Last month, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) released the results of a new study, ARISE II: Unleashing America’s Research & Innovation Enterprise. The study examined the current state of US research and innovation; looked at the role of its key players: academia, industry, and government; and proposed a set of recommendations to better address the highly complex challenges we face in the 21st century information economy.
ARISE II notes that all major players in the US research and innovation enterprise are struggling to adapt to new economic realities and societal challenges. Given the intense competitive pressures they face, US companies have reduced their investments in fundamental science and technology research. The payoffs from such investments are now significantly shorter, and financial markets have a low tolerance for the expenses and risks associated with long term research. Thus, even more than in the past, many of the fundamental discoveries driving private sector innovations have to come from long term research conducted in universities and supported by government.But, government is facing its own economic constraints. The US has been going through a prolonged economic downturn, with continuing high levels of unemployment, long term debt and rising healthcare costs. Pressures to decrease government spending make it harder to support long term research.
At the same time, society faces a number of formidable challenges, including the search for clean, low cost energy; adequate food and water to satisfy the requirements of a growing, better-off world population; universally available, affordable healthcare and education; and the rapid urbanization of the planet. Science and technology can be a great help in addressing these problems, but they require a high degree of collaboration involving experts from different disciplines.