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Winter 2017 Director's Corner

Gail Cohen picSTEP had a busy 2016, with the release of three reports and a complement of studies and activities addressing current policy issues in innovation, energy technologies, and the 21st century workforce. The STEP Board, under the leadership of Richard Lester, met most recently in October at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This 67th Board meeting included presentations from MIT and Harvard faculty, and included special tours of Nobel Laureate Wolfgang Ketterle’s lab and a cutting-edge nanotechnology facility.

In September, STEP’s Innovation Policy Forum held a forum on Growing the Caribbean Innovation Economy, which was led with a keynote address by Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada.  The Prime Minister also moderated the last panel, and we are grateful for his participation.  This meeting brought together regional S&T, innovation, and entrepreneurship experts to discuss how universities, public-private partnerships and entrepreneurs can further innovation-led growth across the Caribbean.  Other Innovation Policy Forum events included an October workshop on human resource management and entrepreneurship and a December workshop exploring the returns to federal investment in the innovation system.  Experts discussed what data are or are not available that would help researchers test questions about the benefits of government funding.

In December, STEP, along with the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law, held a day-long workshop on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) -- the first in a series of planned workshops on the economic, legal, and regulatory implications of emerging technologies.  Economists, engineers, government and corporate leaders, and other experts discussed the effects of AI on areas like employment and growth, privacy and ethics, and public safety and national security.

STEP has completed its phase-two assessments of the SBIR and STTR programs, culminating with the release of reports on SBIR at NASA and SBIR at the Department of Energy and a final workshop in December discussing the findings and recommendations of the Department of Energy report.  This workshop also gave an opportunity to mark the committee’s extensive work in documenting the concept and performance of SBIR programs, and to look ahead to the future of these programs.

Our project on clean energy technology was also completed this past year with the release of a highly downloaded report, “The Power of Change”.  Our evaluation of ARPA-E is on track to be released later this year.

Finally, our project on the skilled technical workforce held a workshop on military pathways to skilled jobs in the civilian sector in December, which brought together members of the government, military, and the private sector to explore how the Department of Defense can better integrate skills transition in military training and how to better transfer training to the civilian workforce. We will release this committee’s report in spring of this year.

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