American Innovation at the Crossroads

By Aris Melissaratos

Chairman and Founder, The Aris Institute

crossroadsAmerica has come to a fork in the road. On one of its possible paths it will likely lead the world technologically for much and perhaps most of the 21st century, as it did in the 20th. The other path points to a future in which the US slows down more and more, falling ever farther behind other nations in the race of technological evolution.

America is built on optimism, and our faith in what we can achieve must never waver. But there is a time for self-satisfaction and a time for warnings. As a nation we are now in warning mode. Elsewhere in this edition you can find disturbing information about America’s receding technological edge across a wide front. It will profit all leaders of business and public service to pay keen attention to this wake-up call.

For over three decades at the Westinghouse corporation, including as chief scientific officer and vice president of science and technology, and in my separate careers as a technology investor, as Maryland's economic development secretary, and as director of Johns Hopkins University’s intellectual capital commercialization, all my professional experience has been about anticipating our technological future. All I have learned tells me that this is a moment for national self-examination and urgent remedial action. For example, consider our transit situation.

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White House's Chief Technology Officer honored as US falls in global innovativeness ranking


Megan Smith

Megan Smith, the US Government's Chief Technology Officer, is among the 2015 recipients of the annual Luminary Awards presented to Exceptional Women in Business. The awards are conferred by the Committee of 200 ("C200"), an organization of women entrepreneurs and business leaders..

Four women were honored at this year's ceremony on October 23 at Washington DC's Fairmont Hotel: Margery Kraus, Founder of the public relations firm APCO, Sandra E Peterson, Chair of pharmaceutical and consumer goods manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, Reshma Saujani, Founder of Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that supports computer education for women, and Ms Smith, who was recognized for her support of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education. President Obama appointed Ms Smith to her federal post (helping the White House to progress technology innovation) in September 2014. Previously she was a Vice President at the Internet products company Google.

Ms Smith is the US's third Chief Technology Officer, the position having been created by President Barack Obama in 2009 with Aneesh Chopra as the first incumbent, followed by Todd Park in 2015.

While the concept of a Chief Technology Officer of the US deserves sustained support, and while Ms Smith is to be heartily congratulated on her recognition, it's time to re-examine the mission, powers and meaningful achievements of her office in a time of serious concern about the real health of US technology innovation leadership. The Bloomberg business information group's 2015 Global Innovation Index (comparing fifty countries' per capita patent volume and research spending, high-technology business population, manufacturing-sector contribution to gross value, tertiary education, and research-worker population) ranks the US sixth in global innovative productivity, after, in descending order, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Finland and Israel. In 2014 it ranked third, but this year Bloomberg included national education performance in its measurements, which pulled America down, since we place thirty-third in tertiary education.

Large US companies retain an ability to put impressive marketing resources into hyping even relatively small advances in gadgetry, maintaining a spectacular publicity machine that tends to obscure a disturbing momentum of complacency and slippage in America's global innovative competitiveness. The historically established mass of the US's economy helps perpetuate an illusion that all is well in US technological innovation. For historical reasons going back generations, our national economic scale is enormous, generating numbers that inspire confidence. But there is a great difference between size and evolutionary fitness. Think dinosaurs. For that matter, think China. Because of China's immense population, it too generates numbers that convey an awesome sense of scale, yet when the figures are adjusted to compensate for scale, it falls way down to twenty-second position on Bloomberg's innovation index. (Although in some respects it too is outpacing America; see below.)

Another annual global innovation index is published jointly by New York's Cornell University, WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations entity) and the international business university INSEAD (the name is derived from Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires, meaning European Institute of Business Administration). Using a methodology that differs from Bloomberg's, the Cornell-WIPO-INSEAD ranking places the US fifth after (in descending order) Switzerland, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Other sources have sounded similar alarms. Historical momentum and accumulated economic mass continue for now to show the US as the world's top nation in disease research, but its supremacy is eroding fast: a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) has observed that the US's place as a contributor to global biomedical research funding has declined from fifty-seven percent to forty-four percent over the past decade, with waning US support for such research being met by climbing support in other countries. China's medical research funding has been rising at around seventeen percent annually as against America's one percent, and Chinese science and technology workers now outnumber the US's. The JAMA study warns that the US stands to lose its historical innovation lead within ten years if it doesn't reverse the current trend.

Perhaps the loudest wake-up calls arise from the state of our military innovation and America's sagging infrastructure. This summer the respected British publication The Economist asserted that the US was losing its technology-based military edge, investing in unimaginative older weapons systems to which career military leaders have become accustomed, while focusing its energies on activities in Iraq and Afghanistan instead of the development of next-generation technology. At the same time, China has been massively investing in new sea power, air power and sophisticated computer technologies capable of disrupting the operating systems of American missiles, planes and ships. As for our infrastructural problems, the US Government has acknowledged that some 60 000 bridges in the country are structurally deficient and that the Highway Trust Fund, a federal account supporting national road works, was expected to fall below "safe levels" on November 20, 2015. It has also been reported that operating costs are not being covered by passenger fares in any US metro rail system.

