High tech tomorrow

Surely all Americans have a vital interest in encouraging the growth of US high technology. The rationale for such all-out support goes far beyond the fact that computers can now be found in thousands of shops, offices, and private homes. The very structure of the giant American marketplace is quickly becoming an electronics-high-technology world - most vividly illustrated by the majority of the work force that is now employed in the information/services sector.

Thus it is imperative that Americans have as much literacy about the computer world as possible to prepare them to be not only the new technology's users and workers but the type of informed voters and citizens that will be required for the changing society of the future.

Happily, the need for greater federal and public support of high technology is now being translated into specific proposals at the highest levels of government:

* Legislation introduced yesterday by Sen. Paul Tsongas would provide for public-private joint funding in the whole area of education relating to high technology. The bill would provide up to $2.5 billion in federal matching funds over five years to train manpower in high technology, financed by a set-aside of 3 percent of revenues from federal energy and mineral reserves.

The measure joins two other bills recently introduced by Senator Tsongas that would exempt high-technology firms from certain antitrust regulations, while still protecting the public, and would direct the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering to develop a long-range plan to keep America out front in technological research and development.

* The evening before Senator Tsongas introduced his legislation, three former presidents - Nixon, Ford, and Carter - joined retired Adm. Hyman Rickover in Washington to help launch the Admiral's proposed new Rickover Foundation. The foundation is designed to aid outstanding students studying mathematics, science , philosophy, and English literature.

* Finally, the importance of high technology has reached right into the White House, as evidenced by President Reagan's recent visit to high technology firms in the Boston area, as well as a speech before a group of business leaders in Tucson, Ariz. in which he called for ''a new economic era'' built around high technology.

The proposal by Senator Tsongas to establish national priorities in high technology - as well as to ensure adequate funding of such projects - to a large extent grows out of the experience of Massachusetts. Some communities in the senator's home state - such as the city of Cambridge - have already developed the type of computer literacy programs in their educational systems that industry leaders say are necessary to create the future pool of scientists - especially engineers - needed to service the new technology.

In naming his program after the original Morrill Act of 1862, signed into law by President Lincoln, Senator Tsongas has quite correctly underscored the extensive federal support for scientific educational programs prevailing throughout much of American history. The Morrill Act created the state system of public land grant colleges and universities. But lawmakers hardly stopped there. In 1944, for example, Congress enacted the GI bill that made it possible for millions of Americans to prepare for the postwar manufacturing and service world of the 1940s and 1950s. The $1 billion National Defense Education Act, passed in the late 1950s, trained engineers and scientists, some of whom went on to bolster US space exploration and research.

If America is to retain its economic primacy, no priority could be more important than training all its citizens to play a useful role in the high technology of the future.

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