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 awarded him 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), 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; and the Obama administration appointed him to the National Innovation and Competitiveness Strategy Advisory Board. 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; and a fellow of Glocom, a Tokyo-based research institute.

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 22, 2019

A national “road user charge” system would ensure that everyone who drives on America’s roads contributes their fair share of the infrastructure costs.

April 8, 2019

In a book review for the New York Journal of Books, Rob Atkinson writes that "Jump-Starting America" is an important and interesting book about the future of the United States.

April 8, 2019

Given that the economy has been in an unprecedented productivity growth slump—and the baby boom retirement wave is rising—taxing automation equipment ranks as a singularly bad policy idea.

April 8, 2019

If China were only a copier, then the competitive threat to advanced economies would be limited. But there is no reason to believe China won’t follow the path of “Asian tigers” that rapidly evolved from copiers to innovators, which poses a serious threat.

April 4, 2019

Robots are key tools for boosting productivity and living standards, and companies around the world are putting them to use.

April 1, 2019

As Rob Atkinson writes for Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Margarethe Vestager’s decision to veto a merger between rail companies Alstom and Siemens shows how preventing EU firms from merging will result in weakened and shrunken European competitors.

April 1, 2019

Artificial intelligence won't destroy more jobs than it creates over the next decade, Rob Atkinson argues in a Wall Street Journal debate with Oxford University's Carl Benedikt Frey.

March 26, 2019

The EU has an opportunity to make major strides in the next wave of digital transformation. But it will need to adopt a forward-looking policy perspective that focuses on the benefits of connectivity, automation, and smart systems for Europe’s economy and society.

March 25, 2019

NIH funding is critical to improving health outcomes and reducing the societal costs of illnesses. Congress should increase the NIH budget and then maintain regular, steady increases.

March 21, 2019

As Rob Atkinson writes for The Hill, a new report from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) provides a comprehensive analysis of China’s innovation mercantilist strategy and should serve as a broader rallying cry.

March 19, 2019

As Rob Atkinson writes in a book review for the New York Journal of Books, "The Knowledge Economy" has a worthwhile goal but suffers from fundamental flaws.

March 13, 2019

In a column for Latin Trade Magazine, Rob Atkinson explains why Latin America needs a digital single market and how Pacific Alliance partners could advance it.

Recent Events and Presentations

July 16, 2019

Please join ITIF for an expert panel discussion on the current state and future potential of robotics across all sectors of the U.S. economy. Where are we today with robotic development? What are the key technological challenges to overcome? What is the government’s role in supporting robotics development and adoption? And, of course, what is the likely impact on employment?

April 25, 2019

Join ITIF for the release of a new report—“A Policymaker’s Guide to Road User Charges”—and an expert panel discussion that will delve into the myths and realities of having a “road user charge” system (RUC) that uses technology to log the mileage of cars and trucks and charge them accordingly.

April 9, 2019

America’s ability to compete globally in biomedical innovation is being threatened.

March 28, 2019

The United States has long been a magnet for the best talent in the world, particularly in science and engineering disciplines. But now, as American policymakers engage in a necessary debate about low-skill immigration, that issue has been conflated with the separate issue of high-skill STEM immigration, and the unfortunate result has been unduly harsh scrutiny and stricter limits on the latter. ITIF hosted a panel discussion exploring the controversies of the H-1B visa.

March 22, 2019

ITIF and an expert panel discussed the consequences of various reforms to the U.S. Postal Service.

December 12, 2018

While the technology industry was once seen as being committed to building a better and smarter world, shifting public perceptions towards the tech industry have caused it to go on the defensive when it comes to issues ranging from data privacy to income equity, workplace diversity, and antitrust enforcement. Has the technology industry become worthy of the same scrutiny as the oil, banking, or airline industry? Join ITIF for an in-depth discussion of these critical issues, including an assessment of the validity of commonly voiced concerns and what the industry needs to do to avoid becoming the next Big Oil.

December 11, 2018

What should we make of large corporations today? Of all that can be said about large corporations—statistics, anecdotes, trend lines, and historical comparisons—which are the facts that matter most, and how should policymakers respond? Join ITIF for a spirited debate moderated by CNN's Lydia DePillis between ITIF President Robert Atkinson and Columbia University Law Professor Tim Wu on the role and influence of big business in today’s economy and society.

December 6, 2018

Rob Atkinson spoke on a panel at the 2018 G7 Multistakeholder Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Montréal, Canada.

December 5, 2018

The U.S. needs to cultivate more and better clusters of small and medium-sized (SME) manufacturing firms in order to compete in a global industry with an increased reliance on smart manufacturing technologies. Join ITIF for a morning conference exploring how digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things are reshaping modern manufacturing and what policymakers can do to help foster high-performance SME manufacturing clusters.

December 4, 2018

In a presentation to the National Economist Club, Rob Atkinson discussed U.S. manufacturers' preparedness for automation and new technologies.

November 28, 2018

Even with continued improvements and cost reductions to current emissions reducing technologies, the world is not on track to achieve the deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Join ITIF for the release of a new report analyzing hard-to-decarbonize sectors and an expert panel discussion on the limits of current technologies and potential solutions.

November 18, 2018

Rob Atkinson spoke on a panel on the consumer welfare standard at the inaugural "Challenges to Antitrust in a Changing Economy" conference, co-organized by Competition Policy International (CPI) and Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

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