cess of the field. In doing so, the chapter draws on case studies from other sections of the report as needed for examples. Readers are referred to Chapters 6 through 10 and Chapter 4 for a more complete elaboration of the case studies.

The Benefits of Federal Research Investments

Government research funding has had a profound influence on the development of the computing industry in the United States. Federal research support has provided a proving ground for testing new concepts, designs, and architectures in computing, and it has helped hasten the commercialization of technology developed in industry laboratories. This influence has manifested itself in a variety of ways: (1) in the creation of new products, services, companies, and billion-dollar industries that are based on federally funded research; (2) in the expansion of university research capabilities in computer science and electrical engineering; (3) in the formation of human resources that have driven the computing revolution; and (4) in the ability of federal agencies to better accomplish their public missions.

Quantifying the benefits of federal research support is a difficult, if not impossible, task for several reasons. First, the output of research is often intangible. Most of the benefit takes the form of new knowledge that subsequently may be instantiated in new hardware, software, or systems, but is itself difficult to measure. At other times, the benefits take the form of educated people who bring new ideas or a fresh perspective to an organization. Second, the delays between the time a research program is conducted and the time the products incorporating the research results are sold make measurement even more difficult. Often, the delays run into decades, making it difficult to tell midcourse how effective a particular program has been. Third, the benefits of a particular research program may not become visible until other technological advances are made. For example, advances in computer graphics did not have widespread effect until suitable hardware was more broadly available for producing three-dimensional graphical images. Finally, projects that are perceived as failures often provide valuable lessons that can guide or improve future research. Even if they fail to reach their original objectives, research projects can make lasting contributions to the knowledge base.

Despite these difficulties, several observations can be made that provide a qualified understanding of the influence of federal research programs on industry, government, and universities. They demonstrate the effect federal funding has had on computing and, by extension, on society.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement