Stanford Students Pitch Solutions to U.S. National Security Challenges to Government Officials and Technology Experts
In the class “Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition,” students across disciplines work in teams and propose their detailed solutions to active stakeholders in the technology and national security sectors.
A special guest awaited students in the final class of the fall quarter for INTLPOL 340 / MS&E 296 “Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition - Keeping America’s Edge in an Era of Great Power Rivalry.'' Eric Schmidt joined the group as a guest speaker and was eager to engage each student team during their group project presentations.
Schmidt knows a thing or two about how new technologies intersect with the geopolitics of today. He was Google chairman and CEO, served as the chairman of the Department of Defense’s Innovation Board from 2016-2020, and is the co-founder of Schmidt Futures.
The students, who came from a diverse set of backgrounds and interests – from undergraduate sophomores to 5th year PhD’s – were eager to share their ideas with Schmidt.
Over the duration of fall quarter 2022, they examined the new operational concepts and strategies that are emerging from acquiring, funding, and fielding a range of emerging technologies critical to US national security and global competitiveness.
“This is a unique course,” explained Joe Felter, a course instructor and director of the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation, through which the course is available. “We offer the combination of reading, lectures and guest speakers seen in traditional policy courses. But this is an experiential policy class.”
In small teams, students embark on identifying an urgent national security challenge, validate the problem, and propose a detailed solution. These solutions are then tested against actual stakeholders in the technology and national security sectors.
Over 20 “problem statements,” addressing issues from energy scarcity to AI research collaboration and manufacturing scalability, served as jumping off points for the nine student teams.
Schmidt attested that this approach has a tangible impact.
“The world gets better because you decide on your own to work on a hard problem, and you solve it or with your friends,” Schmidt told students at the final meeting of the class. “Your generation is in such a stronger position to do this than we were ever, and I'm really really jealous that you have that opportunity ahead of you."
Besides Schmidt, past guest speakers have included former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and Director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Michael McFaul as well as a range of senior policy makers and leaders from across the U.S. government.
The course builds on concepts presented in MS&E 193/293 “Technology and National Security” and provides a strong foundation for students interested in enrolling in MS&E 297 “Hacking for Defense.”
“This class changed the trajectory of many of our students,” wrote course instructor Steve Blank in a blog post. “A number expressed newfound interest in exploring career options in the field of national security. Several will be taking advantage of opportunities provided by the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation to further pursue their contribution to national security.”
Here’s what the students have to say about the course in their own words:
"The TIGPC class was a highlight of my academic experience at Stanford. Over the ten week quarter, I learned a tremendous amount about the importance of technology in global politics from the three professors and from the experts in government, business, and academia who came to speak. The class epitomizes some of the best parts of my time here: the opportunity to learn from incredible, caring faculty and to work with inspiring classmates. Joe, Steve, and Raj instilled in my classmates and me a fresh sense of excitement to work in public service." -Matt Kaplan
"This course doesn’t just discuss U.S. national security issues. It teaches students how to apply an influential and proven methodology to rapidly develop solutions to our most challenging problems." -Jason Kim
"Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition gave me an opportunity to dive into a real world national security threat to the United States and understand the implications of it within the great power competition. Unlike any other class I have taken at Stanford, this class allowed me to take action on our problem about networks, censorship and the lack of free flow of information in authoritarian regimes, and gave me the chance to meet and learn from a multitude of experts on the topic. I finished this class with a deep understanding of our problem, a proposed actionable solution and a newfound interest in the intersection of technology and innovation as it applies to national defense. I am very grateful to have been part of this course, and it has inspired me to go a step further and pursue a career related to national security." -Etienne Reche-Ley
"Technology, Innovation and Great Power Competition (TIGPC) is that rare combination of the theoretical, tactical, and practical. Over 10 weeks, Blank, Felter, and Shah manage to outline the complexities of modern geopolitical tensions and bring students up the steep learning curves of critical areas of technological competition, from semiconductors to artificial intelligence. Each week of the seminar is a crash course in a new domain, brought to life by rich discussion and an incredible slate of practitioners who live and breathe the content of TIGPC on a daily basis. Beyond the classroom, the course plunges students into the midst of solving the most pressing problems of nation and mission, getting teams "out of the building" to iterate quickly while translating learnings to the real world. Along the way, the course illuminates compelling career paths and acts as a strong call to public service." -Jonah Cader
"TIGPC is an interdisciplinary class like no other. It is a fabulous introduction to some of the most significant tech and geopolitical challenges and questions of the 21st century. The class, like the topics it covers, is incredible and ambitious - it’s a great way to level up your understanding of not just international policy, political theory and technology policy but also deep tech and the role of startups in projecting national power. If you’re curious about the future of the world and the role of the U.S. in it, you won’t find a more unique course, a more dedicated teaching team or better speakers to hear from than this!" -Shreyas Lakhtakia
Students interested in “Hacking for Defense,” which will be offered in Spring 2023, should join the course mailing list. “Technology, Innovation, and Great Power Competition - Keeping America’s Edge in an Era of Great Power Rivalry” will be offered again in Fall 2023.