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Innovation Files

Author: Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)

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Explore the intersection of technology, innovation, and public policy with the world’s leading think tank on these issues. Innovation Files serves up expert interviews, fascinating insights, and head-turning commentary on how to accelerate innovation, promote economic growth, and serve the public good. Expect to hear some unconventional wisdom.
50 Episodes
Global supply chains are cracking up. Even before the pandemic, a confluence of economic and geopolitical factors were accelerating the trend—from rising wages in China to nationalist sentiments sweeping the West, to the beginnings of a U.S.-China decoupling. Rob and Jackie sat down with Chris Caine, president of the Center for Global Enterprise, to break down the reasons for the massive disruption, discuss how different industry sectors are making different strategic calculations, and consider what the future might hold. Related:“Global Supply Chains Under Pressure, With Willy Shih,” ITIF Innovation Files podcast, May 2020.Stephen Ezell, “Digital Trade Growth, Rule-Making, and Supply Chain Resiliency: U.S. and Global Perspectives” (ITIF, October 2021).“Biden Officials Discuss White House Supply Chain Report,” ITIF event, June 2021.
The United States is the leader in life sciences innovation, but that has not always been the case. As global competition intensifies, it needs to continue spurring investment in R&D to stay on top. Rob and Jackie sat down with Stephen Ezell, vice president of global innovation policy at ITIF, to discuss the history of U.S. life sciences innovation and break down R&D costs versus the market prices of innovative biopharmaceuticals.MentionedAnusuya Chatterjee and Ross C. DeVol, “Estimating Long-Term Economic Returns of NIH Funding on Output in the Biosciences” (Milken Institute, 2012), 4.RelatedRob Atkinson and Stephen Ezell, “Five Fatal Flaws in Rep. Katie Porter’s Indictment of the U.S. Drug Industry” (ITIF, May 2021).Joe Kennedy, “The Link Between Drug Prices and Research on the Next Generation of Cures” (ITIF, September 2019).Event, “How Intellectual Property Has Played a Pivotal Role in the Global COVID-19 Response,” (ITIF, April 2021).
Silicon Valley obviously has a rich history of technological innovations that have transformed technology and the world as we know it. But with increased competition and stringent policies coming from Washington, its landscape has shifted. Rob and Jackie sat down with Avram Miller, co-founder of Intel Capital and author of The Flight of a Wild Duck to discuss how the decisions made by Intel and other tech giants have impacted Silicon Valley and how policymakers can better support the IT industry. MentionedAvram Miller, The Flight of a Wild Duck, (BOOKBABY, 2021).Andrew S. Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points, (Currency Doubleday, 1996).Mark Zachary Taylor, The Politics of Innovation: Why Some Countries Are Better Than Others at Science and Technology, (Oxford University Press, 2016).RelatedRob Atkinson and Jackie Whisman, “The Real History of Silicon Valley and the Lessons It Holds for Innovation Policy Today, With Margaret O’Mara” (ITIF, 2020).Rob Atkinson and Jackie Whisman, “The Rise, Fall, and Reinvention of IBM, With Jim Cortada” (ITIF, 2021).Rob Atkinson, “Be Grateful for ‘Big Tech’,” RealClearPolicy, June 6, 2018.
The first industrial robots appeared in the early 1960s and were initially optimized for production lines. These days, innovation in robotics is progressing rapidly as sophisticated localization and mapping enables improved robotic mobility, and as new levels of flexible manipulation allow robots to perform more specialized tasks. Rob and Jackie sat down recently with Rian Whitton, a strategic technologies analyst at ABI Research, to discuss the evolution of robotics and the prospects for accelerating productivity gains. Related:Robert D. Atkinson, “In Defense of Robots,” National Review, April 2017.Robert D. Atkinson, “Robotics and the Future of Production and Work” (ITIF, October 2019).Robert D. Atkinson, “The Case Against Taxing Robots” (ITIF, April 2019).
