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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.
24 Episodes
It has become abundantly clear that the United States faces a robust economic and military competitor in China. In at least one respect, this is a more daunting challenge than America faced in the Cold War, because while the former Soviet Union had a strong military, it struggled with a weak economy. In those days, the United States also could rely on specialized defense contractors to provide most of the technologies that the Defense Department needed to maintain military superiority, but that’s no longer true. Now, many of the capabilities the country needs for its defense reside in the private sector. It is, therefore, critical to establish better links between the commercial sector and the military.Enter the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), a Defense Department entity that was launched in 2015 to work more closely with the private sector. Rob and Jackie talk to Michael Brown, DIU’s director and a former CEO of Symantec, about remaining competitive by innovating in the defense sector. Mentioned: Stephen Ezell and Caleb Foote, “How Stringent Export Controls on Emerging Technologies Would Harm the U.S. Economy” (ITIF, May 2019). Nigel Cory and Robert D. Atkinson, “Why and How to Mount a Strong, Trilateral Response to China’s Innovation Mercantilism” (ITIF, January 2020). Robert D. Atkinson, “Emerging Defense Technologies Need Funding to Cross ‘The Valley of Death’,” RealClearDefense, February 15, 2020. 
There was a time, a decade or so ago, when many people thought it would be a long while before telecommunications networks could handle the migration from cable TV to over-the-top video streaming. Clearly a lot of Americans still do both, but it is striking how easy it has become to stream HD content on multiple screens at home at once. Rob talks about what happens behind the scenes to make this possible with Robert Rockell, vice president of network infrastructure at Comcast. Mentioned:Doug Brake, “Lessons From the Pandemic: Broadband Policy After COVID-19” (ITIF, July 2020). 
America leads in biopharmaceutical innovation and drug development, in large part due to effective life-science policies, including significant federal investment in basic research, robust intellectual property protections, effective technology transfer policies, investment incentives, and, importantly, drug pricing policies that enable companies to invest in high-risk drug development. Rob and Jackie talk about conducive environments for biopharmaceutical startups—and what the federal government can do to maintain U.S. competitiveness—with Josh Bilenker, CEO of Loxo Oncology at Lilly. Mentioned:Robert D. Atkinson, “Why Life-Sciences Innovation Is Politically “Purple”—and How Partisans Get It Wrong” (ITIF, February 2016). Stephen Ezell, “Ensuring U.S. Biopharmaceutical Competitiveness” (ITIF, July 2020). Related:Stephen Ezell, et al., “The Critical Role of Biopharmaceutical Startups in Driving Life Sciences Innovation,” ITIF webinar, July 16, 2020. Joe Kennedy, “The Link Between Drug Prices and Research on the Next Generation of Cures” (ITIF, September 2019). 
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the digital divide affecting millions of American families, especially those in low-income households. One of the most pernicious challenges is the divide between those with reliable access to computers and high-speed Internet in their homes and those without. Rob and Jackie discuss how local governments are on the front lines of addressing this challenge—and what the federal government can do to support healthy and inclusive digital ecosystems nationwide—with Joshua Edmonds, Director of Digital Inclusion for the City of Detroit, Michigan.MentionedRocket Mortgage, “Detroit’s Vision To Be Fully Connected: Here’s How The City Is Bridging Its Digital Divide,” Forbes advertorial, August 12, 2020. Connect 313, City of Detroit Digital Inclusion Program. RelatedRobert D. Atkinson, et al., “Digital Policy for Physical Distancing: 28 Stimulus Proposals That Will Pay Long-Term Dividends” (ITIF, April 2020). Robert D. Atkinson, Mark Muro, and Jacob Whiton, “The Case for Growth Centers: How to Spread Tech Innovation Across America” (ITIF, December 2019).
If Netflix’s “The Social Dilemma” is to be believed, social media giants are surely responsible for the breakdown of our mental health, politics, and the economy. Generations of fear mongers have found reasons to believe new technologies—from books and bicycles to video games and email—are to blame for society’s ills. Rob and Jackie take a deep breath and discuss these predictable cycles of technology panic with Dr. Amy Orben, an expert in the history of technology panics at Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge.Mentioned:Amy Orben, “The Sisyphean Cycle of Technology Panics,” Perspectives on Psychological Science, June 30, 2020.Amy Orben, “The Sisyphean Cycle of Technology Panics,” video lecture, July 1, 2020. 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).Daniel Castro and Alan McQuinn, “The Privacy Panic Cycle: A Guide to Public Fears About New Technologies” (ITIF, September 2015).
For too long, economic policy in the U.S. and Commonwealth nations has been guided by the “market efficiency” school. The result has been a widespread unwillingness to view government roles as critical to boosting innovation, growth, and competitiveness. It’s time for a new approach, which Lord David Sainsbury, author of Windows of Opportunity: How Nations Make Wealth, calls the “production capability” school. Under this school, the key question for economic policy is how well it enables enterprises to be more innovative and efficient. Rejecting the old doctrine in favor of the new is perhaps the most economic important task for our time. Rob and Jackie discuss this and the role for government in “picking winners” at the level of technologies and industries with Sainsbury.Mentioned:Lord David Sainsbury, Windows of Opportunity: How Nations Make Wealth (Profile Books, 2019).Robert D. Atkinson and Stephen J. Ezell, Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage (Yale University Press, 2014). 
Innovation is central to addressing global climate change while increasing economic growth, boosting international competitiveness, and strengthening energy security. Yet out of a $4 trillion budget, the United States only invests about $8 billion a year—or 0.04 percent of GDP—on clean energy research and development. Rob and Jackie discuss the urgent need for innovation in the clean energy sector—and “must pass” legislation that will accelerate progress—with Colin Cunliff, senior analyst at ITIF’s Clean Energy Innovation Program.Related:Colin Cunliff, “An Innovation Agenda for Deep Decarbonization: Bridging Gaps in the Federal Energy RD&D Portfolio” (ITIF, November 2018). Colin Cunliff, “Omission Innovation 2.0: Diagnosing the Global Clean Energy Innovation System” (ITIF, September 2019).Colin Cunliff, “An Innovation Agenda for Hard-to-Decarbonize Energy Sectors,” Issues in Science and Technology, Vol. XXXVI, no. 1, Fall 2019.Colin Cunliff, “Accelerating Energy Innovation in the 116th Congress: 10 Priorities for 2020” (ITIF, January 2020). 
A vocal group of alarmists worry that the pace of automation—particularly advances in robotics and artificial intelligence—will soon displace human labor to such an extent that many workers will be left with nothing to do. Never mind that generation after generation of technological innovations in industries ranging from textiles to steel to banking have always produced the opposite result: expanding the labor force, not wiping it out. Rob and Jackie delve into the evidence with Dr. James Bessen, executive director of the Technology & Policy Research Initiative (TPRI) at Boston University School of Law and author of Learning by Doing: The Real Connection Between Innovation, Wages and Wealth.Mentioned:James Bessen, Learning by Doing: The Real Connection Between Innovation, Wages and Wealth, (Yale University Press, 2015).James Bessen, et al., “Firm-Level Automation: Evidence from the Netherlands,” American Economic Association, AEA Papers and Proceedings, 110: 389-93.Robert D. Atkinson, “How G7 Nations Can Support and Prepare for the Next Technology Wave” (ITIF, March 2018).Technology & Policy Research Initiative (TPRI), Boston University School of Law.Related:ITIF’s @Work Series: “Employment in the Innovation Economy.”Robert D. Atkinson, “Robots, Automation, and Jobs: A Primer for Policymakers” (ITIF, May 2017).Robert D. Atkinson, “Robotics and the Future of Production and Work” (ITIF, October 2019).Robert D. Atkinson, “How to Reform Worker-Training and Adjustment Policies for an Era of Technological Change” (ITIF, February 2018). 
