Google and Microsoft “are the two companies that can afford to have a research arm” today, Estrin said. But both lack the broad sweep of Bell Labs and the former IBM Research “so there’s a big gap today,” she added.
“Apple is unbelievably innovative and occasional does applied research, but I don’t think they ever believed in investing in basic research--that’s not judgmental, they just don’t play that role there,” Estrin said.
The big corporate labs trained academics in how to be innovators, Estrin said. She also noted her experience as member of an advisory board for Bio-X, an interdisciplinary research program at Stanford.
“Every one of those researchers is starving for money,” she said. “Research doesn’t fit into the clean boxes it did at the beginning of the computer industry because now its applying computer technology to brain diseases or managing wellness, so the funding has become more complex because the funders can no longer fund in [well-defined] boxes,” she said.
Industry veteran Gordon Bell took issue with the panelists later in the day.
“I don’t see things as all that different today,” said Bell, now a principal researcher at Microsoft Research. “I think there are a lot of great ideas out there, and more people than ever at the federal funding trough,” he said.
Bell Labs exits chip research
DARPA chief reviews legacy
Research funding teeters