Antitrust policy should favor dynamic, innovation-driven competition, yet antitrust regulators generally don’t see it that way. Why is that? Rob and Jackie sat down recently with David Teece, the Thomas W. Tusher Professor in Global Business at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, to discuss the intersection of innovation and economics in antitrust policy.  MentionedDavid J. Teece, Dynamic Capabilities and Strategic Management: Organizing for Innovation and Growth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009).Rob D. Atkinson, Michael Lind, Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business, (MA: MIT Press, 2018). RelatedEvent, “Schumpeter v. Brandeis v. Chicago: The Antitrust Debate of Our Times” (ITIF, 2021).Rob Atkinson, “The Emergence of Anticorporate Progressivism” (American Compass, 2021).Rob Atkinson, “Antitrust Can Hurt U.S. Competitiveness” (The Wall Street Journal, 2021).
For the military, capabilities in the field matter most, not R&D. So, when it comes to artificial intelligence, the Defense Department has been moving quickly by standing up a special team, like a startup enterprise. Its first pilot project, “Project Maven,” began as an intelligence application. Now the push is on to apply it in other areas. Rob and Jackie sat down with retired Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, the first director of the Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), to discuss how AI is being used in the defense world and the implications for the broader AI ecosystem. MentionedDaniel Castro, Michael McLaughlin, “Who Is Winning the AI Race: China, the EU, or the United States? — 2021 Update” (Center for Data Innovation, 2021).Rob Atkinson, Jackie Whisman, “Podcast: Innovating in the Defense Sector to Remain Competitive With China, Featuring Michael Brown” (ITIF, 2021).RelatedEvent, “How to Deepen Transatlantic Cooperation in AI for Defense” (CDI, 2021).Rob Atkinson, “Emerging Defense Technologies Need Funding to Cross ‘The Valley of Death’” (RealClear Defense, 2020).ITIF, “ITIF Technology Explainer: What Is Artificial Intelligence?” (ITIF, 2018).
Industrial policy can produce great technological innovations to address major challenges for society. A perfect example is Operation Warp Speed, which has saved millions of lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rob and Jackie sat down with David Adler, an adviser on industrial strategy at the Common Good Foundation in the United Kingdom and author of “Inside Operation Warp Speed: A New Model for Industrial Policy,” published in the summer issue of the American Affairs Journal, to discuss lessons we can draw from the success of Operation Warp Speed to strengthen U.S. industrial policy in the future. MentionedDavid Adler, “Inside Operation Warp Speed: A New Model for Industrial Policy,” American Affairs Journal 5, no. 2 (2021).Richard Lipsey, Kenneth I. Carlaw, Clifford T. Bekar, Economic Transformations: General Purpose Technologies and Long-Term Economic Growth (Oxford University Press, 2005).Erica Fuchs, “Cloning DARPA Successfully,” Issues in Science and Technology 26, no. 1 (2009).William B. Bonvillian, The DARPA Model for Transformative Technologies - Perspectives on the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2020).RelatedStephen Ezell, “Moore’s Law Under Attack: The Impact of China’s Policies on Global Semiconductor Innovation“ (ITIF, 2021).Robert D. Atkinson, “No Adopting an Industrial Policy Doesn’t Mean We’re Emulating China“ American Compass, 2021.Stephen Ezell, “TRIPS Waiver on COVID-19 IP Rights Wouldn’t Help Vaccine Access; It Would Just Harm Innovation“ (ITIF, 2021).
Addressing climate change requires accelerating clean energy innovation across the full range of economic sectors—from transportation to electricity, manufacturing, and agriculture. Rob and Jackie sat down with David Hart, a professor of public policy at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government and director of ITIF’s Center for Clean Energy Innovation, to discuss the scope of the challenge and the best paths forward for policymakers. Mentioned:United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “Paris Agreement” (UNFCCC, November 2016).Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis” (IPCC, August 2021).Related:Peter Fox-Penner, et al., “Clean and Competitive: Opportunities for U.S. Manufacturing Leadership in the Global-Low Carbon Economy” (ITIF, June 2021).Robert D. Atkinson, “Growth Through Innovation Will Help Fight Climate Change” (ITIF, August 2021).Linh Nguyen, “Refreshing the Global Agenda for Climate Innovation” (ITIF, 2021).
