Interview: U.S. expert says openness is key to success in Silicon Valley

Source: Xinhua| 2018-12-13 06:01:31|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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by Xinhua writers Ye Zaiqi, Ma Xiaocheng

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) -- The success of Silicon Valley lies in its openness, but it could be challenged by moving away from a global attitude, a U.S. innovation expert has said.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Richard Dasher, director of the U.S.-Asia Technological Management Center (U.S.-ATMC) at Stanford University since 1994, said one of the most impressive things over the past two decades is the structural change in China's innovation ecosystem.

"I'm seeing very much a system that has evolved according to a good balance of institutions, including capital markets, labor force and governance practices. China's industrial base, especially the three big companies, BAT, have become more global, and the way the start-ups and tech giants play are different," said Dasher, who has been watching closely on the technology development of both the United States and Asia.

BAT is an acronym referring to China's leading Internet companies, Baidu Inc., Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., and Tencent Holdings Ltd., which are often likened to Alphabet subsidiary Google, e-commerce giant, Inc. and Facebook Inc., the world's largest social media network.

"That's a structural change in the economy and it represents a different, a new kind of environment for opportunities," Dasher said, adding that for a start-up to survive in China, it has to have an idea that is not already being done by the big companies, and this dynamic pushes start-ups to newer emerging markets.

He said that although the focus of Silicon Valley has changed over the same period and people can see a new technology wave in a very regular pattern every seven or eight years, Silicon Valley really hasn't changed the mentality.

"It's almost an obsession with making the biggest idea as fast as possible and growing it as much as possible," said Dasher, whose research and teaching focus on the flow of people, knowledge and capital in innovation systems.

Having studied as a graduate student and working as a professor in Stanford University for several decades, Dasher said that the secret behind Stanford's success as the heart of Silicon Valley is setting high academic standards, attracting the most talented faculty, and encouraging open university-industry cooperation.

With the U.S.-ATMC as an example, when the center was started, the whole field of technology management was emerging as an academic discipline, and Dasher made a decision not to create an academic major in technology management.

Instead, he thought that technology management is something that larger numbers of students from various traditional disciplines should be studying.

In many of his courses, he has been insisting on inviting speakers from the industrial community to give lectures, opening lectures to the public, and encouraging connections.

"I think that the university's basic mission is education and basic research and some applied research, but I think that innovation also comes from the connection between the university and the industrial world," said Dasher.

Talking about the challenges of Silicon Valley, Dasher said that high living cost is hurting Silicon Valley's attractiveness as an innovation center, and that's the lesson that other cities in Asia should avoid.

"The price of housing here is okay if you're an AI programmer, but not okay if you're anybody else. When the place is too expensive for normal people who work in normal companies, that's a real issue," Dasher said.

He added that people in the Valley are aware of these challenges and they're trying to find ways to deal with the solution even if they can't really find a fundamental answer.

He also said that even more concern is the attitudes away from globalization. Looking back in history, Silicon Valley's supporting market was the United States until about 1985, and after that a lot of the supporting markets for Silicon Valley were from the Asia-Pacific region.

"I think Silicon Valley is in greater danger if we move away from a global attitude," Dasher noted, saying that an innovation-based economy like Silicon Valley really requires access to much bigger markets, in order to sustain high investment in research and development for a successful goal.