The U.S. Labor Department’s jobs report in February 2020 showed the country’s lowest rate of unemployment in 60 years. Two months later, it showed the highest rate of unemployment in 80 years. As The Wall Street Journal put it, “The coronavirus pandemic is forcing the fastest reallocation of labor since World War II, with companies and governments mobilizing an army of idled workers into new activities that are urgently needed.” Rob and Jackie discuss this “reallocation shock”—and which sectors will fare well or bare the brunt—with Nick Bloom, the William Eberle Professor of Economics at Stanford University, who also co-directs the Productivity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Mentioned:Jose Maria Barrero, Nick Bloom, and Steven J. Davis, “COVID-19 Is Also a Reallocation Shock,” University of Chicago, Becker Friedman Institute, working paper No. 2020-59. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monthly Labor Review. Nicholas Bloom bio: William Eberle Professor of Economics, Stanford University.
There’s a lot of doomsday hype around artificial intelligence in general, and the idea of so-called “killer robots” has been especially controversial. But when it comes to the ethics of these technologies, one can argue that robots actually could be more ethical than human operators. Humans can commit war crimes. They can deliberately kill innocent people or enemies that have surrendered. Humans get stressed and tired and bring any number of biases to the table. But robots just follow their code. Moreover, U.S. adversaries are deploying these technologies quickly, and stakes are high if we don’t keep up. Rob and Jackie discuss these technologies—and the risks of sitting out the AI arms race—with Robert J. Marks, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Baylor University, and Director of the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.Mentioned:Robert J. Marks, The Case for Killer Robots: Why America’s Military Needs to Continue Development of Lethal, e-book (Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence), Forrest E. Morgan, et al., Military Applications of Artificial Intelligence: Ethical Concerns in an Uncertain World (RAND Corporation, 2020), Defense Innovation Unit (DIU),
Congress is rightly considering substantial reforms to federal data-privacy law. In particular, there is a pressing need to preempt states from subjecting organizations to multiple, conflicting privacy rules. The debate now is not over whether to pass new legislation, but how to design such a law to protect consumers while encouraging continued innovation. Rob and Jackie discuss one proposal with its sponsor, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), honorary co-chair of ITIF. MentionedRobert D. Atkinson, Daniel Castro, and Doug Brake, “Technology Should Be Part of Any Stimulus Plan,” ITIF Innovation Files blog post, March 13, 2020. Office of Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), “DelBene Introduces Legislation to Protect Consumer Privacy,” news release, March 29, 2019. ITIF, “DelBene Privacy Bill Would Protect Consumers Without Undermining Innovation,” news release, March 29, 2019. ITIF, “ECJ’s Irresponsible Decision in Schrems Case Will Wreak Havoc on Global Data Flows,” news release, July 16, 2020. RelatedDaniel Castro, Ben Miller, and Adams Nager, “Unlocking the Potential of Physician-to-Patient Telehealth Services” (ITIF, May 2014).Daniel Castro, “5 Lessons the U.S. Can Learn from European Privacy Efforts,” Government Technology, July-August, 2019.
There has been a global consensus for nearly a century that countries should tax multinational companies in the jurisdictions where they create value, not where they generate sales. But that consensus has begun to fall apart as digitalization has made it easier to serve regional markets remotely and Internet companies have successfully capitalized on the opportunity. A growing number of countries, from the United Kingdom and France to Chile and Australia, are now looking to impose “digital services taxes” (DSTs) on a select few of these Internet companies—mostly American—on the dubious theory that users are creating a significant share of their value, so their profits should be taxed where their users reside. Rob and Jackie discuss the dangers of this approach—and how policymakers can protect U.S. firms—with trade expert Clete Willems, partner at Akin Gump Strauss.Mentioned:Clete Willems, “Digital taxes are an even bigger threat to the US economy during the pandemic,” CNBC, May 27, 2020.Joe Kennedy, “Digital Services Taxes: A Bad Idea Whose Time Should Never Come” (ITIF, May 2019).Robert D. Atkinson, Nigel Cory, and Stephen Ezell, “Stopping China’s Mercantilism: A Doctrine of Constructive, Alliance-Backed Confrontation” (ITIF, March 2017).Related:Joe Kennedy, “Comments to the U.S. Trade Representative Regarding Section 301 Investigations of Digital Services Taxes” (ITIF, June 2020).
The changing nature of labor markets—and how best to prepare people and society for the jobs of the future—is one of the most crucial public policy challenges that policymakers around the world will face in the coming years. This was already the case before COVID-19, but disruption from the pandemic has made things exponentially more challenging. Rob and Jackie discuss how Congress can address these challenges with Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), chairman of the House New Democrat Coalition.MentionedRobert D. Atkinson  Jeffrey Brown, “The Future of Work: A Guide for Transatlantic Policymakers” (ITIF, December 2018). New Democrat Coalition, “A Future that Works,” policy agenda.Office of Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), “Kilmer, Thompson, Klobuchar and Sasse Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Help Workers Save for Critical Skills Training they Need to Compete in the 21st Century Economy,” news release, January 31, 2019. Office of Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), “Kilmer, Brooks, Sewell, Thompson Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Help Unemployed American Workers Access Skills Training Programs During Coronavirus Pandemic,” news release, May 20, 2020. New Democrat Coalition, “New Democrat Coalition Chair Statement on Rep. Beyer’s Proposal to Implement Automatic Stabilizers for Unemployment Benefits,” news release, May 5, 2020. Robert D. Atkinson, “How to Reform Worker-Training and Adjustment Policies for an Era of Technological Change” (ITIF, February 2018).Rep. Kilmer’s podcast: Quick Questions About Congress With Kilmer. 
5G wireless will drive economic growth for decades to come, but we need a comprehensive strategy to ensure a robust deployment and adoption of secure networks. A U.S. strategy for 5G should play to our strengths to overcome unfair practices that have made Huawei a leader. Rob and Jackie discuss why 5G is important, separating hype from reality, and what a national framework should look like with Doug Brake, Director of Broadband and Spectrum Policy at ITIF and author of “A U.S. National Strategy for 5G and Future Wireless Innovation.” Mentioned:Doug Brake, “A U.S. National Strategy for 5G and Future Wireless Innovation” (ITIF, April 2020).Blair Levin and Larry Downes, “The Internet After COVID-19: Will We Mind the Gaps?” (Aspen Institute, April 15, 2020).Atkinson and Whisman, hosts. “What the COVID Crisis Teaches Us About Broadband Policy, With Special Guests Larry Downes and Blair Levin,” Innovation Files, ITIF, June 2020. 
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in America, but it’s easy for successful organizations to get comfortable and stop innovating to avoid disrupting their success. We see this across industries, as well as in government and the nonprofit sector. Rob and Jackie discuss advanced leadership and the importance of continuous innovation with Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle professor of business at Harvard Business School and author of Thinking Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time.MentionedRosabeth Moss Kanter, Think Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time (PublicAffairs, 2020).Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Change Masters (Free Press, 1985). Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Move: How to Rebuild and Reinvent America’s Infrastructure (W.W. Norton & Company, 2015).
COVID-19 has forced governments at all levels to implement changes in their operating structures that probably should have happened a decade ago. A worldwide shift toward remote work and a more distant lifestyle now means governments will need to find different methods of delivering public services long term. Rob and Jackie discuss e-government opportunities and how flipping orthodoxies can (and should) reinvent government operating models with Bill Eggers, executive director of Deloitte’s Center for Government Insights.MentionedDaniel Castro, Galia Nurko,  and Alan McQuinn, “Benchmarking U.S. Government Websites” (ITIF, November 2017).Daniel Castro and Michael McLaughlin, “Benchmarking State Government Websites” (ITIF, August 2018).William D. Eggers, Pankaj Kishnani, and Shruthi Krishnamoorthy, “Transforming Government Post–COVID-19: How Flipping Orthodoxies Can Reinvent Government Operating Models,” Deloitte Insights, June 15, 2020.William D. Eggers, Delivering on Digital: The Innovators and Technologies That Are Transforming Government (RosettaBooks, 2016).William D. Eggers, Government 2.0: Using Technology to Improve Education, Cut Red Tape, Reduce Gridlock, and Enhance Democracy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).Michael Hammer, The Reengineering Revolution: A Handbook (HarperBusiness, 1995).RelatedRobert D. Atkinson, et al., “Digital Policy for Physical Distancing: 28 Stimulus Proposals That Will Pay Long-Term Dividends” (ITIF, April 2020).Daniel Castro, “Time to Toss Social Security Numbers,” Washington Post, April 27, 2018.
