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Summary of the 1997 Sigma Xi Forum

Trends in Industrial Innovation: Industry Perspectives and Policy Implications

Addressing Industrial Innovation

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – "We’re in the midst of what I would call a vast social and industrial innovation and policy experiment, which is partly driving itself and partly being drive by our choices," Sigma Xi President Robert Frosch told 1997 Forum participants. "It’s clear we’re undergoing rapid change, and I suppose, as usual, the winners in this game will be those who respond fastest to the feedback signals."

Frosch’s remarks came at the conclusion of the two-day Sigma Xi forum November 20-21 on Trends in Industrial Innovation: Industry Perspectives and Policy Implications in Washington, D.C., at which about 350 participants heard from more than 60 speakers.

Nearly half of the speakers and panelists were current or former high-level industry officials, who were joined on the program by leaders in academia and government. They addressed current global trends and what they mean for the future of research in biotechnology, telecommunications, energy, health and transportation, among other areas.

U.S. Congressman Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Michigan) invited his fellow Sigma Xi members to help formulate a new national science policy, one that he hopes will have the visionary power of Vannevar Bush’s Science: The Endless Frontier, which provided a compelling rationale for government support of research following World War II.

Ehlers is the first research physicist ever elected to Congress. In leading this policy effort, he said his goal is to develop a mission statement for science that is concise and clear, yet also comprehensive. To learn more about this ongoing project, visit the science policy study Web site.

Selby Wellman, senior vice president of Cisco Systems Inc., said the impact of the "Internet Revolution" in the next decade could be as great as the "Industrial Revolution," based on the extent to which it is changing how people, live, work, learn and play.

In a plenary talk on "The Federal Role in Industry Innovation Policy," Lewis Branscomb said: "A national assessment of the Clinton-Gore administration’s technology policy, published in a new book entitled Investing in Innovation, proposes a better way to discuss the issues and a set of principles that could attract the support of the political center and provide a stable, long-term commitment to developing fully the nation’s creative potential.

"The central ideas," he continued, "are to move the debate from ‘science policy’ versus ‘technology policy’ to a national research and innovation policy. Research must be understood as embracing both basic science and basic technology research." A past president of Sigma Xi, Branscomb is Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management Emeritus at Harvard University and former chief scientist for IBM.

In another plenary talk called "The Globalization of Research and Development in a Knowledge-Based Economy," Claudine Simson told forum participants: "I believe we have reached a watershed in our history, a time when the choices we make will have lasting implications for years to come….In his recent book, The Digital Economy, Don Tapscott, a former Nortel employee, notes, ‘We are at the beginning of the age of networked intelligence, an age that is giving birth to a new economy, to new politics and to a new society. Businesses will be transformed, governments will be renewed and individuals will be able to reinvent themselves, all with the help of the new information technology.’" Simson is vice president for Global External Research and Intellectual Property at Nortel.

In a talk on "Industry-University Innovation Engines," William A. Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, said that: "I think all of us need to think about institutional changes. Universities are going to change. Industry has gone through dramatic changes in the last decade and a half, and if we’re going to improve the flow of information, if we’re going to improve the productive innovation system in this country, we have to at least be open to considering the possibility of institutional change."

Filling in for presidential science advisor John H. (Jack) Gibbons, who was on a special trade mission to China, Rosina M. Bierbaum presented the annual John P. McGovern Lecture, titled "Science and Technology: Foundation for Economic Growth." She is assistant director for environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Speaking for Gibbons, Bierbaum said, "My confidence in the ability of science and thoughtful technology to lead us toward a sustainable future has been reaffirmed. I strongly concur…that energy efficiency and renewable energy, still revolutionary concepts for many, can combine with other advanced technologies to enable a future in which global economic development and environmental stewardship are valued, preserved and synergistic.

"…It is crystal clear to me," she continued, "that science and technology will increasingly provide key options, as well as raise new challenges to self governance. We will depend on enhanced capabilities to wrest more out of each resource consumed. We will have to learn to live and deal with each other in a more interactive, non-linear and, therefore, much more complex society."

Other forum speakers and panelists included AT&T Laboratories Research Director Andrew Odlyzko, Procter & Gamble R&D Manager William James, Ciba Specialty Chemicals Vice President Raymond Seltzer, IBM Public Policy Director Kathleen Kingscott, Quantum Energy Technologies Inc. President John Preston, and Hambrecht & Quist Chairman, William R. Hambrecht.

Honorary Sigma Xi member Paul Raeburn, senior science and technology editor of BusinessWeek, moderated an informal luncheon panel discussion November 20 on "Industry, Research and the Media" that included forum speakers and panelists.

"The overall goal of the forum was to provide an industry perspective on leading trends and issues in research and innovation," according to Sigma Xi Executive Director Peter D. Blair. "Major issues addressed included how industry innovates and how external forces influence it, the use of partnerships in achieving innovation, and the globalization of research and development and economic growth strategies."

Funding for the 1997 Sigma Xi Forum is being provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and Cisco Systems Inc.


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