In presidential election season, Bill Gates emphasizes innovation’s essential role

April 26, 2016

Voters are heading to the polls in several states today in the months-long process of nominating presidential candidates and ultimately electing a president. As the primary- and general-election processes play out, Bill Gates has a message: “While the parties focus on who is going to represent them in the fall, I want to make the case for something that I hope every candidate will agree on in November: America’s unparalleled capacity for innovation.”

In a blog post at Reuters, he writes that investment in innovation creates jobs at home and fights poverty in the poorest countries. “It offers the next president a tremendous opportunity to help people in America and around the world,” he adds.

Gates notes that American innovation isn’t new, tracing it back to Benjamin Franklin. What is new, he writes, is that more countries are competing for global leadership in innovation. Since 2000, South Korea’s R&D spending (measured as a percentage of GDP) has gone up by 90%, China’s has doubled, and the U.S.’s has essentially flatlined. He adds that U.S. government research made possible the microchip revolution, with most top tech companies still based in the United States.

He cites healthcare as an example of innovation’s benefits. “Since 1990, the fraction of children who die before age 5 has fallen by more than half,” he writes. “I think that’s the greatest statistic of all time, and the United States deserves a lot of credit for making it happen.”

He also cites energy, noting that between 1978 and 2000, the DoE spent $17.5 billion (in today’s dollars) on energy research, yielding $41 billion in economic benefits. “Yet, until this year,” he adds, “the DOE’s research budget hadn’t seen a real increase since the Reagan administration.”

Gates concludes, “By the end of this summer, the political parties will have chosen their leaders and will start looking ahead to the November election. The nominees will lay out their vision for America and their agenda for achieving it. These visions will probably have more differences than similarities. But I hope we can all agree that, no matter how you see America’s future, there will always be an essential role for innovation.”

About the Author

Rick Nelson | Contributing Editor

Rick is currently Contributing Technical Editor. He was Executive Editor for EE in 2011-2018. Previously he served on several publications, including EDN and Vision Systems Design, and has received awards for signed editorials from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He began as a design engineer at General Electric and Litton Industries and earned a BSEE degree from Penn State.

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