Investment in Federal Research Enables Innovation

Posted by Elizabeth L. Grossman
Technology Strategy & Policy

Why do governments and companies fund research? 

There are many reasons -- one is to discover new things, to restock the cache of ideas and insights that feed innovation and job creation. Another is to educate and maintain a pool of talent that is skilled in critical thinking and armed with newly created knowledge to better grow our economy and tackle societal challenges. For these reasons, Microsoft makes significant investments in research. However, we do so in the context of the larger research community and federal support for science. 

On Dec. 21, Congress completed work on the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Reauthorization Act of 2010. The bill authorizes essential funding for science and education programs at the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institute of Standards and Technology over the next three years. 

This funding will help leverage additional investments in our nation’s future competitiveness and well-being. Robust federal support for breakthrough research conducted throughout the U.S. is critical  to fueling the ecosystems of government, industry and universities, allowing the U.S. to make discoveries and turn them into products that improve our nation’s ability to compete globally.  

In the past, federal investment in information technology (IT) research  in fields from networking to software design has resulted in the creation of new product categories that later became multi-billion industry sectors, such as portable communications and graphical user interfaces.

Looking to the next generation of such innovations, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology last week released the report “Designing a Digital Future: Federally Funded Research and Development Networking and Information Technology”. 

This report describes a number of ways in which potential new advances in IT, such as tools that analyze large volumes of data or improvements in security, privacy, and reliability, have real-world applications in health care, energy alternatives, transportation and national defense. 

Microsoft is unusual among companies in that we invest significant amounts of our own resources in basic research; Microsoft Research is currently the largest computing research organization in the world, with more than 800 Ph.Ds. This concentration of brainpower allows Microsoft to respond more rapidly to change, and provides a reservoir of technology expertise. 

Yet this group cannot and does not exist in a vacuum. Microsoft experts work closely with researchers at universities in computing and scientific fields across the spectrum. We depend on a vibrant and effective education system and national research environment to provide opportunities for collaborations and produce the pipeline of diverse and highly qualified graduates that will help us develop new products and create the next generation of computing technologies.  

One area highlighted in the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act for additional research is cloud computing. The broad potential of this field is demonstrated by the current partnership between Microsoft and the National Science Foundation, through which Microsoft will provide free access to advanced cloud computing resources for select NSF-funded researchers for the next three years. 

The storage and computational power of Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, and access to easy-to-use client and cloud tools will democratize access to an array of research capabilities that enable researchers to accelerate scientific breakthroughs in vital yet highly complex areas of inquiry, ranging from environmental science to genetics to materials design.

So today Microsoft applauds Congress and the Administration for supporting the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. This bipartisan legislation is an investment in the future economic well-being of the U.S. We look forward to playing our part in the vibrant research and innovation ecosystem which is a real driver of job creation in this country.


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