America’s Innovation Deficit

Judy Estrin – former Cisco CTO – has written a book entitled Closing the Innovation Gap.

She is Featured today in a article at Wired.

America is facing an innovation crisis. To fix it, corporations need to find new ways of funding fundamental research into physics and environmental sciences.

There is no question this is true. If you operate outside the echo chamber of the Bay Area you know this is the case. We have completely abandoned fundamental research in basic science. With China and India churning out advanced degrees in science and engineering at fantastic rates the numbers in the US continue to decline. While we continue to price our children out of higher education while other countries seek to educate their way of third world status.

It is even worse in the corporate world:

“Corporations focused on efficiencies and productivity started to make research more short term and tailored to the company’s needs,” says Estrin in an interview with, “with the result that most research done at corporations now is applied research.”

Neglecting research in basic science also has big repercussions for computing and other applied science areas, because many innovations, such as the transistor, originated in basic research, not applied research.

So new innovation models have to be created to fill the vacuum created by the cutbacks in corporate research spending, says Estrin.

The net effect of this is that the base innovation fired by research is being done outside the US. Most of our large established corporations are openly hostile to innovation (see the behavior of the telecoms where VoIP is concerned). Our patent system has become a significant barrier to research and innovation – not because you might get sued by a patent holding company, but because of the risk injected into the process of innovation.

This is what happens when you are so busy protecting what you have that you fail to recognize what comes next.

Read the article and the book…

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