Opening Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the “The Future of Computation and Knowledge” Lecture by Dr. Stephen Wolfram

(As Prepared for Delivery)
Royal University of Phnom Penh
December 30, 2015

Your Excellency Minister Hang Chuon Naron, Dr. Stephen Wolfram, Dr. Chan Roth and members of the Cambodian Mathematical Society, Allen Tan, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this afternoon for this special presentation by Dr. Stephen Wolfram, who as you all know, is one of the most innovative and creative thinkers working in the United States today. Dr. Wolfram’s interests cover a broad range of subjects, from physics to computer programming to writing, and I am very excited to hear from him today.

I’ve spent some time over the last few days watching Dr. Wolfram’s presentations on YouTube. As an economist, I couldn’t help but think about how important science, technology, and innovation is to the American economy.

Dr. Wolfram’s company, Wolfram Research, which is based in Illinois, is a superb example of one of the great strengths of the American economy – our science and technology sector.

Dr. Wolfram and his colleagues are making huge leaps in information technology, which in turn is driving improvements in health care, manufacturing, environmental protection, and a host of other fields.

In my previous job overseeing the State Department’s economic policy division, visiting delegations used to question us about the importance of innovation in the American economy. Then they would ask how they could create a Silicon Valley in their own country?

Our response would be that the specific factors needed to create an innovative economy differ from country to country. But in the United States, there have been two key factors—making good public policy choices and fostering a culture that allows new ideas to grow and flourish.

On the public policy side, government support for education, especially STEM education, and basic research have been critical. So has been a strong legal framework for innovation that includes bankruptcy protections, intellectual property laws, an open trade and investment regime, and a financial sector that makes capital available to early stage entrepreneurs.

Another important factor has been the decentralized nature of the American economic, educational, and political systems, which has encouraged the formation of public-private partnerships to pursue innovative projects all over the United States—these are the so called “technology clusters” that have been so important in driving economic growth and technological development.

But cultural factors have been important too. The United States is famous for having a spirit of entrepreneurship that not only values risk taking, but also recognizes that initial failures often lead to success down the road.

One of the exciting things about Cambodia today is the clear signs that a collaborative culture of innovation is starting to take root here as well, bringing together the creativity of the Cambodian people with technological tools that can support the country’s development and economic growth.

There are also important educational reforms underway that should improve the quality of science and technology education and increase the number of STEM graduates. So although we might not quite see it yet, the next ten years could be the most technologically innovative in Cambodia’s history.

The U.S. Embassy is proud to play a role in Cambodia’s emerging innovation society. Last year we were a founding sponsor of the first-ever Cambodian Science and Engineering Festival, organized by Allen Tan, and we are supporting the festival again this year. I hope you all will attend.

One of our most interesting assistance projects, called “Development Innovations”, is bringing people together to discover, test, and scale practical technologies that improve the quality of life in Cambodia. And thanks to our scholarship programs and educational advising services, more Cambodians than ever before are pursuing their education at U.S. universities, which offer some of the world’s best science and engineering programs.

By investing in science, technology, engineering, and math, we are making a smart investment in the future of Cambodia. We hope all of you in the audience today will embrace science and technology as a means to improve yourselves and your communities.

The potential of Cambodia’s youth is unlimited, and I’m excited to see what all of you can accomplish in the coming years.

Thank you so much for coming, and please enjoy the presentation.