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Trump’s budget: Say goodbye to U.S. tech pre-eminence

Preston Gralla | April 5, 2017
If enacted, the budget would go a long way toward changing the U.S. from a leader to a laggard in new technologies

Being a leader in supercomputing means more than just bragging rights. The report warns that losing supercomputing leadership could “undermine profitable parts of the U.S. economy,” make it more difficult to make strides in efficient, high-tech manufacturing, and endanger national security.

Money for science and technology will be cut throughout the budget, not just at one agency. Under Trump’s plan, the National Institutes of Health would get an 18% reduction. The Environmental Protection Agency's science programs would be slashed by 40%, including all research into climate change. The National Science Foundation, which among other things provides research funds for computing engineering, would be cut by 10%. The list goes on.

Computerworld’s Patrick Thibodeau quotes Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as warning that Trump’s budget “would cripple the science and technology enterprise. The administration's cuts threaten our nation's ability to advance cures for disease [and] maintain our technological leadership.”

Joe Kennedy, senior fellow with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, warns in a blog, “Since these agencies fund a great deal of research in universities, cuts to them may prematurely end many careers among the next generation of research scientists.”

The proposed cuts come amid dangerous signs that the U.S. is already ceding its tech pre-eminence to other countries, notably China. There’s little doubt that there’s a coming boom in spending for green energy. China already spends more than twice the amount the U.S. does for renewable energy, according to a United Nations report called “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2016.” With federal funding eliminated for climate change, you can be sure the government won’t be spending much for research into green energy.

Robotics is another area in which the U.S. is falling behind. A report from IDC Research says that the Asia Pacific region is the world leader in robotics spending, with $60 billion in 2016, compared to $12.9 billion in the Americas.

And in October 2016, the federal Office of Science and Technology Policy said that China had surpassed the U.S. in research on artificial intelligence and deep learning. It also found that “Current levels of R&D spending [on A.I. and deep learning] are half to one-quarter of the level of R&D investment that would produce the optimal level of economic growth.”

Washington Post writer Brian Fung warned, “When A.I. stands to transform virtually everything including labor, the environment, and the future of warfare and cyberconflict, the United States could be put at a disadvantage if other countries, such as China, get to dictate terms instead.” Given the president’s budget proposal, that seems likely to happen.

 

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