Cautionary testimony about the future of American innovation from the head of DARPA, the Pentagon research division that invented the Internet, has been posted on the website of the House Armed Services Committee. Dr. Regina Dugan, Director of DARPA, told Congress in March that the decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector could make it harder for the country to innovate in the the coming years -- and could pose a serious risk to national defense.
Dugan's warning was given to the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities and is one of several alarms raised by the Pentagon research think tank about the decline in the country's scientific and technical capabilities.
[ Don't miss InfoWorld's take on the latest developments in tech -- sign up for the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. ]
"One of the biggest challenges we face as a Nation is the decline in our ability to make things," Dugan wrote. "Americans today consume more goods manufactured overseas than ever before...and yet they are less likely to be employed in manufacturing than at any time in the last 100 years."
The decline of the U.S. manufacturing sector is more than just an economic question, Dugan argues. It directly affects the nation's ability to continue innovating. How so? Dugan notes that many of the barriers to innovation are encountered in and around the manufacturing process: design, prototyping, early production, and the shift to large-scale production. Without a native ability to handle that part of the process, the United States will lack the tools and infrastructure to foster innovation and end up at the mercy of its friends, neighbors, and trading partners.
Rather than a return to the model of production and manufacturing developed in the 1930s or 1940s, however, Dugan said DARPA is investing $1 billion over the next five years in alternative design and product methods that will enable a new generation of a modular, "seamless," and democratized manufacturing enabled by the Internet, social networks, and technology.