Obama to Host Innovation Frontiers Conference, Seeks Nominations for Attendees

Share This

Publication date: 
1 September 2016

President Obama will host a White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh in October and guest-edit the November edition of WIRED magazine, both focusing on the president’s five “frontiers of innovation.”

President Obama delivering innovation speech

Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh will host President Obama on Oct. 13 for the White House Frontiers Conference. According to the conference website, the gathering will focus on building U.S. capacity in science, technology, and innovation and “the new technologies, challenges and goals that will continue to shape the 21st century and beyond.

The conference was inspired by a forthcoming November 2016 issue of WIRED magazine, which President Obama will guest-edit. Both the magazine and conference will focus the president’s five “frontiers in innovation”:

  • Personal frontiers in health care innovation, including the Precision Medicine Initiative and the BRAIN Initiative;
  • Local frontiers in building smart, inclusive communities, including through investments in open data and the Internet of Things;
  • National frontiers in harnessing the potential of artificial intelligence, including data science, machine learning, automation, and robotics;
  • Global frontiers in accelerating the clean energy revolution and developing advanced climate information, tools, services, and collaborations; and
  • Interplanetary frontiers in space exploration, including our journey to Mars.

According to WIRED, this is the first time a magazine will have been guest-edited by a sitting president.

The White House is seeking public nominations for a small number of spots to attend or exhibit at the conference. You can nominate an innovator or exhibitor here.

Conference and guest-editing fit president’s long focus on innovation

This week’s announcements are consistent with the focus the Obama Administration has continually placed on science, technology, and innovation. Prioritizing these activities in the waning months of his presidency also indicates that Obama cares about science and innovation as a legacy issue and would like to be remembered for his impact in this area.

Strategy for American Innovation, October 2015To this end, the White House released a report on June 21 detailing 100 ways the Obama Administration believes it has shown leadership in science, technology, and innovation. Among the examples is the nation’s first-ever national innovation strategy, A Strategy for American Innovation, which the administration released in 2009 and updated in 2011 and 2015.

The national innovation strategy outlines ongoing and planned federal efforts to promote long-term economic growth and competitiveness through innovation. It also makes the broader case for the importance of investing in science and technology, asserting that “from 1948-2012 over half of the total increase in U.S. productivity growth, a key driver of economic growth, came from innovation and technological change.

The 2015 strategy’s major themes include:

  • Investing in the science and technology foundations of innovation (including basic research, science and technology infrastructure, and STEM education);
  • Creating an economic and policy environment favoring entrepreneurship (through tax policy, intellectual property rights policy, and immigration policy); and
  • Catalyzing breakthroughs in key areas (e.g., innovation in clean energy and health care).

While the administration has succeeded in achieving a number of the goals in the original 2009 national innovation strategy, such as making the Research & Experimentation Tax Credit permanent, it has fallen short in others. The administration will miss its goal of doubling the R&D budget of the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology by a longshot. And according to the 2016 Science and Engineering Indicators, the nation will also likely fall short of the goal for an investment of 3 percent of annual GDP in R&D (government and business combined), although it may not end up too far off thanks to steadily growing business investment in R&D in recent decades.


About the author

mhenry [at] aip.org
+1 301-209-3094