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    與中國競爭,美國高校已漸漸不支

    世界知識產權組織稱,在人工智能領域排名前20的大學和公共研究機構中,有17家位于中國,而且中國科學院在榜單中排名第一。

    就創新而言,美國依然領先于全球各大競爭對手,但對于時常被人們看作是新理念搖籃的美國各大高校來說,它們有理由為未來感到擔心。

    這一點在5G電話網絡和人工智能領域尤為突出。無獨有偶,唐納德·特朗普總統最近一直強調美國必須在這些領域一馬當先,但亞洲,尤其是中國,已經在這些領域迎頭趕上。

    研究公司GreyB Services稱,中國、韓國及中國臺灣地區的大學在無線通信領域的專利比其美國同僚更多。位于日內瓦的世界知識產權組織稱,在人工智能領域排名前20的大學和公共研究機構中,有17家位于中國,而且中國科學院在榜單中排名第一。總的來說,美國大學依然是專利榜的老大,加州大學和麻省理工學院則處于榜首。

    大學在研究工作的生態系統中有著特殊的地位。

    企業實驗室更傾向于關注的是,自己所確立的研發內容能夠為其帶來利潤,但政府實驗室卻將國家安全放在首位。各所大學都在培養未來的科學家,而且也都是一些“天馬行空”理念的孵化器,事實證明,其中的一些理念顛覆了整個行業和社會。案例包括谷歌的搜索引擎、支撐整個基因修改療法的DNA科技。還有蜜脆的蘋果。

    十多年來,政府給大學提供的資助金金額一直沒有什么變化。考慮到實際因素,這意味著撥款額度反而有所下降,而且占經濟的比例也在減小。

    大學技術經理人協會的負責人史蒂芬·蘇薩爾卡說:“看看聯邦撥款就知道,事實上它們并沒有發生太大的變化。其他的國家都在迎頭趕上。我們不能一直吃老本。”大學技術經理人協會是一家技術轉讓協會,其成員包括800家大學。

    2017財年用于大學研發的聯邦資助金為400億美元,略低于6年前的峰值。各大高校每年的總花費額約為750億美元,其中的差額大部分來自于學校的自有資金。政府撥款所占的比例已經從2004年的近70%下滑至60%以下。

    特朗普宣稱,人工智能和5G將成為重點項目,但他卻沒有向國會申請更多的資金。事實上,美國政府去年便呼吁對研究資金進行大幅削減,包括削減美國國家科學基金會11%的經費。

    國會對此表示反對,而且通過了十年以來最大幅度的漲幅,將總經費增至1760多億美元。沒有人知道最終有多少資金流向了大學,因為撥款流程由于為期35天的政府關門而中斷。

    超過半數的大學研究聯邦資助金來自于美國衛生和人類服務部。這一點在美國大學獲得的專利類型上得到了體現。知識產權管理軟件公司Anaqua稱,幾乎四分之三的專利都集中在生命科學領域,而亞洲大學的生命科學專利則不到一半。

    “應提供更多的資金”

    針對IT研究的撥款往往源于五角大樓和美國國家科學基金會,每一家都會貢獻約13%的大學研究資助金。

    華盛頓信息技術與創新基金會的道格·布雷克說:“這不是一個小數目,但我認為應加大資助力度。”他說:“這個數字與中國的支持相比是微不足道的。”

    這種對比十分復雜,因為從某些方面來看,中國在研發方面的開支已經可以與美國媲美。

    中國政府還投資了近100所美國大學,設立了孔子學院,以弘揚中國語言和文化。政府問責辦公室稱,這些學校均未獲得直接的美國聯邦資助。

    如果要了解全球最大的兩個經濟體在創新方面的情況以及雙方如何實現其創新的商業化,另一種方式便是調查知識產權使用的付費情況,例如專利、商標或版權。我們再次看到,美國依然處于領先地位,但中國也在迎頭趕上。

    美國將大學引入這一流程的做法已經得到了廣泛的效仿。1980年頒布的一項法律允許大學保留通過政府資助而獲得的專利。大學技術經理人協會的數據顯示,各大高校在2017年總計收到了30多億美元的授權費。它們提交了超過1.5萬個專利申請,并幫助催生了1080家初創公司。

    國家標準技術局的負責人沃爾特·科潘表示,該系統正在進行升級,這樣研究便可以更加高效地被企業使用。

    他說:“政府的工作是投資這些高風險的探索性領域。這對于美國競爭力來說至關重要。”

    “喜聞樂見”

    以上也是特朗普在上個月的行政令中所總結的內容。這篇2700字的文章并沒有對中國指名道姓,但維持美國的“經濟和國家安全”以及保護其科技免遭“戰略競爭對手的有意收購”等措辭則是明確地將矛頭指向了中國。

    文章倒是沒有過多地提及資金的事情。加州大學伯克利分校主管研究業務的副校長蘭迪·卡茲指出,該校現有的資金遠遠不能滿足高質量研究工作的需求。僅有五分之一被認為有價值的項目最終得到了資助。

    這也是為什么特朗普的人工智能發展命令需要在實際中進行一定的后續跟蹤的原因。他說:“我們很高興地看到它成為了國家的一項重要戰略,但至于國家能夠為此花多少錢,還得看國會的意見。”(財富中文網)

    譯者:馮豐

    審校:夏林

    The U.S. is still out in front of global rivals when it comes to innovation, but American universities –- where new ideas often percolate –- have reason to look over their shoulder.

