Research proceeds regardless of funding or institutions - it's part of of our human functionality. Identify it, and it disappears, only to appear someplace else. The days of large institutional R&D are past. The explosion of institutional R&D in the '40s and '50s was a result of the Nazi expulsion of their independent thinkers. The USA was the beneficiary of this. What country is expelling its independent thinkers today? Hint: the place where power comes from the barrel of a gun. And, again, the USA is the beneficiary - as long as we don't mess it up with bizzaro tea-smoking wackos.
I've often lammented the loss of the major private sector R&D giants. Of course Bell Labs, but also Exxon Research, Kodak Park, DuPont Experimental Station, Union Carbide, etc. However often those companies did not benefit from the fruits of their research. Kodak is in bankruptcy while OLED's are staged to make a major move in the market. Also, the US tax code has removed much of the incentives to private companies for research funding that was there in the 1980's.
How do you define wasted? Honda's ASIMO project created a lot of valuable technology. If it takes 20 years to turn into a usable product line, is that wasted? Research is starving because people want certain return in two years. That is a recipe for grinding to a full stop in twenty years.
You forgot that the Universities are funded by the big corporations and the government. If those two aren't paying, the Universities don't have the funds either. It all comes down to lack of vision. The problems won't come to roost in the next few years, so they aren't an issue. By the time they are, they will be so intractable that nobody will be able to do enough.
It's ironic that Google gets panned sometimes for doing things not related to their core business, such as self-driving cars. Certainly a lot of their research is related to online activities, but some of that may be as significant to the future as the transistor. It's just different.
Then you've got IBM making quantum movies. That could seem pretty frivolous to some, but I see it as pretty deep research from an old-guard company. Google is probably the closest to Bell Labs.
The single most important thing is to strengthen the patent system, make the cost for patent infringement devastatingly expensive. This will force the big companies to spend more money on applied R&D, even if just for defensive purposes. They have to buy more equipment, hire more people, etc. instead of parking money offshores. It will also stimulate entrepreneurship among engineers to form companies.
Unfortunately, the recent laws are going in the opposite direction.
Government's job is in creating the ecosystem, not in handouts, especially not to fat vultures.
I liked the article for its timeliness. I hope it spurs more discussions and actions thereof.
The statement by one of the panelists “The U.S. still has the best university system in world, and it’s still the best place to bring new things to market, but the middle missing,” has to be taken with caveats -I will accept this to be realistic but have to caution that the gap with the rest of the world is shrinking at a rapid rate. And to make matters worse, EU and Asian governments are investing more in education and research whereas we have seen drastic cuts in education in the US.