WASHINGTON -- The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has a long list of areas where it is working to spur research and development and commercial investment, ranging from health IT and big data to robotics and nanotechnology, but perhaps none is more ambitious than what the office calls "grand challenges.""Part of our problem is in China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In the United States, Britney Spears is Britney Spears."\nInspired by John F. Kennedy's call to land an astronaut to the moon, the OSTP is challenging industry members and government agencies, academics and philanthropic organizations to dream big and imagine ways to harness technology to solve some of the country's most pressing problems.\n\n"We are pitchable," Tom Kalil, deputy director for policy at the OSTP, said in remarks here at the Reboot America Summit, a conference focused on startups and policy challenges in the nation's capital.\n\nKalil cited Google's project to develop driverless cars, noting that the company built on work conducted under a program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a group that was instrumental in the early development of the Internet.\n\nSimilarly, he called attention to the work that IBM has been doing in artificial intelligence, creating supercomputers that have defeated chess great Garry Kasparov and Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings, splashy exhibits designed in part as proof-of-concept for technology that ultimately could be applied to real-world challenges like health care or energy.\n[Related: White House Offers 'We The People' Petition App Under Open Source License]Other examples Kalil cited included PayPal cofounder Elon Musk's latest venture, the aerospace company SpaceX, and the sequencing of the human genome, once a forbidding challenge that involved inordinate time and expense, but that has become far simpler thanks to the abundance of low-cost computing power.\n\n"The cost of genome sequencing has been falling by a factor of 12," Kalil said, adding that that pace was "kicking Moore's law's ass."\n\nThe administration's work promoting technology to address so-called grand challenges builds on previous outreach efforts to court the business and startup communities and build collaborative partnerships with the private sector.\n\nWhite Urges Tech InnovationLast January, the White House convened business and philanthropic leaders to unveil the Startup America Partnership, a campaign to help incubate and launch innovative startup businesses that has drawn on funding commitments from some of the biggest names in tech, including Facebook, HP and Intel. Startup America is chaired by AOL co-founder Steve Case.\n[Related: Obama Pledges to Protect Science, Tech Funding After NASA Mars Success]For the OSTP's work on grand challenges, Kalil urged businesses to think big, challenging them to pursue ideas that capture the national imagination.\n\n"It has to be ambitious, yet achievable. So if I said my grand challenge was immortality and the end of scarcity, that certainly does well on the ambition criteria, not so well on the achievable category," he said.\n"It has to be compelling, and it has to capture the public imagination. So if I said my grand challenge is the efficient programming of many-core processors, that's an important technical goal, but it's not something that's going to get people jazzed in the same way that the moonshot did," Kalil said.\n\nHis office is also seeking to elevate the cultural status of successful entrepreneurs, including outreach to Hollywood to encourage filmmakers and others in the entertainment industry to turn their lenses on the scientists and inventors who are developing transformative technologies and businesses.\n\n"One of the things that people have observed, including [Segway inventor] Dean Kamen, is you get what you celebrate," Kalil said. "And [New York Times columnist and author] Tom Friedman noted that part of our problem is in China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In the United States, Britney Spears is Britney Spears."\n\nKenneth Corbin is a Washington, D.C.-based writer who covers government and regulatory issues for CIO.com. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.