How can the government and the tech sector work together to help jump-start the next chapter of tech innovation in the United States? On July 21 – we’re going to find out. The countdown to MerITocracy 2022: American Innovation Forum is on.

In the lead-up to the in-person forum in Washington, D.C., we are table-setting a host of big issues that will get serious attention at MerITocracy 2022.

Technology innovation and its unique ability to bolster U.S. leadership around the world are at the very heart of the issues that MerITocracy aims to move from the talking stage to the solutions phase.

The in-person forum – taking place at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C., from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. – will host bipartisan leaders from Congress, the Biden administration, and America’s tech industry to examine the most pressing problems facing citizens in our democracy, and map out creative solutions from the nexus of policy and technology. Register today.

In today’s edition of Countdown to MerITocracy, John Roese, Global Chief Technology Officer at Dell Technologies, previews his address at the July 21 American Innovation Forum on the way forward to those solutions – count on hearing a lot about connectivity, infrastructure, STEM talent, digital transformation, and regulatory enlightenment.

Headlining the MerITocracy stage on many of those same core issues will be Michael Brown, Director of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit, National Science Foundation Director Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Consumer Technology Association CEO Gary Shapiro, along with the leading voices in Congress on the innovation agenda.

Here’s the advance word on what Roese will have to say:

The U.S. Has Work To Do But Remains a Global Technology Innovator

MeriTalk: Talk of the digital divide is not new in this country, but the sudden shift to remote work and learning environments due to the COVID-19 pandemic put it in sharp relief. Lack of reliable internet access in areas across the country was a major roadblock to continuation of daily life. What are the long-term consequences of not ensuring every American has reliable internet access?

Roese: Advanced connectivity is a foundational technology. If you look at the evolution of telehealth, education, manufacturing, or just people going to work or school in remote environments, all of that relies on advanced connectivity – and not just what we have today, but what we could have in the future with the advent of 5G and 6G.  Without advanced connectivity, it’s difficult to envision a successful digital transformation of any industry, vertical, or entity, including government. But there are almost no U.S.-based sources to supply this technology. Everyone needs reliable connectivity so that industries can continue advancing, and people can do any task they desire.

MeriTalk: To fill internet access gaps, Congress and the White House included broadband access for every American in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Does the law go far enough to deliver on this promise, and to support other opportunities to power our economy?

Roese: When we talk about wireless and advanced broadband connectivity, we must address supply and demand. The infrastructure bill addresses the demand side extremely well. It created economic incentives for consumption of broadband connectivity, which catalyzes industries. However, it didn’t address the supply side – and there just aren’t enough suppliers to meet the demand created by the bill. In fact, the market is currently home to zero U.S.-based wireless technology companies. More importantly, the wireless industry is anemic compared to other technology areas like cloud and even quantum computing. The good news is that both industry and government recognize the problem and are addressing it. Bills are making their way through Congress that provide government support for building a modern U.S. telecom industry in the wireless space, which will help to alleviate the supply problem and rebuild America’s leadership position. This isn’t just a government problem to solve, though. Public-private partnerships between government and industry will help align the supply side with the demand side to deliver on the promises made in the infrastructure bill.

MeriTalk: Putting something into law is one thing. Implementing it is quite another. What needs to happen to successfully implement the infrastructure law?

Roese: First, we have to decide how to spend the money. Do we use the money to pull U.S. companies into this space and create new environments, which could mean spending on legacy-free architectures, or do we arbitrarily specify wireless technology with the assumption that the supply side will catch up and legacy issues will be addressed later? For example – building out wireless on tribal lands. That’s great, but those program requirements could include 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G technology. U.S. companies won’t deliver 2G, 3G and possibly even 4G connectivity, so those requirements won’t do anything to catalyze the supply side in the United States. On the other hand, specialized programs like delivering advanced data services to tribal lands, which can be done with modern O-RAN 5G, would allow U.S. companies and the U.S. ecosystem to engage and innovate to meet current needs while growing supply and laying the foundation for future innovation. The good news is that there is nothing in the law that prohibits this, and people are open to this idea.

MeriTalk: Let’s shift gears to talk about how expanded digital infrastructure supports emerging tech, including artificial intelligence (AI), and quantum computing. What is the current state of America’s digital infrastructure? How do we compare with other countries?

