Robert D. Atkinson

Robert D. Atkinson
President
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

As founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), recognized as the worlds top think tank for science and technology policy, Robert D. Atkinson leads a prolific team of policy analysts and fellows that is successfully shaping the debate and setting the agenda on a host of critical issues at the intersection of technological innovation and public policy.

He is an internationally recognized scholar and a widely published author whom The New Republic has named one of the “three most important thinkers about innovation,” Washingtonian Magazine has called a “tech titan,” Government Technology Magazine has judged to be one of the 25 top “doers, dreamers and drivers of information technology,” and the Wharton Business School has given the “Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Award.”

A sought-after speaker and valued adviser to policymakers around the world, Atkinson’s books include Big is Beautiful: Debunking the Mythology of Small Business (MIT Press, 2018); Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage (Yale, 2012), Supply-Side Follies: Why Conservative Economics Fails, Liberal Economics Falters, and Innovation Economics is the Answer (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), and The Past And Future Of America’s Economy: Long Waves Of Innovation That Power Cycles Of Growth (Edward Elgar, 2005). He also has conducted groundbreaking research projects and authored hundreds of articles and reports on technology and innovation-related topics ranging from tax policy to advanced manufacturing, productivity, and global competitiveness. He has testified before the United States Congress more than 30 times.

President Clinton appointed Atkinson to the Commission on Workers, Communities, and Economic Change in the New Economy; the Bush administration appointed him chair of the congressionally created National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission; the Obama administration appointed him to the National Innovation and Competitiveness Strategy Advisory Board; and the Trump administration appointed him to the G7 Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence. Atkinson serves on the UK government’s Place Advisory Group to advise the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation on how policy can drive innovation in more regions. He is a founding member of the Polaris Council, a body of cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary science and technology policy experts who advise the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team on emergent and emerging issues facing the Congress and the nation. He also has served as co-chair of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s China-U.S. Innovation Policy Experts Group; as a member of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and on the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information.

Atkinson is a member of the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age and serves on the boards or advisory councils of the Internet Education Foundation, the NetChoice Coalition, the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Innovation, and the State Science and Technology Institute. Additionally, Atkinson is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Electronic Government and the Journal of Internet Policy; a member of the Global Innovation Forum Brain Trust; a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; a fellow at the Columbia University Institute of Tele-Information; a fellow of Glocom, a Tokyo-based research institute; and a member of the Polaris Council, an advisory group to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics team.

Atkinson was previously vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute, where he directed the Technology & New Economy Project. He wrote numerous research reports on technology and innovation policy, covering issues such as broadband telecommunications, e-commerce, e-government, privacy, copyright, R&D tax policy, offshoring, and innovation economics.

Previously, Atkinson served as the first executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council (RIEPC), a public-private partnership whose members included the state’s governor, legislative leaders, and both corporate and labor leaders. As head of RIEPC, Atkinson was responsible for drafting a comprehensive economic development strategy for the state and working with the legislature and executive branch of government to successfully implement each element of a 10-point action agenda.

Prior to his service in Rhode Island, Atkinson was a project director at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, where, among other projects, he spearheaded The Technological Reshaping of Metropolitan America, a seminal report examining the impact of the information technology revolution on America’s urban areas.

As a respected policy expert and commentator, Atkinson has testified numerous times before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and he appears frequently on news and public affairs programs. Among others, these appearances have included interviews on BBC, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, and NBC Nightly News.

Atkinson holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was awarded the prestigious Joseph E. Pogue Fellowship. He earned his master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Oregon, which named him a distinguished alumnus in 2014.

Recent Publications

April 12, 2021

As America seeks to counter a rising China, no nation is more important than India, with its vast size, abundance of highly skilled technical professionals, and strong political and cultural ties with the United States. But the parallels between America’s dependency on China for manufacturing and its dependency on India for IT services are striking.

April 12, 2021

The United States continues its relative fall in university research and development funding. To become the leader among OECD nations in government funding for university research as a share of GDP, investment would have to increase by $90 billion per year.

April 12, 2021

As technology and industry strategy experts, we commend Congress and the Biden administration for focusing on ensuring U.S. advanced technology competitiveness. Toward that end, we offer a number of recommendations for further action.

April 6, 2021

Accurate statistics are critical for understanding the economy and making policy, as well as structural economic changes and economic performance. 

April 5, 2021

Low profit margins keep many small businesses from investing in productivity-enhancing technology, which in turn holds down wages. To break that cycle, there should be a federal program that helps them reap economies of scale and scope by collaborating in areas such as R&D, investment, marketing, and health insurance purchases.

April 5, 2021

The “techlash” is a story of extreme pendulum swings—from an era in which splashy product launches earned gushing media reviews to a relentless crisis narrative in which the tech industry is viewed

April 4, 2021

The lack of an American industrial policy made it easier for Korea and other nations to close the gap with America, and to surpass the U.S. in certain areas. But that may be finally beginning to change.

