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Alorie Gilbert

Staff Writer, CNET

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.–Will the United States remain a world leader in technology and science amid growing global competition?

That question was a recurring one at Google’s headquarters, where the heads of influential technology companies, including Cisco Systems, Intel,, Sun Microsystems and Yahoo gathered Monday to discuss the direction of their industry.

The TechNet Innovation Summit panel discussions, organized by lobbying group TechNet, were moderated and taped by PBS talk show host Charlie Rose. He plans to air the discussions on his show this week.

Several panelists, including venture capitalist John Doerr, Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy, and Chief Executive Jeff Taylor, expressed optimism about new Internet-related business opportunities. Those opportunities, they said, include wireless Internet access, miniature computing devices, voice recognition, computer security and electronic medical records.

Sun’s Joy suggested much work lies ahead in making information on the Net easier to find and organize.

“The Web as we know it is largely impersonal,” Joy said. “We’re overwhelmed by the information that’s out there. So, that will be the next great wave–something that not only takes an index of the Web, but something that organizes the Web for us in real time.”

Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said that online communities, including Web logs and social networks, are the phenomenon of the moment, even though the business model is murky. Web logs don’t impress Joy, however.

“People are doing it for ego, rather than for money, in a lot of cases, and they don’t seem to be very well informed,” Joy said. “I don’t think there’s enough money in people knowing the truth. I think commercial TV is about selling products and not offending advertisers.”

Executives speaking here are concerned, however, that the United States is losing ground to other countries in many promising new arenas, including wireless Internet access and mobile computing. China, India and South Korea were the names on many lips here.

“It’s not that we aren’t going to participate,” said Paul Otellini, president of Intel and next in line for the CEO spot at that company. “It’s who leads. It’s about jobs, government resources and our standard of living.”

The United States is shooting itself in the foot on this issue in some ways, panelists said. Policy makers have made missteps that are hurting the country’s competitiveness in the global technology arena, panelists said. One problem is an immigration policy that sends foreign students at American universities back home after they graduate with top engineering degrees.

“When you graduate with a Ph.D. from Stanford, you have to go home,” Doerr said. “We should stamp a green card to that diploma.”

Panelists also complained about a proposed change to U.S. accounting rules that could discourage the issuance of stock options to rank-and-file workers, a popular recruiting tool for growing tech companies. The United States has also lagged behind other countries, particularly South Korea and European nations, in encouraging the widespread adoption of high-speed Internet access and wireless phone standards, panelists said. Internet companies like Google and Yahoo are keen on broadband because it encourages people to spend more time online and on their sites.

“It’s a shame we have to look to other countries to see what the future might look like in (the) U.S.,” said Terry Semel, chief executive of Yahoo. “We are behind.”