Trans-Atlantic ICT Symposium: Global technology and policy

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Good morning everyone, and welcome to the University of Minnesota, and, for many of you, a very warm welcome both to Minnesota and to the United States.

I assure you, I am one President in this country who is eager and happy to see all of you from different nations gather to solve our global challenges, and who believes strongly in Trans-Atlantic cooperation. It’s an amazing world we live in, isn’t it?

Seriously, on behalf of the entire University of Minnesota community — 65,000 students and 26,000 employees strong — we’re honored to host you. And, of course, we’re very proud of our Technological Leadership Institute, or TLI, which has organized this gathering. This symposium is chaired by our TLI Senior Fellow Tariq Samad and, of course, TLI is led by our remarkable Director and Professor Massoud Amin. This entire event would not have happened were it not for TLI event coordinator Nick Spase. And I’d like to also acknowledge the European co-organizers of this event, especially symposium co-chair, Svetlana Klessova.

Thank you, too, to the European Commission, the National Science Foundation, the IEEE [I-triple E] Control Systems Society, and Intelligent Manufacturing Systems for your support.

So, why here at our University? And why now?

First, we here at the University of Minnesota pride ourselves on being a convener for partnerships and for progress. We pride ourselves on being a global institution eager to examine and tackle some of the world’s most pressing grand challenges — be it hunger, disease, or climate change, and the sorts of challenges you’re discussing and seeking to find solutions for this week ...

Examples include:

  • Smart and sustainable transportation,
  • Energy,
  • Manufacturing,
  • Infrastructure, and
  • The vitality of our communities.

Those are issues our scholars are researching and our students are learning about every day on our campus.

You might know that Minnesota is the 21st most populous state in the U.S., but we are the 8th ranked research university, spending over $800 million  a year to create new knowledge and advance inquiry of all kinds. We’re the hub for innovation in the Upper Midwest of the United States. We’re a special place and delighted to host you.

As to the question, “Why now?” I think we all know: These issues before us are urgent. In fact, you all know — better than most — that emerging technologies are advancing at an unimaginable rate, and it is the convergence of these technologies that demonstrate the potential to have a major impact on our lives, our businesses, our government, society and, ultimately, our planet.

These pivotal technologies that you will be discussing are establishing the basis for the development and commercialization of next generation of intelligent, affordable, and complex systems to serve some of humanity’s pressing challenges. Applications of these technologies range from intelligent cars and smart highways, to advanced manufacturing, to smart grids and clean energy, and other aspects that are part and parcel of the smart societies that we must strive to create over the next years and decades. But, of course, societal impact requires more than just research.

The interplay of technology development and technology policy is a crucial aspect. I am encouraged to see that this interplay of technology and policy is a key focus of this symposium, and indeed of the European Commission-funded PICASSO project under the auspices of which the symposium is being held.

One other aspect of this event is noteworthy for me, too, and that is the focus on trans-Atlantic collaboration. Make no mistake, we understand clearly the myriad problems and challenges we face today transcend national boundaries, and their solutions — and the process needed to arrive at them — also transcend boundaries. No matter where we live or work, no matter what language we speak, we live on this planet together. Joint funding initiatives, policies to encourage international teams, pilots in multiple parts of the world, addressing of policy differences among governments, and seamless transnational partnerships are needed.

We here at the University of Minnesota are committed to our role in those partnerships and in promoting global citizeniship. We have students from more than 130 nations on our campus. We’re a national leader in sending our own students abroad so they’re prepared for global challenges and solutions. Our faculty are engaged in literally hundreds of international research partnerships.We’re serious about that discovery.

And we’re serious about commercializing that technology. Last year, for example, our Office for Technology Commercialization generated gross revenues of about $47 million from 528 tech-transfer licenses that were active during fiscal year 2016. Last year, we spun off 17 startups from faculty and staff research for a total of more than 100 over the past decade. 

Our Technological Leadership Institute, or TLI, is a perfect example of our institutional personality. It is interdisciplinary and spans 10 of our colleges and schools. It works with our alumni and external partners in industry and government. It provides students with training in leadership skills, business, technology, policy analytics, and scholarship.

Top-ranked public research universities like ours are in the middle of creating the new knowledge and educating the new human capital. That’s why investment in basic research in higher education is so important, and why threats to funding at our federal level are so troubling. I like to quote Norm Augustine, the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, and a passionate supporter of research and development in higher education. He put it this way. He said, “If you happen to find yourself on an airplane that is losing altitude and, if you have to cut weight to maintain flight,  the absolute last thing you would throw out is the engine.”

The very last thing you should do is not invest in university research. Whether it’s here in the United States or in Europe, we all must continue to invest in our research institutions to keep our engines of innovation running, and running strong.

In closing, information and communication technologies,  including the technologies you are focusing on in this symposium  … the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems, 5G networks, and big data … they represent the innovation wave that is cresting today. And that’s why you’ve gathered here and now, and that’s why we’re so excited for this remarkable opportunity to host you all and share with you the knowledge of our own faculty and staff. Again, on behalf of the entire University of Minnesota community, welcome, and have a very productive symposium.