This is admittedly a wide range of problems, but one way and another they all revolve around our nation's diminishing scientific and technological momentum. The US's Chief Technology Officer should be showing us an aggressive plan to lead the US out of its innovation decline in all these areas, as a matter of very great urgency.

Read more: Bloomberg's Global Innovation Index  | America's biomedical decline  | Asia overtaking US in innovation  | The loss of our military's technology edge | The infrastructure crisis  | Megan Smith's award 

2015 Nobel Prizes honor achievements in particle physics, DNA research, disease treatment, consumer studies, historical writing, human rights

stockholmThe Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded this year's Nobel Prizes in fields ranging from the ways livings cells repair DNA to research on the scientifically usable content of ancient Chinese medicine.

The physics prize has been shared by Takaaki Kajita, of the University of Tokyo, Japan, and Arthur B McDonald, of Queen’s University, Kingston, Canada, for experiments that showing that the neutrino, an elusive and mysterious subatomic particle, has mass. This discovery has fundamentally fundamentally upset the prevailing theory of the universe which for over two decades had characterized the neutrino as massless.

The chemistry prize has gone to Tomas Lindahl of Britain's Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory, in Hertfordshire, and two North Carolina scientists: Paul Modrich of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, and Aziz Sancar at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, for their discoveries of how organic cells repair and protect DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, which contains the genetic code that determines how organisms develop). Their work sheds new light on how cells work and has practical implications for research in various important areas, like cancer

The physiology / medicine prize has been shared by William C Campbell and Satoshi Ōmura (for work leading to the development of the drug ivermectin, which combats river blindness, elephantiasis and other parasitic diseases), and Youyou Tu (or Tu Youyou, in the Chinese rather than western style, Tu being a surname), whose research itno ancient Chinese herbal remedies yielded knowledge that helped developa an anti-malaria drug, artemisinin. Professor Ōmura is associated with Kitasato University, Japan, and Wesleyan University, Connecticut, and Dr Campbell with Drew University, New Jersey. Professor Tu works under the auspices of the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing.

The economics prize has gone to Professor Angus Deaton, of Princeton University, New Jersey, for his research on how the saving and spending choices of individuals affect their society's economy and relate to the incidence of poverty. The literature prize has been awarded to Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich for her body work using interviews and monologues to document the emotional impacts of historic events. The peace prize was conferred on the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a group promoting civil rights and democratic institutions.

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Visit the ArMel Scientifics Center’s new website!

Our sister entity, the ArMel Scientifics Center for Technology &
Public Policy, has a new website which you can visit here. We
hope you’ll explore it and enjoy it!

Founding Member Newt Fowler named TEDCO Chair


Baltimore-based attorney and columnist Newton B Fowler, III, a Founding Member of the Aris Institute, has accepted the 2015-2016 chairmanship of the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO). The organization, headquartered in Columbia, MD, was established by the Maryland Legislature in 1998 to promote technological entrepreneurship and industry via seed funding, mentorship and incubation support, with a special interest in the commercialization of intellectual property created by the state’s universities and federal laboratories. TEDCO’s 15-member board is appointed by the Governor with the approval of the State Senate.

A partner at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, LLP (a business law firm that traces its origins to 1876 and employs more than 550 lawyers in Maryland, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina,Virginia, Washington DC, Delaware, and California), Mr Fowler has chaired the Greater Baltimore Technology Council and currently advises many leading technology and investor groups on numerous aspects of business governance including venture financing, angel investing, intellectual property, commercialization, business strategy, complex transactions, and securities. His column on business and technology appears on the website Baltimore CityBizList. He earned his doctorate of law at the University of Kentucky Law School in 1985 and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. The national publication Best Lawyers in America, which conducts peer-review surveys of the legal profession, named him Baltimore’s 2013 Technology Lawyer of the Year. Before joining Womble Carlyle he was a partner at Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, LLP, CEO of Community Analytics, and a partner at Venable, LLP.

In September 2015 TEDCO announced sixteen funding awards totaling $1.6 million ($100 000 per award) to start-ups in industries ranging from medicine to computer software.

Read more about TEDCO here.

Key roles for Roger Lewis in Peace Corps and World War 1 national monument projects


Two separate national monument initiatives, to create memorials commemorating WW1 and the United States Peace Corps, are moving forward with the involvement of architect, urban planner, author and Washington Post columnist Roger K Lewis, a Research Associate of the Aris Institute’s sister entity, the ArMel Scientifics Center for Technology & Public Policy.

Prof Lewis, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Maryland, is currently co-manager of the World War I National Memorial design competition as well as President and Chairman of the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation.

