Thursday, January 5, 2012

Expect the Unexpected in 2012!

By Keith McDowell

Tired of watching football bowl games? How about all those missed field goals? And for sure, we all wait with unchallenged anticipation for the replay of Alabama versus LSU for the BCS National Championship. Hey, I once worked for Alabama. Roll Tide!

And if watching bowl games is not enough to sate your desire to perform absolutely nothing of value during the holidays, there is always the annual pastime of making resolutions for the new year while prognosticating on how great the year will be … or not. Of course, for those with an addiction to politics as a contact sport, this year will provide the best fix of all. We get to watch an extended replay of the game between the Grand Old Party versus the Democrats … or is it Obama versus Congress?

Certainly Obama scored the first touchdown of the year by a recess appointment of Richard Cordray as Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency with Congress supposedly in recess, but actually not. Hmm, is it possible the game clock hit 00.00 too soon? I can hardly wait to hear the verdict from the replay booth after the Republicans challenge the call on the field. Analysts in the MSNBC and Fox News booths are already busy showing the scoring play from every angle.

What about the most important game of all? For those not paying attention to world events, that would be the game of global competition and the American strategy of out-innovating. Is the strategy working? Or are we watching the game clock and warming up our field goal kicker? And, of course, with nothing better to do as we endure the halftime and wait for the second half to begin, it’s important that we perform the necessary and obligatory act of announcing a list of desirable American innovation resolutions for the new year and of making our predictions as to what one might expect for the year.

Recognizing that the innovation ecosystem is coupled to other systems such as the economy, government, and the policies and law of the land, here is my list of American innovation resolutions for 2012. America should resolve to:

  • Implement fully the Obama Innovation Plan.
  • Identify grand challenges of high priority and fund networked and distributed innovation hubs or “lablets” ala the U.S. Department of Energy model to attack the challenges and build communities of innovation around them. Building an entrepreneurial culture including students as part of these communities is absolutely essential. Consideration should also be given to including various forms of funding for “proof of concept” research.
  • Expand and enhance alternative energy incentives – particularly for solar and wind energy – to build momentum for innovation in energy and to eventually achieve the goal of energy independence.
  • Increase the Federal R&D budget to 3% of GDP.
  • Expand and simplify a permanent R&D tax credit for industry.
  • End foolish restrictions, unnecessary bureaucracy, and silly quotas on green cards and permanent residency for the best and brightest from the international talent pool.
  • Create a coherent national manufacturing policy and program founded on the best aspects of NACFAM’s “Top 3” Manufacturing Policy Priorities, ITIF’s Charter for Revitalizing American Manufacturing, and similar such plans. Our problem is not a lack of quality ideas for manufacturing, but a failure to implement and take action. As others have emphasized, it’s all about the four T’s: Technology, Trade, Tax, and Talent!
  • Bring export control rules and regulations into the 21st-century.

And not to be outdone by others and to complete the obligatory resolution-prediction exercise before the next kickoff, here are my predictions for 2012:

  • Congressional dysfunction continues unabated and even intensified until at least the presidential election, unnecessarily slowing the economy and impairing innovation.
  • The focus on the deficit and excessive budget cutting to the point of starvation, both literally and figuratively, as opposed to an investment or “customer” focus that includes the growth of jobs, an end to most home foreclosures, a tax payroll cut extension for the full year, and other such devices to keep a thriving middle class of business customers continues despite rhetoric to the contrary.
  • The end of stimulus (ARRA) R&D funding produces a strong negative effect on the university research community.
  • Freedom of Information requests and other such “transparency requirements” on research notes, or data, or information negatively impacts commercialization of university research and potentially opens the gates for “research trolls” – those who would gather, package, and sell such information on the international market. [Note: I’ll have more to say on this topic in a subsequent article.]
  • The unintended consequences of the American Invents Act – the new “patent law” – begin to emerge, especially at universities. It will be interesting to see how smart people “game” the law since they most certainly will.
  • The middle-class (99%) will revolt against Congress in the voting booth.
  • The cybersecurity threat and “hacking” of all varieties including state-sponsored hacking will explode into an international crisis with potentially dire effects on the world economy.
  • The struggle to achieve accountability through innovation metrics will continue and accelerate but it won’t matter materially since researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs will ignore and blow past such distractions as they always do.
  • The “God particle” (alias Higgs Boson) will be discovered to the chagrin of the religious community who believe in revealed truth.
  • President Obama will be elected by a landslide.

Yikes! And all I wanted for Christmas was a touchscreen, voice-activated, iPadish-style laptop including keyboard with free wireless and superspeed connectivity to the Internet. Some of us still use computers for something other than a source for content! So Apple, when do I get my wish?

Mayan predictions aside and Nostradamus notwithstanding, the year 2012 should be a most interesting year with many countervailing forces coming into alignment. I’m certain of one thing. Expect the unexpected!

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