Geopolitics of Technology

Strategic Balancing Initiative Hosts DC Event on Overcoming Misalignments in the Tech Development Ecosystem

By Ben Purser on February 29, 2024

On February 9, 2024, the Institute for Security and Technology (IST) convened public and private sector stakeholders in Washington, DC for a series of discussions on overcoming misalignments in the emerging technology development ecosystem to accelerate American and likeminded nations’ economic competitiveness and national security strength in the face of a systemic and well-coordinated approach by the PRC to lead in critical and emerging technologies. Convened by IST’s Strategic Balancing Initiative (SBI), the event brought together U.S. and foreign government officials with private industry stakeholders driving innovation in biotechnology, novel energy technologies, and quantum information science. 

To lay the foundation for the day’s discussions, we began with a panel discussion featuring Ambassador John Negroponte, the nation’s first Director of National Intelligence and former Deputy Secretary of State, and Dr. Sarah Sewall, Executive Vice President for Policy at In-Q-Tel and former Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights. I moderated the conversation, asking both to reflect on the current state of the U.S.-China relationship and its evolution over time. Following the panel, the group shifted to a series of roundtable discussions that focused on the misalignments identified thus far in SBI’s process. 

The day’s discussions explored a variety of topics, including improving private sector access to public capital, creating opportunities for the private sector to access public infrastructure (e.g., national laboratories), and sharing data amongst public and private sector collaborators. The conversations revealed several shared assessments: first, legislation is critical to provide market clarity for long-term investing; second, companies at different stages of technological maturity and commercial development need access to different types of public financing resources – one size does not fit all in the emerging technology ecosystem; and third, a broad set of rules and laws (e.g., not just intellectual property) limit the private-sector sharing of data across borders. Other important observations included the following: 

  • A call to action. The U.S. government is clearly prioritizing innovations in critical and emerging technologies, but not in the unambiguously effective way it has done with the Apollo program and the Manhattan Project. Given the current urgent national security imperative, there could be significant value in employing a similar approach now.
  • Aligned approach. Different parts of the U.S. government have various authorities to shape the business ecosystem for critical and emerging technologies, such as visa approvals, export controls, and loan guarantees. As a result, these programs often have competing priorities and approaches to risk (e.g., some consider it risky to approve an export, but others consider it risky to block a business transaction). Although the government could work to better align these approaches, they are inherently constrained by different legislation and regulations.
  • Regional hubs and corridors, including New York’s SMART I-Corridor Tech Hub, can provide the enabling ecosystem for commercial success in emerging technology. This was a noteworthy discussion particularly given what other stakeholders had previously flagged about the supposed differences in where startups and their employees want to be located versus where some of these hubs are located. The day’s discussion highlighted the need for state and local governments to incentivize both the business (e.g., quantum) and the supporting elements that make the location desirable for tech talent and their families.
  • Leveraging universities. In analysis of public-private collaboration, stakeholders repeatedly raised the importance of–and challenges associated with–working with universities, their faculty, staff, and students. Although some university labs foster close partnerships with businesses and government programs, general collaboration with universities can be difficult, both for bureaucratic reasons (e.g., differing timelines) and cultural reasons (e.g., the students who are interested in one aspect of a research area are not always interested in the other aspects of it, like the policy concerns around dual uses of biotechnology). Beyond a public-private sector dichotomy, the day highlighted the importance of considering universities as a third element of the discussion. 

SBI takes an iterative approach to identifying factors that prevent technology development in emerging technology sectors in the United States and like-minded countries. Over the last few months, we  convened experts in working groups on biotechnology, novel energy technology, and quantum information science. We research what those experts assess, and ultimately develop public-facing papers and events to make it easier for leaders in Silicon Valley and Washington, DC to align on practical solutions. 

SBI this month published its first of three concept papers–reports on how the iterative SBI process is evolving and what it is learning from stakeholders as it assesses how to unlock technology innovation. In June 2024, SBI plans to publish a final report and convene a capstone event in Washington, DC to fully explore these findings.

Events like these are crucial to SBI’s mixed-methods approach and IST’s mission. Thank you to our panelists and attendees for joining us!