|Foresight Update 14 - Table of Contents|
A Japanese proposal for international cooperation in
international manufacturing research is forcing a reevaluation of
U.S. technology policy. The Industrial Machinery Division of the
Ministry of International Trade and Industry proposed the
Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (IMS) Project. The original
proposal, now substantially modified, called for a ten-year,
multilateral, cooperative research effort in the United States,
Europe, and Japan. Funding--originally projected at $1
billion--was to be derived from private as well as public
sources; Japan would contribute 60% of the cost and the United
States and Europe would split the rest. The details of the
proposal reveal why it has attracted so much attention.
In defining intelligent manufacturing systems as the focus of the project, IMS's sponsors cast a very broad net. The term "system" denotes the integration of technologies and human skills across the entire range of corporate activities relating to manufacturing--from order-booking, to design, to production and marketing. (An "intelligent" system--or technology--is defined here as one that monitors its own internal processes and reacts to internal stimuli.)
The proposal includes a comprehensive list of topics to be investigated in each area. International teams will pursue projects jointly, with the aim of reducing redundancy in national research portfolios. Further, the project seeks to harmonize worldwide standards for intelligent manufacturing technology. Early on, U.S. firms and universities responded to a MITI solicitation by submitting more than a dozen proposals for IMS related research funding. MITI retained the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in Michigan to act as the project's secretariat in the United States.
|Government officials viewed the IMS as proceeding too far, too fast|
These events surprised and dismayed many U.S.
observers--particularly government officials--who viewed the
project as proceeding too far, too fast. Two points were
particularly sensitive. First, IMS was moving forward without the
kind of government-to-government negotiation customary in
international projects. Second, various institutions were
offering Japanese interests access to a wide range of U.S.
technology without--some felt--having considered the cumulative
impact of their actions on the nation's competitive position.
The potential for conflict was exacerbated by cultural differences in approaching new projects. The typical Japanese approach in both public programs and business contracts is initially to sketch institutional and programmatic commitments with a broad brush. Details are worked out on an ad hoc basis as the enterprise matures. The U.S. tendency runs in essentially the opposite direction: Fully-scoped programs are defined at the outset. In the early spring of 1990, the United States took official action by invoking the authority of the U.S.-Japan Science and Technology agreement--an umbrella for cooperation between the two countries.
The independent American proposals to MITI for funding and the designation of the SME as secretariat were withdrawn accordingly. The Department of Commerce, designated as lead agency under the agreement, then began a domestic and international discussion process. Throughout this evolution, the principal assumptions on which the system had long been based--that the centralized, competitive research can be wasteful, that diffusion of technology throughout industry ultimately benefits all firms; that Japan has much to learn from abroad; and that government and industry must work cooperatively--have never been discarded. The IMS proposal incorporates the traditional paradigm, adapting it to suit today's realities. In an effort of such scope and magnitude it is obvious to the Japanese that all sectors--government, academia, and the leading industrial firms--must make common cause.
Accustomed to viewing the West as the source of technology and realizing that there are still technical areas in which the West leads, Japanese participants in IMS naturally seek access to that outside expertise. Domestic pressures have forced Japan to reorient its science and technology establishment around two broad new themes: internationalization and innovation. Long insulated from foreign influences, Japan is now trying to promote a genuinely international culture across a wide spectrum of areas from consumer markets to art and science. One important aspect of this transformation is the more equitable exchange of ideas, technology, and people from within and outside Japan. By welcoming foreigners into the Japanese technical establishment and underwriting research abroad, IMS could contribute significantly to this movement.
The Japanese economy has evolved faster than expected from a capital intensive to a research intensive system; research expenditures exceeded capital purchase for the first time in 1986. The future of Japan's manufacturing sector depends on automation to compensate for anticipated labor shortages: the average age of the population is increasing in Japan faster than in any other major industrial power. For these reasons, Japanese manufacturing is moving offshore.
American attitudes toward IMS reflect four distinct perspectives: internationalists emphasize the integration of the U.S. into the global economy; the technical community focuses on research agendas and funding; domestic interests emphasize the need to maintain U.S. competitiveness; and the policy community highlights public-private dialogue about technology.
The U.S. policy community--a collection of scholars, advocates, and makers of technology policy--is a uniquely self-conscious entity, simultaneously developing new policy initiatives and critiquing its own progress. From this perspective, the value of IMS as a policy development process is even greater than its long term promise as an R&D project. IMS has given rise to new policy-oriented groups, notably the ad hoc industry steering group, and by casting the Department of Commerce as the lead agency in this instance, it has established new bureaucratic patterns.
Nowhere has the U.S. failure to access and profit from new technology been more marked than in its interactions with Japan. In part, this has been due to barriers to foreign participation in research consortia, but most of these have now fallen. From the Japanese perspective, the IMS project is intended to go one step further, opening the door to its domestic technical apparatus. Having pushed so long for just such an invitation, Western interests will suffer a setback in Japan if they fail to respond. As of yet, there is still no federal entity that possesses both the authority and the wherewithal for managing international exchanges. Such exchanges are likely to proliferate, not decline; many of them may be modeled on IMS.
