As new competitive realities emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, I noticed that technology policy crept more and more onto the United States’ list of international priorities. During this period, as head of international affairs in the White House’s Office for Science and Technology Policy and later as the country’s First Deputy Secretary for Technology Policy, I was at the center of debates to elevate technology policy at the highest level of the United States. government. I have witnessed growing concerns about the protection of US intellectual property rights abroad and foreign participation in US R&D programs without reciprocal access for US companies. This transformed global competitiveness landscape is, in part, what inspired the creation of the Council on Competitiveness, of which I am the President and CEO.
Today, I am encouraged by a renewed vision for US global technology diplomacy recently presented by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. His vision represents a return to a more global strategic approach to the opportunities and challenges that technology offers us. At the National Safety Commission on Artificial Intelligence Global Emerging Technologies Summit in July, Blinken shared his experience at the heart of this reinvigorated approach linking technology and diplomacy:
“… I needed the scientists and technologists in the room just to tell me if I needed the scientists and technologists in the room to help identify the problems and help identify some of the solutions. And I have become more and more convinced that virtually everything on our agenda has a technological, scientific or innovative element in the solution. “
As Charles Holiday, Chairman Emeritus of the Council on Competitiveness and Chairman of the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils, told me: “Secretary Blinken is on the right track with his comments that democracies must pass the technological test together. . Blinken characterized the ever-growing infusion of science and technology into the international sphere and echoed the need to integrate technology into “almost all of our diplomatic engagements – technology by technology, problem by problem”. Technological might is now the primary determinant of economic, political, and military might, and China and others have become formidable competitors to the United States. First, Blinken’s call in the United States to “shape the strategic technology landscape, not just respond to it” is more vital than ever.
China is the driving force behind this 21st century challenge. The country is increasing its power in international institutions that oversee global science and technology policies, while making a major effort to influence international standards for next-generation technology to its advantage. Additionally, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a major platform for advancing its geopolitical ambitions, including control of critical global supply chains, global trade and data flows. . In fact, the president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has said that science, technology and innovation are at the core of the BRI’s goals. It’s all part of China’s quest for global technology leadership.
The expansion of China’s reach through technology agreements, research centers and alliances in many countries on four continents also cannot be overlooked. This is accomplished through investment and trade across Asia, Eastern and Central Europe, Africa and Latin America in a wide range of technological fields, such as telecommunications, artificial intelligence, surveillance, clean energy, robotics and smart city innovations.
Unlike what we encountered in the 1980s, competition today is not limited to one, or even a few players. Competitiveness in the third decade of the 21st century is truly global in scale and scope, including from long-standing allies. For example, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation has already pushed American companies out of the European market. Other US companies have received heavy fines, most recently Amazon was fined a record $ 887 million; more American companies are surely in the crosshairs, as other countries ignore these rules.
The EU is also working to set global standards for artificial intelligence – which will have broad economic, social and ethical implications – and recently released proposals for AI rules for the continent. In addition, there is a growing global debate over the regulation of big tech companies, which are veiled efforts primarily directed against the United States. improves innovation, while international institutions turn a blind eye to other competitors who engage in activities such as state-sponsored intellectual property piracy.
Compete in the next economy
Last December, driven by the current state of the innovation game in the world, the Competitiveness Council published its report Competition in the Next Economy. In this report, we advocate for the United States to put the art of technology at the forefront of its economic and national security strategy. This includes joining the global battle to establish the frameworks of international standards and regulations for emerging technologies and the digital economy; assess foreign investment in the United States; and collaborate with international institutions regarding the flow of goods, services and data. The report also recommends the establishment of an international body for science, technology and innovation to increase the scientific and technological expertise of government personnel engaged in diplomacy, trade negotiations and the promotion of American products and services. abroad.
Blinken’s outline for the Biden administration’s approach aligns with the report and its objectives, placing the United States at the forefront of critical international scientific institutions and global R&D collaborations. It recognizes the importance of integrating science and technology into our core diplomatic and foreign service capacity, especially since many government professionals facing these issues on the international stage are not trained in these issues. disciplines. “We have to do a better job of bringing that knowledge, that expertise, that focus into the department and into everything we do,” he said.
Science and technology don’t just take center stage on the international stage; technological revolutions are transforming the global economy and societies around the world. Being at the forefront of global science and technology policy – whether through investment, expertise, or innovation itself – is crucial for the United States to remain competitive, especially against enemies. having interests outside those of the international community. Secretary Blinken is right when he concluded: “Nothing is more important to our competitiveness, to our security and, ultimately, to our democracy” than securing our position as a leader in science and technology.