BOX 2
Lessons About the Nature of Research in Information Technology—A Summary

The results of research

—America’s international leadership in IT—leadership that is vital to the nation—springs from a deep tradition of research. …

—The unanticipated results of research are often as important as the anticipated results—for example, electronic mail and instant messaging were by-products of research in the 1960s that was aimed at making it possible to share expensive computing resources among multiple simultaneous interactive users. …

—The interaction of research ideas multiplies their impact—for example, concurrent research programs targeted at integrated circuit design, computer graphics, networking, and workstation-based computing strongly reinforced and amplified one another. …

Research as a partnership

—The success of the IT research enterprise reflects a complex partnership among government, industry, and universities. …

—The federal government has had and will continue to have an essential role in sponsoring fundamental research in IT—largely university-based—because it does what industry does not and cannot do. … Industrial and governmental investments in research reflect different motivations, resulting in differences in style, focus, and time horizon. …

—Companies have little incentive to invest significantly in activities whose benefits will spread quickly to their rivals. … Fundamental research often falls into this category. By contrast, the vast majority of corporate research and development (R&D) addresses product and process development. …

—Government funding for research has leveraged the effective decision making of visionary program managers and program office directors from the research community, empowering them to take risks in designing programs and selecting grantees. … Government sponsorship of research especially in universities also helps to develop the IT talent used by industry, universities, and other parts of the economy. …

The economic payoff of research

—Past returns on federal investments in IT research have been extraordinary for both U.S. society and the U.S. economy. … The transformative effects of IT grow as innovations build on one another and as user know-how compounds. Priming that pump for tomorrow is today’s challenge.

—When companies create products using the ideas and workforce that result from federally sponsored research, they repay the nation in jobs, tax revenues, productivity increases, and world leadership. …

____________

SOURCE: Reprinted from NRC/CSTB, 2009, Assessing the Impacts of Changes in the Information Technology R&D Ecosystem, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., p. 33, summarizing NRC/CSTB, 2003, Innovation in Information Technology, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., pp. 2-4.

biomedical computing; and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity invests in such areas as data analysis and speech translation.17 Today, a wide array of agencies participate in the federal Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) program,18 reflecting their interest in supporting advances in various aspects of computing and communications to fulfill their missions.

Why has federal support been so effective in stimulating innovation in computing? As is discussed below, many factors have been important.

1. Federally funded programs have supported long-term research into fundamental aspects of computing, whose widespread practical benefits typically take years to realize.19



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement