The financial crisis that began in 2008 is a stark demonstration that we as a nation take great risks when we build too much of our economy on a base that does not create real value. Relying on vaporous transactions to generate wealth is no substitute for making real products and providing real services. In the 21st century, the United States and the rest of the world will face some of the greatest challenges of the modern age: feeding a growing population, generating adequate energy without destroying the environment, countering chronic and emerging infectious diseases. The first decade of the new century has shown that technological innovation is essential for the United States and other countries to meet these challenges.
At the 2009 Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Engineering in Irvine, California, a public forum entitled 'Rebuilding a Real Economy: Unleashing Engineering Innovation' brought together seven prominent leaders of the innovation system to discuss the challenges facing America. The insights of the panel members cut to the heart of what this nation needs to do to remain a global leader in the turbulent world of the 21st century.
This summary captures the main points made by the forum participants with the aim of encouraging further reflection and discussion. As the panelists pointed out, no single action can reenergize our innovation system. A portfolio of interconnected and interdependent initiatives must be undertaken to generate new knowledge and technology and move that new knowledge successfully into a competitive world marketplace. But the panelists clarified the goal toward which we must strive and some of the most important steps we need to take to achieve that goal.