Aruba, December 31, 2018 – Challenges of technology, innovation and competition in the new year

We may remember 2018 as a year in which great power rivalry materialized at the forefront of American strategy — with emerging technologies as a critical dimension of this competition. At a time when divisive politics and intense partisanship have undermined solutions to even the most urgent policy dilemmas, there are reasons nonetheless for cautious optimism about the potential for progress on issues of technology, innovation and competition.
The current advances in emerging technologies possess strategic significance in their own right, yet take on greater urgency because of this rivalry. Such new frontiers as biotechnology, artificial intelligence (AI), fifth-generation mobile communications (5G), and quantum computing are integral to economic competitiveness and are also the “very technologies that ensure we will be able to fight and win the wars of the future,” according to the U.S. National Defense Strategy. Today, traditional American leadership is contested, as China emerges as a powerhouse in science and technology, with aspirations to become a global leader in innovation.
The recent recognition of the challenges that China presents to American national security and interests has started to reorient U.S. policy in ways that Republicans and Democrats tend to agree upon. Evidently, technology is a core concern underlying frictions and flashpoints, from the threat of China’s cyber and non-traditional espionage to security concerns over the involvement of Chinese companies in 5G development. China’s ambitions and potential to lead in strategic technologies constitute a long-term challenge of great consequence.
Going forward, a vision for strategic competition should concentrate on an agenda to invest in and revitalize American innovation. There are reasons to recognize, and even celebrate, the initial steps taken to confront these challenges — and hopefully, those efforts can be sustained and intensified.
So far, the Trump administration’s track record on technology and innovation has been mixed, but it appears to be gaining momentum. There were serious concerns that the administration had marginalized, or even outright neglected, science and technology. However, the White House has started to become more engaged on these issues.
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