On Thursday, April 5th, 2018 the Brookings Institute hosted an event on the economic, political, and security implications of technology transfer.
Technology transfer is sharing and investing in data and intellectual property. The massive supply of data held by the United States has become a national asset and finding new ways to invest and disperse this supply of information is a U.S. priority. Successful technology transfer depends on the creation of public-private partnerships.
One approach is to share data with startups to accelerate their success and encourage the sharing of technology between public and private sectors. The private sector can benefit from access to government data while the public sector can benefit from the efficient advancement of technology. The link between a public-private partnership lies in startup funding. The foundational financial resources to jump start tech projects often come from government grants, making private sector success often dependent on public investment. Despite the abundance of government-funded projects, outputs from the tech industry aren’t being transferred to the government. Once projects are launched, startups look internationally for venture capitalist support, which makes the development of U.S. technology a global investment, rather than maintained in the U.S.
The discrepancy lies in the speed between private sector development and public sector adaptation to technology. Both sectors have strengths at creating different technologies, so if they can work together to find mutually beneficial goals, then a successful partnership can form. The government will first have to accept that the commercial technology industry has a lot to contribute to governance bringing technologies allow will allow the government to work more efficiently and effectively.
GPS is an excellent example of successful technology transfer. Created by the Department of Defense, this technology spread to the private sector and is now used globally as a means of navigation and has led to the creation of apps like Uber, waze, and GrubHub. (could talk about US gov wanting to use helicopters to track traffic) There needs to be a spectrum of what we’re willing to transfer, because there are consequences to sharing everything. One of the main
Silicon Valley is focused on profit maximization, so not only is technology produced more efficiently, but costs are minimized. In contrast, the public sector is not effective at doing things cheaply, because it’s success does not determine employees’ salaries. NASA has even started to use the resources of Space X and Blue Origin.
Technology transfer is tremendously valuable for developing countries. Skipping a generation of technology can be transformational for communities, for example shifting from landlines to smartphones.
Dual use technologies are a major consideration when it comes to tech transfer and regulation is necessary. Certain technologies meant for peaceful purposes could be militarized if transferred to the wrong hands. Export control allows the president to regulate the export of dual use technologies, but modern technologies are not compatible with the current export control regulations. The government will need to create new guidelines to address modern technologies. For example, the Department of Defense plans to host their data on the cloud, a bid Amazon hopes to take. Current government regulations fail to address to security implications of military defense data hosted on a private sector controlled cloud.
Through their rapidly growing artificial intelligence sector and full integration into the global economy, China is America’s top technological competitor. The United States granted China membership to the WTO in the hopes of fostering liberalism, but instead this economic freedom has become a major threat to U.S. economic dominance. Companies like Microsoft and Google employ engineers in China, creating an interwoven employee base for international companies and creating the threat of data leakage and manipulation.
View the official event recap here.