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United States ingenuity – the facts

The latter, of course, is a reference to Twitter. There are also concerns that the technologies on which many companies, such as Facebook, are based, are really very mundane, for example when compared with the inventions that have brought the world to where it is today (light bulb, telephone, steam engine, rocket, computer).
So, can we still count on the United States (US) to lead world innovation? The answer is in the affirmative if we take a peep into the country’s innovation portfolio. As far as tech innovations are concerned, the question is not “which ones were created in the US?”, but rather, “which ones were not?”
Let us examine the status quo. The first powered airplane in the US was deployed in the year 1903. On the other hand, as of today, China, the world’s second largest economy after the US, has not been able to build aircraft of its own with a locally-manufactured engine and airframe. Does that sound like a cheap shot? It shouldn’t. Consider the 12 leading high tech companies in the world by 2012 revenue (in decreasing order of revenue): Samsung Electronics (South Korea), Apple (USA), Hewlett-Packard (USA), Foxconn (Taiwan), IBM (USA), Panasonic (Japan),  Microsoft (USA), Dell (USA), Amazon (USA), Fujitsu (Japan), Intel (USA), and Google (USA). Eight of these 12 are US companies.
And what about critical, life-changing technologies such as the Internet (USA), global positioning systems-GPS (USA), general military prowess (USA), general computer hardware (USA), supercomputer components (USA), microwave (USA), night vision (USA), and all aspects of aerospace (USA), to give a few examples. The US clearly dominates.
Don’t even get me started on the matter of computer operating systems – the engines that power our computers. These include, from “yesterday,” UNIX and its various flavors (AIX (IBM), Tru64 Unix (Compaq Computer Corp.), HP-UX (Hewlett-Packard Company), Irix (Silicon Graphics, Inc.), Solaris (Sun Microsystems), UNICOS (Silicon Graphics, Inc.), and ULTRIX (Digital Equipment Corporation)), DOS (IBM/Microsoft) and MacOS X Server (Apple Computer, Inc.). Today, the dominant OS’s include Linux, Windows, iOS, Chrome, and Android.  All of these OS’s, with the exception of Linux, were developed by US companies. Linux, which was developed in 1991 by the Finnish student Linus Torvalds, is a clone of UNIX, which was developed by AT&T (USA) from work that started in 1969.
The US also dominates recent innovations in modern computing paradigms, the least of which is not cloud computing (CC). The leading CC companies are Amazon, Google, Microsoft, VMWare, Salesforce.com, Rackspace, Verizon, Cisco, AT&T, and Citrix. They are again all US companies.
What about USeducation? Incidentally, this is an unnecessarily tricky subject that also irks. I find a bit of irrationality in the way that some people view the USeducational system. Ironically, it is people in developing countries like Nigeria, where not much is happening by way of education, that often form the opinion that US universities are in general not that great. Folks are very quick to tell you that given the facilities in the US schools, Nigerian schools would do better! I once overheard a Nigerian who was contemplating on graduate studies in computer science abroad. When asked what country, she was very definite that it would have to be the United Kingdom because of its superior graduate programs in computer science and engineering. Unfortunately, when asked for details, she couldn’t give any. This kind of disposition is somewhat pervasive in some developing countries.
I remember my own youth in Nigeria. Back then, folks, including me, actually believed that the US educational system was inferior to Nigeria’s. The rationale was easy to grasp, although delusional: in the 1970s, students who couldn’t pass their West Africa Examination Council (WAEC) examinations, and hence couldn’t gain admission to Nigerian and British schools, somehow gained admissions to (certain) colleges and universities in the US and often graduated. Obviously, the sheer size, flexibility, and pragmatism of the US system are precisely what are being indirectly deprecated, instead of being applauded.
So, what are the facts about US education vis-à-vis those of other countries of the world? From the standpoint of academics, US engineering and science graduate schools are easily the best in the world, with the runner-up very far behind.
In a 2011 “Webometrics Ranking of World Universities” by a research group affiliated with the Ministry of Education in Spain, out of 14,876 institutions, the six best universities in the world, in decreasing order of ranking, are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University, Cornell University, University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Michigan. These institutions are all located in the United States, as are all the institutions in the top 23 positions, with the exception of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, which was ranked Number 16. The first Nigerian university on the list was the University of Ibadan, at Number 3,499. Covenant University was the first private university in Nigeria on the list, at Number 7,169.
The United Kingdom-based Time Higher Education ratings of world universities show that seven of the top ten institutions in the world are in the US.
The main idea of this article is that the US leads the world in virtually all aspects of technology, with the runner-up very far behind. Moreover, the best universities in the world are in the US. Next week, I will talk about what it is that people from the US “eat” and “breathe” that make them so innovative.

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