For the first time since the Space Race, the United States is facing a serious competitor with a plan to achieve technological dominance: China. Between China 2025 and the Belt and Road Initiative, it’s become clear that the Chinese government is determined to capture the economic power that new technologies like AI, automation, 5G, and the cloud represent.

And with economic power comes military power, and then political power.

To win this competition, the US must return to the historical model it used to build the interstate highway system, put a man on the moon, and build the computer and the Internet—but has quietly become an afterthought over the past few decades.

Alan Pentz wrote Winning the Long Competition to lay out a roadmap for increasing our investment and innovation in core areas. He shows government managers where to invest and points innovators to areas where the funding will be plentiful. As we move into the next American century, the only way forward is to harness all the resources and creativity of both our public and private sectors. I recently caught up with Alan to learn what inspired him to write the book, his favorite idea he shares with readers, and how that idea has shaped his life.

Published with permission from the author.

What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

I read an old news story about DARPA’s driverless car competition and realized that a $2 million prize launched what will soon be a industry worth trillions. Tesla, Waymo (Google), and all its competitors came out of that competition. I realized the government was essentially shaping the future of innovation and most people in our country don’t know it.

Soon after I began researching our national R&D spending and discovered that government funding has been dropping as a percentage of GDP for decades. My mission is to wake us up. We have to invest. 5G is the highway, canal, railroad, internet of the future. Whichever country builds the best networks and innovates on top of it will win the future. I want the United States of America to be the winner, but we’ve got a lot of work to do if we’re going to get there.

Published with permission from the author.

What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?

We need to build infrastructure—and the more digitally focused, the better. Think of all the lower income kids at home with parents working one or two jobs, and they’re without internet. We’re sacrificing the future of millions because we don’t have the broadband infrastructure in place to help them. If we build 5G and the services around it, we could give those kids a richer, more interactive experience that could close the educational gap we are seeing now.

We could also track and limit the spread of coronavirus and its successors. There are so many applications of this infrastructure that will be critical for the future of this country.

What’s a story of how you’ve applied this idea in your own lives? What has this lesson done for you?

I’ve learned that government investment in R&D and infrastructure is the key to our national future. The world our children live in will be shaped by the investments we make now—or the lack thereof. Name the problem and government is a crucial piece of it: improving health, climate change, elevating poverty, educating our young people.

All roads lead back to government investment in R&D and infrastructure, which is why we must start taking steps right now to rectify this problem. We can’t afford to wait, it’s too costly.