&D. There is not much. It is all secondary. They feed off western concepts and adapt them to their situation ::: putting it nicely. But it works for them. Investment is minimal.

    Then again the Americans did the same using German innovation to trigger their growth and still do using foreign brainpower from the developing world.

    January 3, 2015 at 3:01 pm |
    • Hannah

      They saved 20 years of research when Chinese got their hands on the stealth chopper the Americans used to pluck Bin Laden.

      January 3, 2015 at 6:44 pm |
  23. chri§§y

    Agree @ Hannah...and look how much research theyve saved by having American Corporations handing over all technology needed to manufacture most everything purchased in the US.

    January 3, 2015 at 7:05 pm |
  24. chri§§y

    I eat froggy poop.

    January 3, 2015 at 10:22 pm |
  25. chri§§y

    Of course its not me nor Blue Saffron! Its also pretty childish! Generally only babies in diapers are THIS infatuated with "poop"! In other words...GROW UP!

    January 3, 2015 at 10:26 pm |
  26. Blue Saffron

    I enjoy eating doggie poopie.

    January 3, 2015 at 11:35 pm |
  27. krm10070

    It is utter reality that basic research has failed to improve humanity. Cure for cancer is still elusive, as just one example. There are plenty more.

    January 4, 2015 at 6:02 am |
  28. Blue Saffron'

    Hannah eats horsey poop.

    January 4, 2015 at 6:07 am |
  29. rupert

    Rupert and banasy were here

    January 4, 2015 at 6:17 am |
  30. rupert

    Ok. So what happened to my ice cream post?
    Since when ice cream a bad word?

    January 4, 2015 at 6:19 am |
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