25 September 2003
Advisory Panel Recommends Ongoing U.S. Support for Info Tech
Government-backed research must complement industry
An advisory board of the National Research Council is recommending
ongoing and increased U.S. government support for fundamental research
in information technologies (IT).
The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board says that the
federal government should boost financial support for pure research,
ensuring at the same time that government-backed researchers complement
the work of industry groups.
The board's report, released September 22 and entitled "Innovation
in Information Technology," says "the power of IT as a human enabler
is just beginning to be realized."
The report can be viewed in full at HYPERLINK "http://www.nap.edu/catalog/10795.html"
The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board Web site is
located at HYPERLINK "http://www7.nationalacademies.org/cstb/"
Following is an excerpt of the report:
National Research Council
Innovation in Information Technology
Summary and Recommendations
Progress in information technology (IT) has been remarkable, but
the best truly is yet to come: the power of IT as a human enabler
is just beginning to be realized. Whether the nation builds on
this momentum or plateaus prematurely depends on today's decisions
about fundamental research in computer science (CS) and the related
fields behind IT.
The Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) has often
been asked to examine how innovation occurs in IT, what the most
promising research directions are, and what impacts such innovation
might have on society. Consistent themes emerge from CSTB studies,
notwithstanding changes in information technology itself, in the
IT-producing sector, and in the U.S. university system, a key player
in IT research.
In this synthesis report, based largely on the eight CSTB reports
enumerated below, CSTB highlights these themes and updates some
of the data that support them. Much of the material is drawn from
(1) the 1999 CSTB report Funding a Revolution: Government Support
for Computing Research,1 written by both professional historians
and computer scientists to ensure its objectivity, and (2) Making
IT Better: Expanding Information Technology Research to Meet Society's
Needs,2 the 2000 CSTB report that focuses on long-term goals for
maintaining the vitality of IT research. Many of the themes achieved
prominence in (3) the 1995 CSTB report Evolving the High Performance
Computing and Communications Initiative to Support the Nation's
Information Infrastructure,3 known informally as the Brooks-Sutherland
report. Other reports contributing to this synthesis include (4)
Computing the Future: A Broader Agenda for Computer Science and
Engineering (1992),4 (5) Building a Workforce for the Information
Economy (2001),5 (6) Academic Careers in Experimental Computer
Science and Engineering (1994),6 (7) Embedded, Everywhere: A Research
Agenda for Networked Systems of Embedded Computers (2001),7 and
(8) More Than Screen Deep: Toward Every-Citizen Interfaces to the
Nation's Information Infrastructure (1997).8 In the text that follows,
these reports are cited by number as listed, for easy reference,
in Box 1.
Here are the most important themes from CSTB's studies of innovation
The results of research
-- America's international leadership in IT-leadership that is
vital to the nation-springs from a deep tradition of research (1,3,4).
-- The unanticipated results of research are often as important
as the anticipated results-for example, electronic mail and instant
messaging were by-products of research in the 1960s that was aimed
at making it possible to share expensive computing resources among
multiple simultaneous interactive users (1,3).
-- The interaction of research ideas multiplies their impact-for
example, concurrent research programs targeted at integrated circuit
design, computer graphics, networking, and workstation-based computing
strongly reinforced and amplified one another (1-4).
Research as a partnership
-- The success of the IT research enterprise reflects a complex
partnership among government, industry, and universities (1-8).
-- The federal government has had and will continue to have an
essential role in sponsoring fundamental research in IT-largely
university-based-because it does what industry does not and cannot
do (1-8). Industrial and governmental investments in research reflect
different motivations, resulting in differences in style, focus,
and time horizon (1-3,7,8).
-- Companies have little incentive to invest significantly in
activities whose benefits will spread quickly to their rivals (1,3,7).
Fundamental research often falls into this category. By contrast,
the vast majority of corporate research and development (R&D) addresses
product and process development (1,2,4).
-- Government funding for research has leveraged the effective
decision making of visionary program managers and program office
directors from the research community, empowering them to take
risks in designing programs and selecting grantees (1,3). Government
sponsorship of research especially in universities also helps to
develop the IT talent used by industry, universities, and other
parts of the economy (1-5).
The economic payoff of research
-- Past returns on federal investments in IT research have been
extraordinary for both U.S. society and the U.S. economy (1,3).
The transformative effects of IT grow as innovations build on one
another and as user know-how compounds. Priming that pump for tomorrow
is today's challenge.
-- When companies create products using the ideas and workforce
that result from federally sponsored research, they repay the nation
in jobs, tax revenues, productivity increases, and world leadership
The themes highlighted above underlie two recurring and overarching
recommendations evident in the eight CSTB reports cited:
Recommendation 1: The federal government should continue to boost
funding levels for fundamental information technology research,
commensurate with the growing scope of research challenges (2-4,6-8).
It should ensure that the major funding agencies, especially the
National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects
Agency, have strong and sustained programs for computing and communications
research that are broad in scope and independent of any special
initiatives that might divert resources from broadly based basic
Recommendation 2: The government should continue to maintain the
special qualities of federal IT research support, ensuring that
it complements industrial research and development in emphasis,
duration, and scale (1-4,6).
This report addresses the ways that past successes can guide federal
funding policy to sustain the IT revolution and its contributions
to other fields.