    That’s especially true for technologies like 5G phone networks and artificial intelligence. They’re exactly the fields where President Donald Trump recently insisted the U.S. has to lead — and also the ones where Asia, especially China, has caught up.

    Universities from China, Korea and Taiwan get more patents than their U.S. peers in wireless communications, according to research firm GreyB Services. In AI, 17 of the top 20 universities and public research organizations are in China, with the Chinese Academy of Sciences topping the list, says the World Intellectual Property Organization in Geneva. Overall, American universities still dominate the patent rankings, led by the University of California and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    There’s a special place for universities in the ecosystem of research.

    Corporate labs tend to focus on what they’re fairly sure will be profitable, while their government equivalents put national security first. Universities groom future scientist and can be incubators for pie-in-the-sky ideas –- some of which turn out to be game-changers. The list ranges from Google’s search engine to DNA technology that’s behind a whole industry of gene-manipulating treatments. Plus the Honeycrisp apple.

    Government grants to universities have been stagnant for more than a decade, meaning they’ve declined in real terms and as a share of the economy.

    “If you look at the federal dollars, they’ve not really changed substantially,’’ says Stephen Susalka, head of AUTM, a technology transfer association whose members include 800 universities. “Other countries are catching up. We can’t sit on our laurels.’’

    Federal funding of $40 billion for university research in fiscal 2017 was slightly below its peak six years earlier. The colleges spend about $75 billion a year altogether, with the balance largely coming from their own funds. The government’s share has slipped below 60 percent, from almost 70 percent in 2004.

    Trump has proclaimed AI and 5G to be high priorities, but hasn’t pitched Congress for more money. In fact, last year the administration called for deep cuts in research funding, including an 11 percent hit to the National Science Foundation.

    Congress balked and instead passed the biggest increase for a decade, bringing the total to more than $176 billion. How much will go to universities remains unclear, because the grant process was interrupted by a 35-day government shutdown.

    More than half of federal cash for university research comes from the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s reflected in the types of patents U.S. universities are getting. Almost three quarters are in the life sciences, compared with less than half at Asian universities, according to intellectual property-management software firm Anaqua.

    ‘Should Be More’

    Grants for IT research tend to originate at the Pentagon and the NSF, which each contribute about 13 percent of university funding.

    “That’s not nothing,’’ says Doug Brake at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation in Washington. “But I’d argue there should be more,’’ he says. “It pales in comparison to the type of support the Chinese engage in.’’

    Comparisons are tricky, but by some measures China’s spending on research and development now rivals America’s.

    The Chinese government also is investing in nearly 100 U.S. universities, which have Confucius Institutes to promote Chinese language and culture. None of those schools receive direct U.S. federal funding, according to the Government Accountability Office .

    Another way to look at innovation in the world’s two biggest economies, and how they commercialize it, is to study payments made for the use of intellectual property – like patents, trademarks or copyrights. Here again, the U.S. still holds a lead but China is advancing.

    The American way of bringing universities into this process has been widely emulated. A 1980 law allows them to keep patents that stem from government-funded research. Universities received more than $3 billion in gross licensing income in 2017, according to AUTM. They filed more than 15,000 patent applications, and helped create 1,080 start-ups.

    Walter Copan, head of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, says the system is being updated so that research can be delivered more efficiently into the hands of business.

    The government’s job “is to invest in these high-risk exploratory areas,’’ he says. “This is of critical importance to U.S. competitiveness.’’

    ‘Great to See’

    That’s pretty much what Trump concluded about AI in his executive order last month. China isn’t identified by name in the 2,700-word document. But the references to maintaining America’s “economic and national security,’’ and protecting its tech from “attempted acquisition by strategic competitors,’’ point clearly in that direction.

    Money doesn’t get much of a mention, though. At the University of California in Berkeley, there’s significantly more high-quality work going on than there is cash available, says Randy Katz, the vice chancellor for research. Only about one in five proposals deemed to have merit ends up getting funded.

    That’s why Trump’s AI order needs some practical follow-up, says Katz. “It’s great to see it’s a national priority,” he says. “It’s up to Congress to see how much money is going to be spent.’’

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