National CTO's Plans Sound Pretty Good... Let's Hope They Don't Get Bogged Down In Politics

from the good-signs dept

Aneesh Chopra, who recently became the federal government's CTO has a very impressive track record in encouraging more governmental openness and also adopting new technologies. I think he was an excellent choice as CTO, though I'm always cautious until we get to see what actually is being done. Saul Hansell from the NY Times interviewed Chopra recently, where he laid out his basic priorities, and they definitely sound like steps in the right direction:
  • Economic growth through innovation
  • Addressing presidential priorities through innovation platforms
  • Building the next-generation digital infrastructure
  • Fostering a culture of open and innovative government
While those bullet points may sound a little vague, they certainly are the key things he should be focused on, and the rest of the article details some of the details of where he may be heading on all of those points, and it suggests that he's certainly going beyond the soundbite style thoughts found all too commonly in political circles these days. For example, when most politicians talk about economic growth through innovation, they usually mean just dumping more money into research programs or increasing the number of patents. But, as we've all seen, those don't necessarily serve as an accurate proxy for real innovation. Instead, Chopra wants to focus on looking at actual data about how products are getting to market:
Rather than purely thinking about basic research, he said, the government should focus on investing in technologies that can be developed. A first step is to find ways to actually measure how much research is being commercialized.

"There is an implicit assumption that R.&D. investment will lead to job growth and economic success," he said. "The measurement question will lead us to think about, how do we begin to assess the outcomes."
It's great to see that he's skeptical of the common wisdom that R&D automatically leads to economic growth, but wants to dig deeper into the data to see what the numbers really mean. He's also hoping to learn from how different universities lead to commercialization:
Mr. Chopra noted that among universities, there is a wide range in how effective they are in commercializing the work of their laboratories. He wants to take the practices used by the most commercial of universities and spread them to other research facilities.
Again, this is good news. Many people falsely assume that things like the Bayh-Dole Act, which pushed universities to patent their research to drive commercialization was a good thing. But there's a growing amount of research suggesting that Bayh-Dole has actually harmed research and the ability to commercialize products. Hopefully, the data that Chopra is looking at takes that into account. Bayh-Dole caused many universities to set up "tech transfer" offices, but the vast majority of them are losing money -- in part because they've focused on the patents rather than the actual steps to innovation. The universities that have focused on enabling innovation rather than just collecting and licensing the most patents, have had the most success.

Hopefully, there is where Chopra will lead the government... but, as always, until we see it in action, it's worth being skeptical and watching closely. At this point, though, it's nice to see that he actually seems to be looking in the right direction.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2009 @ 5:57pm

    Do you actually spend extra time writing your posts to make sure you can SEO link certain terms to boost your other pages?

    It's almost comical at times.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Bettawrekonize, Jun 5th, 2009 @ 6:04pm

    " * Economic growth through innovation
    * Addressing presidential priorities through innovation platforms
    * Building the next-generation digital infrastructure
    * Fostering a culture of open and innovative government

    "

    These goals are so general that just about every politician claims this. "Increase innovation" "Improve the economy" "improve health care" yes yes, they all say the same thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2009 @ 6:59pm

    A chicken in every pot, and pot in every chicken

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    sam, Jun 5th, 2009 @ 8:20pm

    um

    firefox: push button F3
    search: phrase "windows" not found
    Good
    search: phrase "linux" not found
    Bad!

    Death to you!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    pwb, Jun 5th, 2009 @ 9:11pm

    The only thing worth doing at this point is improving government effectiveness and at lower cost.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    juliana (profile), Jun 6th, 2009 @ 7:35am

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    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    irv, Jun 6th, 2009 @ 9:03am

    totally disagree

    "Economic growth through innovation "

    This is absolutely NOT something the government CTO should be focusing on. Economic growth doesn't take place at the government. All the politicians can do (and they are working hard to do it) is SUPPRESS innovation and growth.

    Likewise "Building the next-generation digital infrastructure " is at best naive. Government meddling in technological development is never a good idea. The FBI, the post office and the IRS all have failed computer systems - but the government is going to set up the whole country for the next generation?

    This is not credible and has the potential to really hurt this country's economic and technological growth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous of Course, Jun 7th, 2009 @ 11:23am

    Lets tear down everything that works.

    "Rather than purely thinking about basic research, he said, the government should focus on investing in technologies that can be developed."

    Does no one else think this statement is horribly wrong
    headed?

    Basic research, research without an obvious path to product
    development, is where the government and universities SHOULD
    be investing. It is planting the seeds for new technologies
    and growth into unexpected areas.

    Some corporations will gamble on developing new discoveries
    into products but very few will engage in basic research.
    The return on investment is more like playing the lottery
    often nothing, sometimes huge. And any return often takes
    a far sightedness that most corporations do not have as
    progress can be very slow.

    I've worked in a corporate R&D lab and in a national lab.
    The focus of the work was quite different.

    Sure it's good if the government and universities develop
    useful applications of things they have found but if it
    means less basic research, over the long haul, it will
    result in less technological growth. The pool of things
    waiting for other bits of technology to appear or advance
    and make them useful will dry up.

    You should not steer your boat by looking at its wake and
    this is exactly what Aneesh Chopra proposes.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    iyogi (profile), Jun 7th, 2009 @ 9:27pm

    RE:

    This is good news. Many people falsely assume that things like the Bayh-Dole Act, which pushed universities to patent their research to drive commercialization was a good thing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 7th, 2009 @ 11:40pm

    Qualifications?

    Shouldn't a "Chief Technology Officer" know about, umm, technology? Shouldn't he at least have a professional technical degree? And maybe licensing as a professional engineer? Like how the Surgeon General is a real, licensed doctor with a real medical degree?

    This guy has a Bachelor of Arts (not science) degree and a Masters in "Public Policy". Oh, that's real technical. So, is this what Obama thinks of technical professionals? Yeah, I can see how this is going to go: The blind leading the blind. But hey, who cares as long as we call him the "CTO", right? Maybe future Surgeon Generals shouldn't be real doctors either but should have degrees in things like "Public Policy" or "Governmental Affairs" instead.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    icon
    The Mad Hatter (profile), Jun 7th, 2009 @ 11:51pm

    The Man is an Idiot

    Anyone who uses the word "Innovation" 3 times in four bullet points is an idiot. The word "Innovation" has been so devalued by constant usage, that it no longer has any real meaning.

    I was hoping for better than this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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