Atlantic Council
Report Launch: The Global Innovation Sweepstakes

Frederick Kempe,
President and CEO,
Atlantic Council
Nathan Tibbits,
Senior Vice President, Global Government Affairs and Public Policy,
Keynote Speaker:
The Honorable Cory Gardner
United States Senator for Colorado

Location: Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C.

Time: 9:00 a.m. Local
Date: Tuesday, June 26th, 2018


SENATOR CORY GARDNER (R-CO):  Well, good morning, and thank you very much for the introduction. Congratulations on the release of this report this morning.

It’s true, the farm implement business and background. I’ll never forget, it was probably in the late 1990s when we sold our first global-positioning-satellite-based precision farming system, a combine that would – not self-steering at that point, but that would give you real-time feedback and data that you could then take back and map and figure out what was going on in your field. And I’ll never forget.  I was probably still in college at the time when we did this in the late ’90s, and we sold this first precision farming system, satellite system, to a farmer who was probably in his 80s  And I remember thinking, oh boy, we don’t know how to run this equipment, this technology. This is all new to us. How is this gentleman going to be able to do this?

So we bought a duplicate system so that we could have it in the dealership. So right in the middle of harvest, which is always around the 4th of July – so we’re coming up on this – and in wheat harvest, you’re farming 24 hours a day for three, four days just to get the crop out of the field before the hailstorm comes and takes care of it by nature. And so we thought we’d have this technology in the office. And it was the old – running on the old – what is it – what were the old PIN data cards, the PCMCIA cards, is that what they were called? So it was running on one of those systems in the cab of a combine, of this satellite to GPS system. And sure enough, he comes into the office right in the middle of the wheat harvest and says: This thing’s not working. I paid $150,000 and it’s not working. How do we make this work? And I though, oh boy. So we took the card – took the card, put it into the reader, tried to figure out how to download it. I’m sitting there at his brother’s computer, trying to do everything I can to make it work.

And lo and behold, this guy just comes up finally, just pushes me out of the way, says, oh, you know what, I got this. I think I know how to do this. So this 80-year-old man comes up, and he starts typing into the computer, fixes things. And pretty soon the data just starts downloading, the map shows up, everything is there. And I said, how did you do that? And he said, I used to work at Radio Shack in the 1950s. (Laughter.) So that is my experience with technology.

But I want to thank the Atlantic Council for the opportunity to be here with you today, to Qualcomm for the partnership on this report highlighting the importance of U.S. leadership in global innovation. We’re truly lucky to live in a country that values entrepreneurship and ingenuity over complacency and ideas that are past their time. A country that rewards dreamers and doers over those who are too content with an unsatisfactory status quo. A country that endlessly looks to the horizon, and pursues what others tell us cannot be done. 

Indeed, the United States has a history of lifting pragmatists and problem-solvers. We’re builders, dreamers, and innovators with diverse backgrounds, but a unique zeal to get things done. That commitment to collaboration and advancements is what keeps us as the world’s innovation leader. And it’s too important – it’s so important, because of that leadership, that Congress pursue policies that keep us in that leadership role.

For example, it’s critical that the U.S. remain at the forefront of telecommunications innovation, helping us shape the global telecommunications agenda, ensuring that we win the race to 5G. Spectrum is the lifeblood of much of what allows our daily digital lives to flourish. Our wireless, our phones, our wireless phones, our satellites, our Wi-Fi devices, that combine, and all other wireless technologies cannot operate without reliable access to more and more spectrum.

But we’re facing a spectrum crunch here in the United States, especially in our urban corridors. Higher population densities and increased demand on networks from services, like streaming videos, driving private sector demand for more and more spectrum. At the same time, though, many of our rural areas are lacking adequate broadband service – in service, and readily available swaths of spectrum go unused. 

