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30:30February 15, 2024

On the Horizon 2022 | Science and Technology

Critical Challenge for the U.S. | Maintaining Our Technological Advantages

Harnessing global technology talent in the United States has historically been our superpower. According to the World Bank, since World War II, more than two-thirds of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to academics associated with U.S. institutions, only half of whom were born in the U.S. American universities still attract the top scientists and engineers, but today we struggle to grow that pool and keep it here. Meanwhile, over the last two decades, China has produced more science and engineering PhD graduates and Georgetown University expects that gap to be 40,000 in the next few years absent change. Recharging policy efforts to increase the number of people building innovative, secure, reliable, and competitive technology products and services at home and abroad—especially on geostrategically important technologies, including semiconductors and artificial intelligence, is urgent. Today, American industry  recruitment around the world is limited by the number of H1B visas available—less than 100,000 annually—while other countries are stepping in the void to offer attractive entry programs with short wait times. The U.S., together with its allies, must identify new, creative ways to improve the talent and skills pipeline and bring industry experts to government, especially as short-term advisors when needed. Technology ecosystems are deeply interconnected across state borders and no single country, not even the U.S., can afford to go it alone. Failure to act now will mean that adversaries may enable the next series of critical innovations and set them on a trajectory that cannot easily be disrupted.

Three Things to Watch

Satellite in space

1. Space and Security

As long as critical infrastructure and services are heavily reliant on satellite systems, space will be viewed as a domain of potential conflict by our competitors. Moreover, the age of centralized, government-directed human space activity is long gone, replaced by a new era where public initiatives in space share the stage with private priorities. With malicious activities increasingly threatening the safe functioning, confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data traversing these space systems, and novel actors gaining access to space and its resources, it is essential that space is included in broader national security and geopolitical conversations—not as an afterthought to land, sea, and air.

Cell phone and laptop with stock

2. Digital Assets Further Disrupt

Demand for access to digital assets—including cryptocurrency—will grow and continue to disrupt economies in new ways worldwide. Meanwhile, virtual worlds called “metaverses” allow for the creation of a new social and economic order where virtual banking-like activities and labor are rapidly evolving. In response, companies are developing software to use blockchain-linked assets and are assessing the evolution of a new and decentralized shadow social and financial system. Policymakers will need a clear understanding of the technology powering digital assets before they can create regulations that are effective and allow for powerful evolution.

3D printers

3. The Value of Open Science

The continued threat of the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of open science, from open access scientific publications about the coronavirus to open licensing of new designs for personal protective equipment. Open source hardware, in particular—machines, devices, and other physical things whose design is released to the public in such a way that anyone can make, modify, and distribute those things—rapidly increased the development and use of life-saving technologies. At the same time, geopolitical factors—such as competition with China—threaten to hamper scientific collaboration and knowledge sharing. As policymakers address priorities like equity in science and technology, supply chain security, and climate change, they should look to promote low-cost and open source hardware and other open practices to build more collaborative science, while addressing related issues in cybersecurity, intellectual property, and data management and sharing.

On the Horizon


Explore the full publication and learn what Wilson experts are watching in 2022.