China engages in egregious “innovation mercantilism,” including massive tech subsidies and forced tech transfer, all designed to have China replace America as the global tech leader. It’s time for America to rise to the challenge by developing its own plan to maintain competitive advantage in advanced and emerging technology industries that are critical to U.S. economic and national security. Rob and Jackie discuss all of this—along with what an Energy and Commerce agenda might look like next Congress--with Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Ranking Member on E&C’s Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee.Mentioned:Walden, McMorris Rodgers Announce Emerging Tech AgendaAll Information (Except Text) for H.R.6950 - GAINS ActDaniel Castro and Michael McLaughlin, “Ten Ways the Precautionary Principle Undermines Progress in Artificial Intelligence” (ITIF, February 2019).Related:Robert D. Atkinson, “How China’s Policies Have Stifled Global Innovation” (ITIF, January 2020).Robert D. Atkinson, “The Case for a National Industrial Strategy to Counter China’s Technological Rise” (ITIF, April 2020).
People have been working on digital transformation of health care for decades, but the COVID pandemic has added urgency to the challenge. This is creating a window of opportunity to reinvent how the health care system works—for example, the United States is on track to surpass more than 1 billion virtual office visits by the end of the year, even though only about a quarter of health-care organizations offered virtual visits before the pandemic. But of course, we still need to deal with important issues like privacy, security, and usability of all this new technology. ITIF VP Daniel Castro joins regular Innovation Files host Jackie Whisman to discuss these issues with Pat Combes, worldwide technical leader for health care and life sciences at Amazon Web Services. Related:Nigel Cory and Philip Stevens, “Building a Global Framework for Digital Health Services in the Era of COVID-19” (ITIF, May 2020).  Daniel Castro, “Improving Health Care: Why a Dose of IT May Be Just What the Doctor Ordered” (ITIF, October 2007).
The dominant narrative about Silicon Valley, and U.S. tech innovation generally, is that it sprang from garages of quirky, but committed entrepreneurs. Yes, but… What many don’t realize is how important federal investments were in kick-starting the growth of Silicon Valley and other tech hubs in the past. Rob and Jackie discuss this history and its potential lessons for federal policy to spur growth in other parts of the country today with Professor Margaret O’Mara, author of The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.Mentioned:Margaret O’Mara, The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America (Penguin Random House, 2020).Robert D. Atkinson, Mark Muro, and Jacob Whiton, “The Case for Growth Centers: How to Spread Tech Innovation Across America” (ITIF, December 2019).Adams Nager, David M. Hart, Stephen Ezell, and Robert D. Atkinson, “The Demographics of Innovation in the United States” (ITIF, February 2019).Apple 1984 Super Bowl Commercial Introducing Macintosh Computer.Margaret O’Mara’s website:
The COVID-induced isolation economy has demonstrated just how important broadband networks are for work, learning, and entertainment. But it has also highlighted important gaps, such as the rural divide and the “homework divide,” that government policy can play a role in filling. Rob and Jackie discuss these issues with broadband and IT experts Larry Downes, a senior industry and innovation fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Business & Public Policy, and Blair Levin, a nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program and prior director of the 2010 National Broadband Plan.Mentioned:Blair Levin and Larry Downes, “The Internet After COVID-19: Will We Mind the Gaps?” (Aspen Institute, April 15, 2020).Larry Downes and Paul Nunes, Big Bang Disruption: Strategy In The Age Of Devastating Innovation, (Portfolio, 2014).Federal Communications Commission, The National Broadband Plan, March 17, 2010.Doug Brake, “A U.S. National Strategy for 5G and Future Wireless Innovation” (ITIF, April 2020). 
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