I know this firsthand, growing up in that little tiny town. If you haven’t heard of this tiny town, it’s just a place on the map where the weatherman keeps his back to during the news reports. We have five bars in our town, it’s just not on our phone. (Laughter.) This three-pronged problem, though – the need to remain internationally competitive, an urban spectrum crunch, and the lingering technological divide in rural America – is why I introduced the AIRWAVES Act, along with my colleague Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire.

We saw what happened with the loss of economic – with the loss of economic opportunities, technology development, and more when the Japanese beat us in the race to 3G.  The AIRWAVES Act is a forward-looking bill that would help the U.S. beat competitors like South Korea and Japan in the race to 5G. The series of auctions in the bill would provide users of both licensed and unlicensed spectrum greater opportunities for expansion and innovation, helping to alleviate the spectrum crunch. And by reserving 10 percent of the proceeds of the auction for rural broadband buildout, we help to narrow that digital divide.

Legislation like the AIRWAVES Act encourages companies to propose creative solutions to challenges, and keeps the federal government committed to considering how to bolster greater innovation. And at places like the Institution for Telecommunications Services in Boulder, Colorado, the federal government pursues cutting-edge research to further that innovation. And I believe Boulder was one of the stops that you made on the tour.

And we also must focus on how to fund more federal research. Long-championed, and we must continue to champion, substantial increases in funding for places like – organizations like the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. And I worked with my colleague, Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, to pass the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act. Many people in the room were a part of that legislation. This act put into law further U.S. research and development opportunities and helped refine our enterprises. But we still have more work to do. 

It’s true that major – that major corporations in the United States invest billions of dollars annually in research and development. And according to Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, past vice chair of the National Science Board, the private sector funds approximately two-thirds and performs approximately three-quarters of research and development in the United States. Those investors and companies, some of whom are in this room, deserve our sincere appreciation for believing in the future and the importance of innovation.

But there are instances in which the private sector, private investment alone, doesn’t make either economic sense or – for businesses – or it’s in itself going to be insufficient to generate major breakthroughs. Despite funding a significant portion of research and development, R&D, in the United States, the private sector spends most of that money on the development side, leaving the federal government to put more money toward the most uncertain research aspects. And as to my colleagues who believe that private corporations will pick up the remaining part of science research if we just leave the field to them, I would encourage them to start speaking and learning Mandarin.  (Laughter.) 

Sometimes those research dollars have failed to materialize into new innovation. Sometimes those federal dollars result in innovations that revolutionize the world. For example, the algorithm behind Google’s search engine and the glass screen on your iPhone were first developed using federal research dollars. The private sector was able to turn those developments into unimaginably successful products. But they wouldn’t have been possible without a federally funded backstop. 

The private sector and federal government are not simply focused on domestic opportunities for advancing U.S. innovation research and development. We also face increasing competition from abroad that threatened to topple the United States from its spot as the world leader in R&D. Developing countries like China and India are pouring increasingly large sums of government money into their nation’s respective R&D programs and initiatives. According to the National Science Board’s 2018 Science and Engineering Indicators Report, China spends more than $400 billion annually on research and development, making them the second-largest country investor in R&D behind the United States.

And China is on track to eclipse the United States. The entire – and it’s on track to eclipse the entire European Union as well in terms of R&D spending. Since 2000, China has surpassed France, Germany, and Japan in total annual domestic investments in R&D.  At this pace, China is expected to surpass the United States in the early future, knocking us from the number-one spot. Between 2000 and 2015, the United States experienced just over 4 percent in annual growth of domestic R&D expenditures. Over that same time period, China facilitated more than 18 percent average annual growth in domestic R&D expenditures. 

We must, as a country, do better. Imagine a world where China discovered the latest and greatest innovations. It’s a world where budding scientists and entrepreneurs would flock to Beijing and Guangzhou over San Francisco and Boulder. It’s a world where free-thinking and public-private partnerships might give way to the party line and centralized bureaucracy. Ultimately, it’s a world that would deprive the United States of our spot around the globe as the scientific innovator in chief, and strip us of a major driver of our economy. 

