It’s time for Silicon Valley and all the other tech giants across commercial industry to stop sticking their nose up at working alongside the federal government, roll up their sleeves, and do some work. S&T innovation as well as our national security are at risk. Industry sees the government as more regulation, shady intrusion, and a cumbersome process to work with, without acknowledging that most of the technology they use daily came directly out of government funded R&D.
If you’re reading this blog on a computer, IPad, or the latest IPhone, you can thank the US Government. Most American’s are probably unaware that the government funded an incredible amount of technology that went into your newest 4K TV and many Apple Products. Not to mention that it was a government agency that gave the world the Internet. Current example, the space industry. Commercial industry is starting to make rockets (Musk, Bezos, etc.) and will soon be offering trips into low earth orbit for private citizens! Who do you think has been researching and exploring low earth orbit and the universe for decades now? Government R&D spurs commercial innovation and that is exactly how it should be, but this is not a one-way street.
The government has not once asked for financial compensation for any of the technology that it has provided to the commercial industry, and nor should it. The government’s role should be to fund basic research and explore new areas of science that may be too risky for the commercial industry to invest in. However, that does not mean that the commercial industry should not assist the federal government. They can provide capital investment into R&D, expertise, or manpower to assist the federal government. The return on investment is real for industry as well. Private-public partnerships, institutional knowledge, breakthrough R&D, and yes, some patriotic “feel good”.
Just this week Jeff Bezos said “this country is in trouble” if big tech companies do not collaborate with the US military. Bezos mentions employee concerns about partnering with the military or the department of defense as a reason that some tech companies are backing out of projects. Project Maven, which was Google’s military drone contract, has been abandoned due to employee backlash. Which is ironic because the technology that led to Google street view, the “Aspen Movie Map”, was funded by none other than the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, in 1978.
As near-peer competitors become a bigger threat the time to partner together is now. Commercial innovation has moved well passed that of the federal government and the Department of Defense. The wars we will fight in the future will include a technology space like we have never seen, and we need to ensure that we are on the cutting edge of it. With real partnership and joint research being conducted we could create technological prosperity for decades to come and continue to be the leaders of innovation.