April 1, 2021

Given all the challenges America faces, the overarching goal for our economic policy should be spurring faster per-capita GDP growth, more innovation and greater national competitiveness, especially in advanced industries.

March 30, 2021

The Lewis Latimer Plan for Digital Equity and Inclusion is the product of a collaboration commissioned by the National Urban League. ITIF contributed analysis and recommendations to make government more effective in using digital tools to deliver public services to low-income and communities of color.

March 29, 2021

With the rise of China, the U.S. economic and technology environment has fundamentally and inexorably changed. America needs an advanced technology industrial policy to compete effectively—but that will require modernizing hidebound economic thinking that has long considered “industry policy” to be anathema.

March 24, 2021

Many argue that spending on physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, water systems, etc.) drives long-term economic growth. But is this really true, especially when compared to other kinds of public investments?

March 22, 2021

The truth is AI isn’t nearly as advanced as most people imagine. Rob and Jackie separate fact from fiction and discuss the policy path forward with Pedro Domingos, emeritus professor of computer science at the University of Washington.

Recent Events and Presentations

May 6, 2021

Please join ITIF for an in-depth discussion of how the United States can leverage India’s incredible potential while avoiding the strategic and policy mistakes of the past.

April 20, 2021

Please join ITIF for an expert panel discussion to explore the economic, health, and social effects that may persist post-COVID.

April 19, 2021

The Biden administration has rightly made fighting climate change a top priority. But that has raised a strategic question: Does the United States need China’s cooperation to succeed?

March 24, 2021

ITIF and the Institute for Policy Integrity hosted a discussion about the report and the path to a road user pricing system.

March 22, 2021

ITIF hosted a panel with a keynote speech by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, followed by an expert discussion with leading defense and technology experts of the health of the current U.S. innovation and production system, including the defense industrial base, and what the new administration and Congress should do to strengthen it.

January 22, 2021

Rob Atkinson appeared on Jordan Schneider’s China Talk podcast to discuss U.S. industrial policy grand strategy in light of China’s rise, what the US can expect from its allies on tech policy, as well as the “power trader” paradigm and how Albert Hirschmann’s analysis of 20th century Kaiser and Nazi trade policy helps explain China today.

January 6, 2021

ITIF hosted an expert debate on these issues, featuring Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, who has argued that the United States must accept China’s rise, and ITIF President Robert Atkinson, who argued America and Europe must work together to constrain China, particularly its drive to dominate advanced technology industries.

December 10, 2020

Rob Atkinson spoke at the Asia Times webinar on the Biden Administration's tech policy, including the tech war with China.

November 12, 2020

ITIF hosted a debate in which Acemoglu and Atkinson laid out their views about the future of automation technology and the effects it may have on U.S. competitiveness and the economy.

October 7, 2020

ITIF hosted a discussion of these issues, including how U.S. businesses are likely to be affected and what the U.S. government should do in response. An expert panel will discuss a recent ITIF report arguing the United States and its allies should focus on rebalancing global supply chains, bolstering competitiveness, adjusting to China’s market size, and solidifying the West’s appeal.

July 9, 2020

ITIF hosted a discussion with industry leaders on the role of digitalization in driving energy efficiency gains across the economy, and the release of a new ITIF report assessing the concerns—some legitimate and most not—regarding the energy and environmental impacts of the tech sector.

April 9, 2020

ITIF hosted a video webinar to discuss the implications of the pandemic on society, industry, and individuals and what organizations and governments need to do to cope.

Testimonials

Rob Atkinson, “has a unique and enviable capacity to communicate cutting-edge analysis of emerging and effective economic development practices. In that, he made high level concepts very accessible and relevant to those in the front line of growing jobs and the economy. We consider ourselves to be very fortunate you were able to share your voice, vision, wisdom, and experience with our regional leaders.”

- Jim Prosser Executive Director, Centralina Council of Governments 

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson was an excellent addition as an international keynote speaker at the Innovation Day, hosted by the Portuguese Industrial Association (AIP) in Lisbon. Dr. Atkinson’s presentation on lessons from the U.S. innovation system was insightful and engaging. His encouraging perspective on innovation and its potential role in the Portugal context during a moderated discussion was thought provoking for the audience. Dr. Atkinson is an excellent speaker and a pleasure to collaborate with.

- Augusto Medina President, Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovacao S.A. 

Dr. Atkinson’s keynote on “Innovation Waves” was a highlight of our P&G Alumni Innovation Summit. His long view of how innovation shapes business and economic growth provides clear direction on what’s needed to sustain US competitiveness in the decades to come. Rob was able to share a balanced view of what’s working and not working today, outlining a sensible approach for Federal R&D spending and regulatory policy.

- Wayne Fisher President, Rockdale Innovation