Many of the corporate research labs that had the ability to pursue long-term research are a shadow of their former selves. Bell Labs, formerly the premier industrial research laboratory in the world, once played a key role in the development of foundational information and communications technologies such as the transistor, the laser, information theory, programming languages, the UNIX operating system, and wireless technology. Bell Labs still exists, but it now employs just 1,000, down from a peak of 25,000.
Increasingly, industry leaders are looking to academia to replace the void left by the decline of corporate research labs such as Bell Labs. The semiconductor industry, for example, is concerned that they will be unable to double the computing power of semiconductors every 12 months to 18 months after 2020 without radical breakthroughs in information technology. The industry has started to fund a university-based Nanoelectronics Research Initiative to address this challenge, but the government has provided only modest support for this effort.
Similarly, progress in information technology could grind to a halt unless researchers can develop novel approaches to easily and efficiently programmed computers that have dozens or even hundreds of processors on a single chip. The federal government should provide matching funds for university-industry collaborations that address these and other long-term challenges.
For more on CAP’s policies for increasing innovation in science and technology, please see: