At the inaugural meeting of a new presidential advisory committee on innovation, experts in information technology pointed to areas in IT, nanotechnology and biotechnology in which government assistance could lead to new products and job growth.
Tuesday's event was featured on social media channels to collect insights from the committee's specialists, researchers and the public on how the government can support the synthesis of the three emerging fields.
"Today is a listening session and we look forward to hearing the continuing conversation in the days ahead, offline," Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, who facilitated the meeting, said in an interview with Nextgov.
The White House has dubbed IT, nanotech and biotech "the golden triangle" of technological convergence. Under the Obama administration's rubric, IT spans all technologies used to create, share and analyze data. Biotech draws on the basic elements of life, such as cells, to invent manufacturing methods. And nanotech is the practice of manipulating matter at the atomic or molecular levels.
When combined, these disciplines are expected to produce advances in energy, national security and medicine -- progress that in turn can generate jobs and boost the gross domestic product, White House officials have said.
The predecessor of the innovation panel was the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee, which was established as a standalone entity in 1997. President George W. Bush terminated the committee by letting its charter expire in June 2005.
Bush later added IT functions to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, which still exists today.
In April, Obama renamed the council's IT component the President's Innovation and Technology Advisory Committee. The panel's charge is to help implement the innovation agenda Obama outlined in September 2009 to spur job growth. The agenda hinges on research and development investments, federal support for the emerging clean energy and health IT sectors, and promoting entrepreneurship -- including efforts inside federal agencies -- to advance IT.
On Tuesday, participants responded to questions from the committee's co-chairs, Google Chief Executive Officer Eric Schmidt and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Shirley Ann Jackson. As far as the government's role in promoting these fields, Jackson said, "Is there infrastructure that needs to be developed? And where should the government focus its resources?"
Attendees suggested federal agencies could instill a culture of innovation on university campuses by partnering with academic institutions and build consumer trust in the new disciplines through regulations. Rules on information security and the privacy of electronic health records are key policy areas, Chopra said. For example, the Federal Communications Commission and Health and Human Services Department this summer are considering safeguards for medical devices that rely on information networks to monitor patient health.
Agencies also could invest modestly in new instruments, such as collaborative computing platforms, that support applications across a number of lines of work, according to Chopra. Buying into such tools could ultimately benefit federal customers, such as the Defense Department, as well as the commercial sector.
Chopra said the administration wants to identify the "blind spots," or unknown challenges, at the intersection of IT, nanotechnology and biotechnology, to incorporate them into federal policymaking.
The White House invited representatives from the private sector, the research community, state and local governments, and nonprofit organizations to participate in Tuesday's session. They presented in person and online by posting ideas on an interactive website and commenting through the social networking services Facebook and Twitter.