Climate change, current geopolitics and the US's Wall Street bailouts have a common theme: the world's desperate need for leadership into a new technological era. President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize has created an excellent platform for this.
If the US can find billions to rescue inept companies, it can finance a global campaign for technological innovation. This could transform the international economy.
For decades America and the world have made do with stagnant technology, confusing hyperactive financial trading with the genuine prosperity that only new inventions can bring. In the early 20th century the US was the world's engine of technological innovation. Its relaxation of this role has had severe global implications.
Global politics are powerfully influenced by technology and are likely to be increasingly so in future. Environmental management, trade, energy, security, information and knowledge management, poverty, urbanization, agriculture and worldwide health issues are all now heavily technocentric.
For example, Iran has argued that international complaint about its nuclear program is an excuse to prevent it from developing an optimal energy industry. Whatever one's position on it, this issue powerfully illustrates the technocentric basis of contemporary geopolitical stability. Energy independence is a heavily technological matter, as is the detection and monitoring of nuclear weapons programs.
Intellectual capital is a powerful form of political currency. The US could be dispensing much more of it, not only to its legitimate strategic advantage but to universal advantage - if it were producing more. Unfortunately, America is not doing all it should to usher in a new technological era. In last year's presidential election neither John McCain nor Barack Obama credibly championed technological renewal across the board. President Obama has recently shown some encouraging progress in increasing scientific and technological research budgets, but he remains far from doing what is necessary to re-energize America's innovative leadership. This is disquieting not only domestically but also from a global stability perspective.
The US desperately needs a new political movement to take it and the world into a new technological era in all fields, not only a few that happen to be in the current political spotlight. If you think it's unrealistic to wish for a head of state who's passionate about linking leadership to new technology, think again. Abraham Lincoln's legacy is dominated by his role in preserving the unity of the American Republic, but future historians may praise him equally for his resolve to unite America infrastructurally via the transcontinental railroad, which in those days was as new-fangled an idea as you could get.
Lincoln was a railroad lawyer, supporting technological change. Putting a railroad advocate in the mid-19th-century White House was like electing an ardent magnetic levitation, nanotechnology or Mars colonization proponent today. Historian Stephen E. Ambrose calls Abe "the driving force" of a railroad system that was the century's greatest building project.
Lincoln intuited the dynamic of history when he perceived that if you weld seemingly disparate regions and peoples into a whole through shared technological infrastructures that improve their lives, you're well on the way to bringing them together on other levels. Of the options available to us to develop a more closely knit world in the 21st century, few are as potentially powerful and achievable as the prospect of new, exciting and globally shared technology.
For this to happen, the US must launch a concerted, government-led push to create a new generation of technological innovation, not only for itself but for the world. It's no overstatement to say that global survival depends on its will and ability to do so. President Obama's Nobel Prize provides a fine opportunity for the US to announce, and commit itself to, a global peace initiative based on a determination to bring a new age of technological development to all nations.
Melissaratos and Slabbert are authors of the book "Innovation, the Key to Prosperity: Technology & America's Role in the 21st-Century Global Economy." Melissaratos is senior advisor on technology enterprise to the president of Johns Hopkins University. Slabbert is an internationally award-winning writer whose articles have appeared in publications ranging from The Washington Post to The Harvard International Review.