The Peace Corps monument will honor the mission of the Peace Corps and the work that its many volunteers have done around the world since its creation by President John F Kennedy in 1961. The site proposed for the monument is near the US Capitol. The Peace Corps is a goodwill agency of the US government that deploys American volunteers to provide educational, economic and other social service and development support to communities around the world. Its mission to promote positive growth and innovation by sharing American knowledge and skills, while at the same time enriching America by learning more about foreign cultures on site – closely echoes the Aris Institute’s philosophy of encouraging government to take the lead in sharing knowledge by mentoring creative initiatives everywhere, to build a more prosperous and cohesive world civilization. (The Act of Congress authorizing the creation of the Peace Corps monument is titled “"Memorial to Commemorate America's Commitment to International Service and Global Prosperity".)

The PCCF recently reached the phase at which finalists in a two-stage design competition were scheduled to present their refined concepts to a jury in Washington DC. A similar competition for the WW1 memorial is currently also in the second-stage review process. The winning design is due to be announced in January 2016.

Read more: The Peace Corps monument  | The WWI monument  | Roger Lewis  | An article about the Peace Corps by ArMel Scientifics Center scholar N J Slabbert 

Founding Member Mike Galiazzo receives Manufacturing Day proclamation

A proclamation by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, declaring October 2, 2015 as a special day honoring the state’s manufacturing industry, was presented in Annapolis to Brian Sweeney, Executive Director of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), and Aris Institute Founding Member Dr Mike Galiazzo, President of the Baltimore-based Regional Manufacturing Institute (RMI). Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford made the presentation.

Both MEP and RMI are non-profits providing support services to manufacturers.

Read more: About RMI  | About MEP

John Rogard Tabori serving on Blue Ribbon Fiscal Commission

taborThe Council of Prince George’s County, Maryland, is currently working with a Blue Ribbon Commission appointed to study the County’s structural deficit and recommend policies for the 2016 Budget. Nine of the Commission’s 15 voting members are officers of County organizations (the Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, Association of Realtors, organized labor, the Office of Audits and Investigations, and the Office of Management and Budget). The six citizen members are Earl Adams Jr, Henry W Mosley, Ron L Watson, Sherman L Ragland II, Mark E Tomassoni, and ArMel Scientifics Center Research Associate John Rogard Tabori.

Two non-voting ex officio members are County Council Vice-Chair Derrick Leon Davis and the County’s Chief Administrative Officer for Budget, Finance & Administration, Thomas Himler.

A structural deficit is the imbalance caused when normal government spending annually exceeds tax revenues. County Council Chairman Mel Franklin says the Commission’s members bring together “considerable expertise in the areas of budget, finance and public policy” and the County is looking forward to their recommendations in the coming year.

Mr Tabori, a political economist and policy analyst, is a graduate of Columbia University and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the academic honor society, and Phi Alpha Theta, the history academic honor society. He has been a writer-editor for the US Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract of the United States and his publications include a guidebook on evaluation research, many technical papers and three Congressional reports. His expertise has been used by numerous US Government agencies including the Department of Housing & Urban Development, the Department of Health & Human Services, Department of Transportation, and Federal Transit Administration. He was Mayor of the town of University Park, MD, from 2006 to 2014, and co-chair of Phase II of Envision Prince George’s, a planning initiative of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission from 2011 to 2014. He serves on the Development Overview Committee of the Town of University Park as well as on the Transit Oriented Development Committee of Envision Prince George's.

Read more about the Blue Ribbon Commission here and here.

The Aris Institute was founded and is chaired by engineer, investor and business leader Aris Melissaratos, Dean of the Brown School of Business and Leadership at Stevenson University. The Institute is affiliated with the ArMel Scientifics Center for Technology and Public Policy, but the two are legally separate entities. They also have different missions.

Our sister organization, the ArMel Center, is a think tank or research entity, while the Aris Institute has a social networking mission, bringing the energies of diverse thought leaders together to explore and facilitate cooperative initiatives. Whereas the ArMel Center is focused on national (US) and global issues, the Aris Institute combines a national and global perspective with a special interest in Maryland and the national capital region, which is our home. We promote progressive ideas and actions related to knowledge growth and economic, infrastructural and cultural developments in and around this region. We’re not linked to any political party. We believe good ideas come from many sources.

Our website’s NEWS page circulates interesting news items in all these areas of interest, while on our PEOPLE page you can see a list of our current members. Our PUBLICATIONS page features publications produced by members of our Institute and our affiliate, the Armel Scientifics Center, and publications which reference the work of our innovation community. If you’d like to join our Institute, go here. It’s free.

We hope you enjoy our website.  If you’d like to contact us, please e-mail us via our CONTACT page, which also contains the terms and conditions applying to use of our site. Thanks for visiting us!