From bottle manufacturing to machine repair, automation has made just about every industry more efficient and adaptive to consumer demands. But despite its omnipresence, policymakers have failed to fully understand what drives industrial automation and why it matters for the economy. Rob sat down with Dave Vasko, director of advanced technology at Rockwell Automation, to discuss the latest trends in industrial automation—including innovations powered by artificial intelligence and virtual reality—and to consider how policymakers can spur manufacturing productivity and ensure the United States is globally competitive.Mentioned:Robert D. Atkinson and Daron Acemoglu debate: “Is the United States Tax System Favoring Excessive Automation?” (ITIF event, November 2020).Robert D. Atkinson, “Federal Statistical Needs for a National Advanced Industry and Technology Strategy” (ITIF, July 2021).Stephen J. Ezell, “Why Manufacturing Digitalization Matters and How Countries Are Supporting It” (ITIF, April 2018). Lawrence Summers and Alan Auerbach, “The Investment Tax Credit: An Evaluation” (National Bureau of Economic Research, November 1979). Related:Robert D. Atkinson, “10 Types of Work to Automate or Move Online for a COVID-19 World” (ITIF, July 2020).Robert D. Atkinson, “The Enterprise Automation Imperative—Why Modern Societies Will Need All the Productivity They Can Get” (ITIF, November 2019).Robert D. Atkinson, “How MIT’s ‘Work of the Future’ Project Gets It Wrong: Raising Taxes on Machinery and Software Would Kill Jobs and Hamper Wage Growth” (ITIF, 2020).
Antitrust policy provides a perfect lens to see the systematic differences between China and Western liberal democracies, according to Dr. Angela Zhang, director of the Center for Chinese Law at the University of Hong Kong. In her book Chinese Antitrust Exceptionalism: How the Rise of China Challenges Global Regulation, Zhang argues China leverages antitrust law to achieve industrial policy objectives—including in the tech sectors that are crucial to its rivalry with the United States—but it does so through an insular bureaucracy that is surprisingly fragmented and therefore difficult for outsiders to understand. Rob and Jackie sat down with Dr. Zhang to discuss the internal power dynamics that shape China’s regulatory environment and how it affects the competitive balance of power in the global economy.Mentioned:Angela Huyue Zhang, Chinese Antitrust Exceptionalism: How the Rise of China Challenges Global Regulation(Oxford University Press, 2021).Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind, Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business (The MIT Press, 2018).Related:Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind, Who Wins After U.S. Antitrust Regulators Attack? China. (ITIF, 2018).Robert D. Atkinson and David Moschella, Competing With China: A Strategic Framework (ITIF, 2020).
Facial recognition technology has faced widespread allegations of discrimination in recent years, leading some cities to restrict its use—but exactly how valid are these claims? Rob and Jackie sit down with ITIF’s vice president and director of the Center for Data Innovation, Daniel Castro, to discuss why many of the claims are misleading, and how facial recognition can make public and private services more accessible, efficient, and useful.Mentioned:Joy Buolamwini and Timnit Gebru, Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification  (FAT, 2018).Jacob Snow, Amazon’s Face Recognition Falsely Matched 28 Members of Congress With Mugshots  (ACLU, 2018).NIST, NIST Study Evaluates Effects of Race, Age, Sex on Face Recognition Software (NIST, 2019).Related:Daniel Castro, Note to Press: Facial Analysis Is Not Facial Recognition (ITIF, 2019).Daniel Castro and Michael McLaughlin, Banning Police Use of Facial Recognition Would Undercut Public Safety (ITIF, 2019).Daniel Castro and Michael McLaughlin, The Critics Were Wrong: NIST Data Shows the Best Facial Recognition Algorithms Are Neither Racist Nor Sexist (ITIF, 2020).Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, ITIF Technology Explainer: What Is Facial Recognition? (ITIF, 2020).
Long before Walmart and Amazon, there was A&P—The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company—which started as a mail-order tea business in the Civil War era before displacing Sears, Roebuck & Co. in the 1920s to become the world’s largest retailer. Its pioneering innovations made the mom-and-pop grocery business more efficient and less expensive, and in so doing it pitted consumer and civil rights advocates against small-business groups. Rob and Jackie sat down with historian and economist Marc Levinson, author of The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, to discuss the life and times of the company and how the debates around its growth resemble the antitrust debates we are having again today.Mentioned:Marc Levinson, The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger (Princeton University Press, 2008).Marc Levinson, Outside the Box: How Globalization Changed from Moving Stuff to Spreading Ideas (Princeton University Press, 2020).Marc Levinson, The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America (Marc Levinson, 2019).Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind, Big Is Beautiful: Debunking the Myth of Small Business (The MIT Press, 2018).