I was recently flying into Jordan. I was flying over Jordan and Amman. It was dusk. And I’ll never forget, as I was looking down and recognizing and thinking about the challenges that we face in the Middle East and around the globe, what U.S. leadership means to those challenges. I couldn’t help but think about what I was seeing on the ground. Below us were hundreds of cars, thousands of cars illuminating the highway, homes and businesses that were lit by lights that were born in the American laboratories of Thomas Edison decades ago.

Winding through the crowded streets of Amman, cars were built in factories that descended from Henry Ford’s American assembly lines that transported passengers across the city. And finally, I was viewing this entire scene from the comfort of a plane flying hundreds of miles an hour through the sky, whose ancestors flew briefly at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, under the direction of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Consider that simple moment, and these three seemingly mundane, everyday items – lights, cars, and a plane. The United States helped develop those innovations, spread them the world, and improved our global standard of living in doing so. And it helped the – it helped fuel the American economy, allowing us to further innovate and continue this cycle of innovation.

A critical component of staying competitive and continuing this cycle is ensuring that we have an adequate workforce to tackle the challenges before us today and for the next generation. That’s why I introduced the CHANCE in Tech Act to enhance apprenticeship opportunities in the technology space. This bill looks to leverage public-private partnerships to help fill skills gaps through apprenticeships. Technology companies increasingly need to hire someone with specific training, but not necessarily a college degree. This bill will open apprenticeships to high school students and undergraduates, as well as to ensure that we have a continuous pipeline of talent in the United States.

In my home state of Colorado we have thousands of cybersecurity technology-related job openings, about 13,000 of them in fact, and few qualified prospective job applicants to fill them. Providing a stronger apprenticeship approach would help drive more individuals into the technology sector and benefit American innovation.

And, lastly, we must assure that our quest to fuel greater innovation here in the United States, that while we do that we do not forget about a commitment to security. Now, more than ever, our economic and political adversaries wish to infiltrate our networks, steal our patents, and otherwise disrupt the American communications landscape and the American economy.

I’ve supported efforts to push back on foreign entities and governments that wish to intrude into these network systems using devices and other technologies; supported legislation with my Democrat counterpart from Virginia, Senator Mark Warner, to put in basic baseline standards for Internet of Things devices that the federal government procures.

A commitment to security does not need to come at the expense of new innovations. In fact, there are many instances in which they go hand in hand. And it should not require that the U.S. withdraw from our trade relationships around the globe or discourage the establishment of new ones. But it will take continued cooperation between industry and government to tackle these challenges, and I look forward to continuing to play a role in those efforts.

At its core, the United States is tied closely to innovation. It’s who we are. Our nation’s very founding was an innovative approach to government. Many scoffed at the notion of throwing off the yoke of a foreign ruler and starting a country steeped in the ideals of freedom. But we succeeded, and that daring American character has withstood centuries, and our values have spread across the globe. But we must continue to play this critical and unique role on the world stage – the dreamers, the believers, the big ideas, the innovators, and the doers.

Every generation faces its firsts. Many of us can remember around the first time that we had our very first email address. Some of us can remember the first time that they were able to change the flashing 12 on their VCR. (Laughter.) I told a group of high school students that one day and they said: What’s a VCR? (Laughter.) My granddad can remember the first time he had pizza, in New York Harbor returning from World War II.

Our challenge today is to make sure that the next generation knows that whatever their first discovery is of a breakthrough technology will have the transformative power that has made this country great, that has allowed us to build on great ideas and great nations to help great people around the globe. And that’s what we have to do.

And as you reach out today, and this report, and talk about ways that the world is changing as – perhaps at a speed we’ve never seen before, recognize, though, that that first, this first, is perhaps the greatest opportunity humanity has ever known. But we just have to get it right, and we have to have a policy in government that will be a partner in that technology.

Thanks very much for the opportunity to be with you today. Thank you.  (Applause.)