Tech innovation crucial to long-term economic recovery
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in Denver, the same city where he accepted the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. It was held at the city’s Museum of Nature and Science, a fitting venue to represent the act’s $111 billion investment in science and technology research.
I’ve written about technology for nearly a decade. And I’ve done my best to cultivate sources who are on the cutting edge, from the world’s leading institutions and universities, in order to unearth the latest in research and development. Earlier in my career, during the dot.com era, new discoveries and applications seemed endless. Now, especially working for the public-safety marketplace, I’ve noticed a significant difference. There are many technologies being developed in labs across the country, but there are fewer investors. From talks I’ve had with insiders, academics can’t give the intellectual property away—much less bring it to market—and, as a result, can’t fund burgeoning discoveries.
President Obama has it right to dedicate such a large percentage of the package to scientists and technologists. Technological innovation is a boon to our society. Look at the industrial revolution, the advent of the first Ford, IBM’s computer breakthroughs, bio-science and wireless communications—they all resulted in unprecedented GDP growth periods. Next may be the green industry. During the speech, Obama specifically pointed to innovations in solar and alternative energy that will be supported by the bill. He said the technologies will reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign energy sources and to create a new energy economy “that can create countless, well-paying jobs,” he said
For the skeptics, alternative energy is not just a buzzword. Our magazine has written for years about alternative energy sources, from fuel cells to solar access points. Such technologies have become essential in remote areas in the U.S. and abroad—and often are used as a safety net, if generators powering wireless communications systems are destroyed by manmade or natural events.
Alternative energy also has a direct affect on the development of utility-run smart grids. Obama said the investment from the stimulus package will be used to develop a smarter electric grid that will let utilities tap in alternative energy sources. Currently, in many areas of the country, wind energy can’t be connected to an aging, outdated energy grid. As a result, it can’t be delivered to communities that want it. Instead, Obama would like to see more cities follow in the footsteps of Boulder, Colo., a community that is on pace to be the world’s first smart-grid city.
“This investment will place smart meters in homes to make our energy bills lower, make outages less likely and make it easier to use clean energy,” Obama said.
I’m optimistic about the investment in science and technology, but not naive. I’ve been waiting since the late ‘90s for a true green economy to sweep across the nation (as well as a paperless process, but I won’t even go there). Billions allocated to science and innovation won’t solve the current economic crisis. But it will solve important problems, like updating the U.S. electric grid and supporting the growth of nascent green businesses. More importantly, it takes us out of the dark days of scientific censorship and, in my opinion, opens the door for endless possibilities.