IBM shaped the way the world did business for decades, driving the government’s technological innovation, competing to build the first PCs, and adapting to service economy. Few people know IBM’s fascinating history as well as Jim Cortada, a senior research fellow at the University of Minnesota and the author of IBM: The Rise and Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon. He spent 38 years at IBM in sales, consulting, managerial, and research roles. Rob and Jackie sit down with Jim to discuss how IBM’s strategies led to its biggest successes and failures, and how these decisions shed light on global history.Mentioned:James W. Cortada, IBM: The Rise and Fall and Reinvention of a Global Icon(The MIT Press, 2019).James W. Cortada, The Digital Hand: How Computers Changed the Work of American Manufacturing, Transportation, and Retail Industries (Oxford University Press, 2003).Alfred D. Chandler Jr., The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business (Belknap Press, 1993).Robert D. Atkinson, “Who Lost Lucent?: The Decline of America’s Telecom Equipment Industry,” American Affairs Journal, 2020.Aurelien Portuese, “The Digital Markets Act: European Precautionary Antitrust“ (ITIF, 2021). 
When it comes to the innovation economy, there is no hotter issue these days than antitrust. Technology companies, in particular, are on the firing line as an increasingly vocal populist movement seeks to refashion late 19th century antitrust laws to guard against monopoly power and slow down disruptive innovation in the digital era. In these conditions, there is a risk that the so-called “precautionary principle” will take hold at the expense of economic dynamism. Rob and Jackie parse the debate and weigh the best options for policymakers with Aurelien Portuese, ITIF’s director of antitrust and innovation policy.Mentioned:Aurelien Portuese, Antitrust Populism: Competition Policy in the Digital Era (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).Robert D. Atkinson, “Freedom, Fairness or Flourishing: America’s Fundamental Economic Policy Choice,” American Compass, April 1, 2021.Related:“Dynamic Antitrust With Aurelien Portuese: Discussions on the Future of Competition and Innovation,” ITIF webinar series, March 12, 2021.Aurelien Portuese, “Precautionary Antitrust: A Precautionary Tale in European Competition Policy,” in Law and Economics of Regulation, edited by Mathis, et al. (Springer International Publishing, 2021), DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-70530-5.“Schumpeter v. Brandeis v. Chicago: The Antitrust Debate of Our Times,” ITIF webinar, June 15, 2021.About ITIF’s Schumpeter Project: Competition Policy for the Innovation Economy 
Throughout modern history, public financing has made possible some of the most important and impactful innovations society has enjoyed—from refrigeration to the Internet—and the spillover benefits have been incalculable. But what are the optimal ways for the public sector to intervene in the innovation process to maximize those benefits and solve big problems? Rob and Jackie explore these questions and the implications for science and industrial policy with Dr. Richard Lipsey, emeritus professor of economics at Simon Fraser University.Mentioned:Richard G. Lipsey and Kenneth I. Carlaw, “Industrial Policies: Common Not Rare,” Discussion Papers dp20-11, 2020, Department of Economics, Simon Fraser University.
When it comes to national innovation ecosystems, Norway has been a standout performer. After discovering oil, it vaulted from being one of Europe’s poorest countries in the 1950s to become a high-wage, high-cost nation with strengths in B2B products, heavy industry, shipping, and shipbuilding. Now it is pivoting toward renewable energy—including offshore wind and electric vehicle technologies—while broadening and deepening its national innovation ecosystem to encourage new firms in a range of industries to scale up and compete globally. Rob and Jackie discuss the secrets of Norway’s success with Hege Barnes, regional director for the Americas at Innovation Norway.Mentioned:World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), also known as the Brundtland Report.Colin Cunliff, “Omission Innovation: The Missing Element in Most Countries’ Response to Climate Change” (ITIF, December 2018).Stephen Ezell, Frank Spring, and Katarzyna Bitka, “The Global Flourishing of National Innovation Foundations” (ITIF, April 2015).
