‘Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.’ So said, 21st century philosopher Mr Gary Linkeker. And that’s precisely what happened at this summer’s Brazil football World Cup, leaving the Germans sitting pretty at number at the top of the FIFA world-ranking table. So, other than next time remembering to include the possibility of women playing, take a bow Senhor Lineker, and have a caipirinha on the house.
But which country leads the global science and technology rankings? Contrary to its national team’s growing prowess on the soccer field, the USA’s lead at the top of the tech top table narrows each year. America’s decline – or, put another way, the increase in the capabilities of its global rivals – is well documented and has been increasingly apparent during the new Millennium.
That said, reports confirm that the US still spends more than any other country on science and technology research and development. But, in order to try and stay ahead of the likes of China and South Korea, the big-spender must continue to fund and, crucially, innovate. (Not always easy when you’re carrying a potentially career-threatening injury as a result of a vicious financial tackle in the form of the 2008/09 recession.)
It’s not like America is unaware, though. The most recent report from America’s NSB (National Science Board) confirms the country’s ‘lead in science and technology is shrinking’. It also highlights the fact that, since 2001, the share of the world’s R&D performed in the US and Europe has decreased, respectively, from 37% to 30% and from 26% to 22%. That same time period has seen Asian countries piece of the tech pie up from 25% to a cake slice-bending 34%.
And as a US government task force recently stated– failure to properly appraise the extent of scientific developments in enemy countries may have more immediate and catastrophic consequences than failure in any other field of intelligence. Actually, that was said back in 1948. Looks like The Boy Lineker might have some competition from the late Ferdinand Eberstadt.
Another country, which has seen its tech muscle lessen, is Japan. But the Japanese market still offers something that even perennial leader, the US, has always appeared a little short of – ‘proper cool’ tech. From the moment Japanese engineers started filling their hugely reliable cars with tech, and American engineers continued to fill their invariably less reliable automobiles with fuel, the Japanese appetite for ‘new’ hasn’t abated.
Now, for cars, also read robots. In 2012, according to the IFR (International Federation of Robotics), Japan was the biggest robot market in the world – sales of 28,700 versus 22,414 in the US. The automotive market counts for a chunk of these orders – hence the appearance of Germany high up the robotic sales table – but Japan also see robots as a significant part of the answer to the question of how to care for its ageing population. And many of Japan’s Asian neighbours are equally robot-friendly. None more so than the South Korean Ministry of Information and Communication, which says that it wants a robot in every home by 2020.
There was a time when the country making the most bold, most inspiring technological statements was invariably the United States. But that moon landing was a while ago now. And three years have passed since NASA’s Space Shuttle completed its final journey. So what now for the US? The Royal Society says China is on course to be the world’s biggest technology source by 2020. A private advisory panel says that intellectual property theft costs the Americans $300 billion per year. And the country to hold the record for start-ups per person is? Estonia. Obviously. (It can be a help if your tech landscape effectively has a ‘standing start’.) Maybe it’s time to embrace a new strategy? Perhaps bring in some new faces? After all, the manager of the US football team is… a German.