Gates, Mundie Urge More Long Term U.S. Investment In Tech - InformationWeek

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3/13/2008
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Gates, Mundie Urge More Long Term U.S. Investment In Tech

A key Microsoft priority is to encourage investment in math and sciences education, including putting more technology in the hands of schoolchildren.

The United States risks falling behind other countries in innovation if the government doesn't invest and shape policy to keep it ahead, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and chief research officer Craig Mundie warned in a speech and discussion with Virginia's technology leaders Thursday.

Gates said that political and financial investment in technology may force the government to make trade-offs between keeping their constituencies happy right now and keeping the United States competitive in the future. "Compared to a taxpayer rebate, putting money into research and development has a multiplier benefit, but it happens over a 10-year time frame," he said.

Other countries, he said, are now beginning to copy the policies and investments that have made the United States a top innovator in the past. Mundie added that while that shift is happening internationally, too often decisions in the United States seem to be made to appease political constituencies over the short term. "There's a lack of awareness to the degree the rest of the world is coming online," he said.

One area where the United States has fallen behind, according to Mundie, is the deployment of IPv6, an extension of the Internet Protocol addressing scheme that could enable an explosion of Internet-connected devices by dramatically increasing the number of available digital addresses. This was supposed to have been a key initiative among government agencies, and Microsoft was urged to IPv6-enable its software by Department of Defense.

Upgrading existing American infrastructure is an expensive proposition, but is much cheaper now than it will be in a few years when it becomes a necessity due to the increasing number of devices coming online. "Something that's troubling is that we in the United States have lost the energy to deploy that," he said, noting that countries in Asia have accelerated programs in place to get IPv6 infrastructures up and running while American programs are now lagging.

A key Microsoft political priority for the long term is to encourage investment in math and sciences education, including putting more technology in the hands of schoolchildren, Gates and Mundie said. "We need to do a little bit more to promote that collectively," Mundie said. "Kids today have a cell phone and the Internet. Then they go to school, and it's almost like going back in time."

In testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday, Gates urged legislators to increase the number of H-1B visas given to qualified foreign workers. He echoed that sentiment again Thursday morning, saying that many of the brightest students coming out of colleges today are immediately sent back to their home countries when they graduate, taking their expertise with them outside of the United States because of a lack of visas.

Mundie pointed to broadband policy as another area where policy has helped to keep the United States behind some other developed countries. He said that the government should long ago have allocated more bandwidth for Wi-Fi and other wireless Internet technologies, rather than forcing the IT industry to push for the usage of idle television frequencies as a last bastion of hope for more Wi-Fi space and auctioning off other bandwidth to the highest bidder. "The country may fall yet further behind," he said.

Gates struck a more promising note on broadband. He said that a greater choice of wireless providers and the opportunity for carriers to differentiate themselves with faster connections is driving new competition for buyers.

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