Influence of Information Technologies
Manufacturers are increasingly incorporating computers and other
forms of technology into the workplace, both on the factory floor and on the
office desktop. This has increased productivity, which in turn, has boosted
worker compensation. Since the fourth quarter of 1995, nonfarm business
productivity growth has averaged 2.1 percent. Nowadays it is difficult to
identify a low-tech manufacturer: 84 percent of manufacturers use
computer-aided design (CAD); 63 percent have incorporated local area networks
(LANs) into their operations; and 62 percent have adopted
just-in-time inventory techniques.
Before a company starts full-scale manufacturing of a product,
it builds prototypes with the same specifications as those of the planned
product. The prototypes are used for testing and verification of the design and
error-proofing manufacturing assembly. Older methods for constructing
individual prototypes were expensive and time-consuming, adding substantially
to the time between product concept and delivery. Today, rapid prototyping
reduces prototype development time from months to days, greatly shortening the
time to market of new products.
In addition, increasing productivity and capturing a world
market depend on agility in manufacturing
Federal Support for R&D
Nanotechnology and Beyond
We can even expect to see molecular-size switches for computer circuits; machines no bigger than a few atoms; surgical tools that can operate on an individual cell in the human body; and molecular robots that doctors can inject into the bloodstream, where they will seek out and destroy cancer cells. Nano-engineers are already envisioning self-assembling devices that will rebuild copies of themselves, molecule by molecule, following programmed instructions.
Today, U.S.-based manufacturing extends its global market share leadership mostly through high-tech exports such as computers, semiconductors, software, aircraft, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, on-line services, telecommunications, and precision instruments. We are beginning to transform manufacturing processes and equipment by intelligent sensors and control systems, rapid prototyping capabilities, and pollution avoidance technologies. Americas leadership in manufacturing has not been without global challenges, but we are witnessing a surge of innovation that will enhance our nations global economic manufacturing capability.
As newly developing fields such as nanotechnology, fiber optics,
robotics, and computer modeling continue to yield breakthroughs in products and
processes, we will undoubtedly see even more dramatic changes in the coming
century. Even if what is being manufactured is the same 30 years from now,
its a safe bet that how its manufactured will be cleaner, more
efficient, and more productive.
Wherever we turn in our daily lives, we constantly encounter
reminders of the contributions of science and technology. From the familiar
(for example, a phone call via optical fiber cable) to the astonishing (the
successful cloning of Dolly the sheep), examples abound of technologys
pervasiveness. As a society, we will wrestle with moral and ethical questions
raised by some of the newest capabilities we have developed, such as stem cell
research or genetically modified foods. But we should remember that much of
what we now take for granted as gifts from science and technology could not
have been foreseen decades earlier, and would not have been available without
vigilance in research and development funding.
If we are to continue to enjoy beneficial breakthroughs from scientists and researchers, we must make sure that we continue to fund essential research and development activities across a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines. Only by supporting research where the returns are not guaranteed can we ensure the steady, gradual progress that underpins the front-page news stories that accompany each new success. It is ironic that such open-ended research, whose cost-effectiveness is often difficult to guarantee, sometimes generates the greatest economic returns. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan expressed this very point in the summer of 1999 when he said, The evidence for a technology-driven rise in the prospective rate of return on new capital, and an associated acceleration in labor productivity, is compelling, if not conclusive. The Presidents Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, in issuing this report, urges all Americans from Capitol Hill to Main Street to do all they can to support continued Federal funding for science and technology, so that our grandchildren can continue to benefit from the same wellspring of prosperity.
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