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.
A flock of vulture capitalists find no more corpses to pick. You have my sympathies.
These guys should be taxed at a much higher rate since their income is derived mainly from tax payer supported research.
When capitalists cry out for government support, you know there is something wrong.
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.
On one hands, government was blame of inefficiency and of being slow in reacting to the market. On the other hands, when there is a research gap, it is because of lack of government funding.
Lack of government funding may be one of the many contributors to the slow to technology advancement. I see the unwillingness of hiring young engineers and of re-training employees is another. To have years of experience and to equip with 80%+, if not 100%, if the skills are the key to get hired lately. If the company evolves to different technology, you may or may not get retrain. Instead, to most organization, you may be let go because there will always be talents out there to pick up and be up to speed in no time.
To me, the technology pipeline are not only relying on innovation in various areas but also depending on the availability of human resources. The fewer the young engineers are trained; the bigger gap the technology pipeline is going to be broken. To fix it, more young engineers shall be trained. The experienced one will be a tool to train the young engineer the technology and basic skills of engineering - troubleshooting, debugging and more importantly, analytic skill.
I agree that, in the past decade, Apple has little to no technological advancement. They simply put things together and make them look wonderful. Apple's innovation was back to the Apple II and Newton PDA. iPad and iPhone, to me, are an evolutionary product starting from Newton. Having said that, Apple has chosen great technologies and hired the right people to make their product revolutionary. The integration of iPod dialer to a MP3 device is the beginning of touch. Consumers are being trained since. To me, Apple may not have push the technology as much as some others company. Yet, I can't argue they didn't change the world.
Technological advancement demands fundamental research that, I agree, only big muscle can do. Government funding is one of the many sources. Bell Labs and NASA are all great organizations. Lately, NASA has announced a grant to 3D printing of food. Although I am very skeptical of eating printed food, I'm so welcome to the grant and the direction. I agree government shall put out more grants for various researches. I also believe corporations and taxpayers shall pay their fair shares to support the long term sustainability of the technological advancement.
Fundamentally, many smart people in the world. inforamtion is available to all. Not like those days if you are close to Stanford only you get the best data. Who can spend more time on studies/work will win...
innovation is not protected. In 90's and 2000 we became and MBA country with short term quater to quater gains than long term..
Looks at permeire journals in 1970, 1980, 1990, and 2000 american authors are reducing.
Look at the PH.Ds coming out of our best schools. Most are from other countries, and we do not even give the oppertunities for them to stay.
We killed our best labs ATT.
isn't it a problem of funding and patents. patents are nice if you have them but if you need to use something that is patented to make your idea work than you need to have luck to be allowed to use it or you need a lot of money to buy a license.
if you don't have money for a patent then you keep it a secret until you can pay for the patent.
maybe they should force large companies or give them an advantage when they spend X% of there profits to research.
Engineers are struggling life today!
In china, Everybody is making money and buy a house in cites and overseas.
Professors in universities are opening company outside and become a boss.
Make big money!
Corporations have mostly decided that big R&D labs don't make business sense -- the payback is too far in the future. Government is under pressure to cut spending, so don't expect large increases in government funding of R&D. That leaves things up to the universities. That's fine, but as was pointed out in an earlier comment, the grad students doing much of that research work aren't even allowed to stay here once they finish their degrees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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