There is a deep disconnect between the U.S. education system and the workplace. How can policymakers bridge the gap and create clear pathways to good jobs? How do technical schools, community colleges, employers, governments, and universities fit together as pieces of the workforce education puzzle—and how can new education technologies help deliver the training workers need? Rob and Jackie discuss the challenges, opportunities, and policy solutions with Professor Sanjay Sarma and Bill Bonvillian of MIT, authors of the new book Workforce Education: A New Roadmap.Mentioned:William B. Bonvillian and Sanjay E. Sarma, Workforce Education: A New Roadmap (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, February 2021).Joe Kennedy, Daniel Castro, Robert D. Atkinson, “Why It’s Time to Disrupt Higher Education by Separating Learning From Credentialing” (ITIF, August 2016).Related:Robert D. Atkinson, “How to Reform Worker-Training and Adjustment Policies for an Era of Technological Change” (ITIF, February 2018).
The “techlash” is a story of extreme pendulum swings—from an era in which splashy product launches earned gushing media reviews to a relentless crisis narrative in which the tech industry is viewed with harsh suspicion. How has this happened? Is it a case of pack journalism run amok, or have tech companies contributed to the narrative with predictable formulas for handling a PR crisis? Rob and Jackie discuss all this with Nirit Weiss-Blatt, a former research fellow at the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and author of the new book The Techlash and Tech Crisis Communications.Mentioned:Nirit Weiss-Blatt, The Techlash and Tech Crisis Communications (UK: Emerald Publishing Limited, 2021). Patrick Grother, Mei Ngan, and Kayee Hanaoka, Face Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT) Part 3: Demographic Effects, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Interagency Report 8280, December 2019. Related:Robert D. Atkinson, et al., “A Policymaker’s Guide to the ‘Techlash’—What It Is and Why It’s a Threat to Growth and Progress” (ITIF, October 2019).Doug Allen and Daniel Castro, “Why So Sad? A Look at the Change in Tone of Technology Reporting From 1986 to 2013” (ITIF, February 2017).Michael McLaughlin and Daniel Castro, “The Critics Were Wrong: Data Shows the Best Facial Recognition Algorithms Are Neither Racist Nor Sexist” (ITIF, January 2020). 
There is an inordinate amount of hype and fear around artificial intelligence these days, as a chorus of scholars, luminaries, media, and politicians nervously project that it could soon take our jobs and subjugate or even kills us off. Others are just as fanciful in hoping it is on the verge of solving all our problems. But the truth is AI isn’t nearly as advanced as most people imagine. What is the practical reality of AI today, and how should government approach AI policy to maximize its potential? To parse the hype, the hope, and the path forward for AI, Rob and Jackie sat down recently with Pedro Domingos, emeritus professor of computer science at the University of Washington and author of The Master Algorithm.Mentioned:Pedro Domingos, The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World (Basic Books, 2015).Robert D. Atkinson, “The 2015 ITIF Luddite Award Nominees: The Worst of the Year’s Worst Innovation Killers” (ITIF, December 2015).Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (Oxford University Press, 1990).Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osbourne, “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?” (University of Oxford, September 17, 2013).Michael McLaughlin and Daniel Castro, “The Critics Were Wrong: NIST Data Shows the Best Facial Recognition Algorithms Are Neither Racist Nor Sexist” (ITIF, January 2020).“The Case for Killer Robots,” ITIF Innovation Files podcast with Robert Marks, August 10, 2020.
In the final weeks of the Trump administration, Rob and Jackie sat down with Dan Wang, a technology analyst and China expert at Gavekal Dragonomics Research, to discuss the successes and failures of Chinese industrial policy and to evaluate the impact of U.S. export restrictions. In the previous four years, there weren’t many Chinese tech companies that the Trump administration didn’t sanction or at least threaten. What did that achieve in the technological race with China? What was the impact on the American brand writ large? And what should the Biden administration do next?Mentioned:Dan Wang, “New U.S. Restrictions Will Help Make China Great Again” (Bloomberg Opinion, December 18, 2020).Dan Wang’s website, Related:Stephen Ezell and Caleb Foote, “How Stringent Export Controls on Emerging Technologies Would Harm the U.S. Economy” (ITIF, May 2019). 
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