Roese: In most areas, we’re pretty good. We’re clearly the world leader in compute. We also have very strong AI and quantum computing programs. The gap lies on the wireless and connectivity side. It’s a strategic problem for the U.S. Take robotics. Robotics is not a single domain – it’s AI plus mechanical innovation, electrification, and connectivity. If you’re going to create a robot and put it into production to deliver packages, work in a warehouse, or even just mow your lawn, if it isn’t connected, it doesn’t work well. That advanced connectivity is critical. We are strong in robotics, AI, quantum computing, digital, and we are quite healthy in the cloud and IT ecosystem. But all of these rely on advanced connectivity to work well, and right now we don’t have a U.S.-based offering for that, which is a significant strategic gap compared to other countries.

MeriTalk: What is needed to improve and expand America’s digital infrastructure to support emerging technologies?

Roese: First and foremost, we have a talent problem. We are not producing enough STEM students, graduate-level computer scientists, data engineers, or data scientists. We need to invest in education and advanced research and create a pipeline of STEM-interested students. Second is building a U.S.-based wireless industry. Lastly, we need to connect policy to these technology ecosystems in a more intelligent way. For instance, policies around AI and data privacy are at odds today. We encourage AI development but discourage sharing of data – yet anonymized data is required for training infrastructure. Let’s tie those two policies together to achieve mutual goals – protection of personally identifiable information and advancement of AI – as opposed to different agencies working on each.

MeriTalk: What happens if we don’t invest now in our digital infrastructure and advanced technologies?

Roese: Let’s use the wireless industry as an example of what happens if you don’t continue to invest in technology. More than a decade ago, wireless companies Lucent, Motorola, and Nortel pulled out of North America, marking the beginning of a slow decline in our wireless talent base. Today, people who do have a strong understanding of wireless technology are getting older. In fact, if we don’t rebuild the wireless industry in the U.S., we probably have a decade before we lose that institutional knowledge in this country. That’s incredibly important to think about. Technology is not a moment in time, it’s the evolution of what you did last to make it better. We can’t afford to let that happen in other technology areas. In wireless, China is way ahead and we are now playing catch-up. I think we will fix this issue, but it should serve as a cautionary tale for what happens if we don’t continue to make investments in our digital infrastructure.

MeriTalk: What are some of the barriers holding America back from tapping into the full power of emerging tech like AI and quantum computing? How can we overcome those barriers?

Roese: We have challenges with regulatory frameworks. We need a regulatory framework around emerging tech that helps us keep a strategic advantage. These emerging technologies are complex and cover multiple domains. They are probably going to be applied first in highly critical, regulated industries where you are dealing with 100 years’ worth of legacy, and anything new must meet regulation and compliance obligations. I’ll give you an example. One thing you could do with a quantum computer is analyze every possible permutation of the shape of a car and determine what would deliver the most efficient electrified vehicle in the universe. But if that shape didn’t have rear-view mirrors, it wouldn’t pass regulation, and the efficiency is lost. We have to think about how innovation and policy relate to each other over the long term in order to realize the full power of emerging tech.

MeriTalk: It seems like every sector across the government can benefit from making investments in emerging technology, including transportation, education, healthcare, and defense. Can you share some examples of what can be achieved in these areas by making the right investments?

Roese: Government agencies realize how important emerging technology is for transformation. The Department of Defense is leading the way with 5G because they see the strategic advantage. They know that it’s not just about putting people on the theater to fight, it’s about coordinating them, it’s about data, and it’s about insights. Advanced connectivity is absolutely critical to them. There are others. The postal service is considering digital transformation in revamping its fleet, looking at fleet electrification and connectivity. Every agency we talk to is contemplating the application of technology to change a particular outcome. It’s now an execution exercise.

MeriTalk: Tell us how Dell Technologies can support government agencies from the Federal level down to the smallest municipalities in strengthening America’s digital infrastructure and helping them realize the full potential of emerging tech.

Roese: Government is an incredibly important industry for Dell Technologies. When government agencies start down the path of digital transformation, they’re looking at how to take what they do today and make it better with the application of technology. It’s never about a single product or piece of software – it’s about transforming the entire environment, from the software you use, the applications you develop, the infrastructure you run on, and, ultimately, the user’s experience with what you’ve developed. We’ve grown tremendously over the past five years in the enterprise space and have emerged as the broadest integrator of technology in the cloud era. We cover everything from compute, networking, storage, virtualization to software architectures and client devices. But we’re not just a provider of a specific product or products. We work with providers across the technology spectrum because true digital transformation is about pulling all the right pieces together to achieve a specific mission outcome. We are in a privileged position, working with a lot of government organizations to help them do that.

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MeriTalk Staff