Instead of reinventing the wheel with every exchange, the United States should capitalize on what it has learned throughout the IMS process and create an office--most appropriately in the Department of Commerce--to gather and disseminate information about international technology-development projects, coordinate positions, and negotiate agreements. Whether in sports or in scientific research, players need to know how to play the game before they enter the fray. To compete in the arena of international R&D, the U.S. needs to develop two critical capabilities: a clear and effective domestic technology policy, and honing the skill at capturing the benefits of foreign technology. The U.S. must be willing to design and invest in new programs and policies to achieve these critical capabilities. (Issues in Science and Technology Fall 1991:49-53)
The U.S. National Institutes of
Health (NIH) took the first public step in a "strategic
plan" for research funding when it revealed the draft of a
year's effort recently at a meeting in San Antonio, Texas. The
plan is being written to justify arguments for greatly increased
federal funding for NIH but, as NIH Director Bernadine Healy
expects, it will also bring into the open a number of fundamental
and contentious questions about the structure of the NIH
Strategic planning also raises, inevitably, the notion that some areas of research are so important, or intellectually interesting, that they deserve funding increases at a rate that is higher than others. Healy is sympathetic to this view, but the biomedical community as a whole--favoring the strategy of every discipline on its own--has never successfully reached a consensus on research priorities.
The scientists cum peer reviewers--perhaps genetically programmed to eschew anything that smacks of "target" research--arrived in San Antonio in an apprehensive mood, exacerbated by the fact that NIH officials were so slow to get background documents out to meeting participants. As the debate wore on some consensus became evident. It was generally agreed that the idea of strategic planning is sound and should not be abandoned just because it got off to a bad start. (Nature 355:573)
The U.S. President's recent 1993
budget proposal released in January called for an 18% overall
increase next year to the National Science Foundation (NSF), and
a 21% boost in its basic research funds. The total budget for all
the federal government science and technology programs would grow
from $74.6 billion to $76.6 billion--an increase of less than 3%.
That is below the 3.3% inflation rate that the administration
projects for 1993. But there is a good reason why the overall
increase is so small: defense R&D--which currently accounts
for 60% of total government expenditure on science and
technology--would get only a modest increment.
Civilian R&D, in contrast is slated to grow by 7%, from $28.3 billion to $30.4 billion. And within those totals, basic research would climb to $14.3 billion, an increase of 8%. According to the presidential initiatives, selected areas of both Big Science and Small Science see significant increases. These initiatives call for a 24% increase in global change research up to a total of $1.3 billion. High performance computing and communication increases 23% to $803 million, while advanced materials grows 10% to a proposed total of $1.8 billion. Biotechnology is slated to grow 7% to over $4 billion. And math and science education is also projected with a 7% growth topping the $2 billion mark.
In terms of Big Science, the Superconducting Supercollider received a 34% increase to $650 million and the Strategic Defense Initiative received a 31% increase to $5.4 billion, the largest single item in the big science scorecard. (Science 255:673) [Editor's note: As we go to press, continued funding for the Supercollider is in doubt.]
In a Science essay
titled "Pork Barrel 'Science'" it is mentioned that the
polite term used by the U.S. Congress is "earmarking,"
but whether one calls it earmarking or pork barrel, the article
goes on to say it is a reprehensible activity practiced by a few
powerful members of Congress. Moreover, it has reached a point
where the negative impact on scientific projects is very real, as
is apparent from the following excerpt of remarks by George
Brown, chairman of the House Science, Space, and Technology
Committee. "In the NASA area, I am certain that my
colleagues recall the debate earlier this year over the space
station. The debate was, in many ways, a historic one. We were
asked to make a major decision on whether we could afford to
continue the space station when so many other programs were in
dire need of funding. These included space science programs,
housing programs, environmental programs, and veterans programs.
We voted to continue the station, and there can be no doubt that
these and many other meritorious programs have not received the
funding they needed.
"Yet the conference report contains over $100 million in projects that were never requested by the administration, never authorized, and never discussed on the floor. We were never given a choice between a station and those projects. These appear in the NASA portion of the budget, but some can scarcely even be called space projects.
"The conferees generously set aside $40 million for a vast variety of brick and mortar projects in West Virginia. These include $22.5 million in funding for a national technology transfer center in Morgantown, WV. The proponent envisions that persons inquiring about technological advances that are taking place through government projects must write to West Virginia for the answer. It includes $7.5 million for continued funding for the Wheeling, WV, Jesuit College. I don't believe that anyone in Congress or in NASA knows what this will be used for.
"It includes continued funding for a consortia of universities and consultants in the Saginaw, Michigan, area which has somehow emerged as the center for environmental research in the past three years ... NASA itself has little idea where this funding is going. It includes $20 million for the Christopher Columbus Center for Marine Research in Baltimore. I stress marine research, not space research...
"The conference report terminates a vast variety of NASA scientific projects such as the space infrared telescope, ... the orbiting solar observatory ... and the flight telerobotic servicer. These are all projects that scientists have spent decades planning and developing. These are all projects that could be funded with a little more restraint on the part of the conferees ..."
With regard to the pork barrel sites mentioned by Representative Brown, it is no coincidence that the chairs of the three relevant appropriations committees come from West Virginia, Maryland, and Michigan. (Science 254:1433)
A committee of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has identified several technologies predicted to be important in the U.S. Army within the next 30 years. The Strategic Technologies for Army Report (STAR) targets, in particular, key technology areas for ground warfare. Biotechnology played an important role in the report. A subcommittee suggests seven areas of biotechnology with the "highest payoff," including:
Admiral David Jeremiah, Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed the need to invest in nanotechnology in a recent speech to the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics. He also called for a new technical education process, citing the lack of knowledge about nanotechnology among senior naval officers as an example of why change is needed. (AIAA Convention, Naval Training Center, San Diego, CA, 11Feb92)
From Foresight Update 14, originally published 15 July 1992.
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