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Is American Innovation Losing Its Shine?

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the everything-used-to-be-better dept.

Education 625

kenekaplan writes "American ingenuity and innovation, the twin engine of the country's economy since World War II, is in danger of losing steam and job growth potential if federal legislators allow 'automatic' spending cuts to kick in next year rather than earmarking federal funds to advance education, research and manufacturing, according Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield."

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Do more with less (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041524)

That is the only way to truly innovate and be competitive.

Re:Do more with less (1)

bobstreo (1320787) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041562)

Nope, it's

Do more for less, for more for less.

Re:Do more with less (5, Insightful)

sycodon (149926) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041948)

Just glancing at the headline I thought this might be an interesting article and discussion. But just the first sentence shows it for what it is, yet another "Sky is Falling if our funding is cut" article.

Re:Do more with less (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041656)

Good point. The premise here is that the private sector won't do anything innovative and will just go down in flames. With or without the gov't dole, the private sector will strive to find new ways to make money.

Re:Do more with less (4, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041898)

Yes, at the expense of the workers. The reason why we're losing our competitive edge in innovation is primarily the extraordinary costs that it requires these days to take even a simple idea to market. Patenting is expensive enough that individuals can't afford it and yet cheap enough that Amazon can manage to patent all manner of obvious thing hoping that a few will stick.

If we really want to go back to innovating we need to cut the crap with the bullshit software and biological patents. Not to mention preventing the use of patents as gatekeepers to entire branches of research.

And, we need to ensure that workers have enough money that they don't need to work two jobs so that they have time to innovate on their own time.

Re:Do more with less (4, Insightful)

deapbluesea (1842210) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042110)

So you are for cutting regulation then? I'm currently working on an aviation product. The only way for me to get it to market is to go through FAA certification. That certification process is there to make sure the software and hardware are flight worthy given the potential loss of human lift, but if you look at the requirements, it's much more of a "pay us enough money to certify your stuff and we'll let you into the club" type regulation. The requirements do not, in themselves, make better software, I just saw a speech by the COO of iRobot where he listed all the certifications his company has received over the last 10 years so they can be a federal contractor. He calculated the cost to be over $40M and stated quite plainly "not one penny of that went to a better product, a cheaper product, or a more efficient process - it was merely the cost of access to the federal government". You want to help out workers? Cut regulatory requirements. The "CEOs are making too much money" tripe isn't typical of most small businesses. You are complaining about the actions of the fortune 500 companies who have spent a lot of money to create regulatory hurdles for the little guys. Cut regulatory requirements, and the big fish who are misbehaving will suddenly have competition from those who are willing to accept a leaner CEO compensation.

And patents, of course (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041530)

Let's not forget that if you come up with a new idea, you'll almost certainly be sued.

If you really want to make money, you're better off getting into financial arbitrage (like high-frequency trading) then you are innovating or making something of value.

Re:And patents, of course (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041926)

Patents have very little to do with America losing its edge. It has partly to do with outsourcing of tech jobs overseas. In essence, American companies have trained foreigners how to build a tech industry in their own country. Now we must compete against them.

It also has to do with US government policies that end up incentivizing the best and brightest going into finance and law, jobs that advance society very little. It is no coincidence that most politicians are lawyers and financiers.

The American people can fix it by voting in politicians who have the guts to make the necessary changes. But instead, people are more concerned about sex scandals, abortion, and gay marriage than making the changes needed to make the country great again.

Robots will replace blue collar labor (4, Insightful)

meow27 (1526173) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041534)


this is not even the first step

blue collar labor in america by and large has no future. The government needs to change the economic model to start developing our children's mind from a young age. and i mean, like making educational material -- like chemistry sets, cheap enough so that it's almost free

Re:Robots will replace blue collar labor (5, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041590)

So, buy giving every little kid a chemistry set (and thereby sending them to Harvard) we will think ourselves out of this mess?

No. Realize that very, very few people are ever going to be 'innovators' no matter how much government money we toss at the problem. It's not in their DNA, not in the upbringing, not in their heads. We have to come up with society that lets middle of the road people live a reasonable life, not expect everyone on the block to go off to work in a lab.

Not sure how to do that, but giving more money to the Education Industrial Complex in this country so far has yielded little fruit.

Re:not in the upbringing (4, Insightful)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041814)

Find a way to make Nerds/Geeks Cool.

Being facetious, pay a kid for every A and B he gets in class (and make it go to the kid, like lunch money, not the parents!).

Sure then the jocks will be envious, but ... oh wait, I'm sorry, what was that?

I know, we'll raise a bunch of little tyrants, but wasn't the question on how to make our country really value education?

The other half is we need some kind of Angel Investor to slow down the corruption circle at the top levels. One of the mega billionaires who is fed up with it all, and just buys entire industries and voting blocs. Like the RIAA.

Just imagine - 1,000 top properties get an exemption, so Disney gets to keep their Mouse, the Beatles maybe, etc. But then that thundering second pantheon gets released as Creative Commons - Attribution - Share Alike. ("Just don't claim it is yours").

I hear the voices of 400 lobbyists crying out in anguish!

Re:not in the upbringing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042136)

Best grades I ever got was when my dad bribed me (so many bucks per grade increase). I didn't see what the point was of getting good grades and I didn't crave the approval of my teachers but I did see the benefit of his offer. I did so well he didn't do it again. In retrospect it seemed like a very cheap bargain for him. It was a way of putting value on something I didn't see the immediate value in (it didn't make me a tyrant). Funny how we defend this system for business people (to a ridiculous degree) but students should never be paid for performance.

Re:Robots will replace blue collar labor (4, Interesting)

Pete Venkman (1659965) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041614)

I would agree with you, but American government probably wouldn't want chemistry sets to wind up into more people's hands. Think of how many potential terrorists we would have! Joking aside, I am an industrial chemist and I truly support more science education. But as we have all seen in the aftermath of Fukushima, politicos do not understand science. They think it is something that is democratically worked on, but science isn't democratic...nature is nature. Now vetting of scientific theories is somewhat scientific in terms of peer review and replication, but understanding that would require actual work and research on the part of our representatives. I wouldn't count on public school teachers to understand science enough to be able to teach it well to future generations. I think we, as nerds/scientists, should do more to educate young'uns to become our replacements.

Re:Robots will replace blue collar labor (4, Insightful)

ATMAvatar (648864) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041866)

A mass of educated voters would be a huge threat to the existing power base. Good luck with that.

Re:Robots will replace blue collar labor (0)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041982)

So, what you're saying is that government educated people perpetuate the government class we have today. Sounds like a perfectly reasonable excuse to disband public education as we know it, and replace it with something that produces competition to the government class.

Re:Robots will replace blue collar labor (4, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041890)

The government needs to change the economic model

You've got it backwards, friend. The People need to change their government.

Has Slashdot ... (5, Insightful)

BlindRobin (768267) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041542)

started asking rhetorical questions just to start a discussion ?

Re:Has Slashdot ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041602)

I agree. Slashdot shouldn't be posting this nontechnical fear mongering crap.

Whatever would we do... (4, Funny)

sconeu (64226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041896)

What would we do without rhetorical questions?

Re:Whatever would we do... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042108)

Rhetorical questions are pointless, you know what I'm saying?

American Ingenuity ? You mean immigrant ingenuity. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041550)

Nothing is very ingenious about US itself - other than that the brightest come here. Most Americans are basically the 99.9% - the non-innovators. The 1% comes from all over the world.

For the past 50 yrs, US had the money - and the know how to cultivate innovation. Now both of these are well known to a lot of countries - and the US now has less money to spend on Defence & Space (the primary source of innovation).

Time we got used to making $30K for web development jobs, and time the anthropology, english & history majors.. end up flipping burgers.

Re:American Ingenuity ? You mean immigrant ingenui (5, Insightful)

kwark (512736) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041632)

"Most Americans are basically the 99.9% - the non-innovators. The 1% comes from all over the world."

Does not compute.

Re:American Ingenuity ? You mean immigrant ingenui (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041730)

like the post-war innovation - the stuff the British and Germans invented that the Americans happily took on as their own.

It's not much different from Kinect, everyone says how wonderful this Microsoft innovation was, yet they just bought it from Primesense, no innovation whatsoever happened at Microsoft.

Re:American Ingenuity ? You mean immigrant ingenui (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041870)

"Most Americans are basically the 99.9% - the non-innovators. The 1% comes from all over the world."

Does not compute.

This is innovative foreign percentages; they go up to 100.9%.

It's true in a way, though; America reached the peak of its power because it encouraged the 'best and brightest' from all over the world to move there by providing them with the best environment to bring their ideas to fruition. That's no longer the case, so we shouldn't be surprised that America is in decline now it's become a nation of rent-seekers.

She's got it backwards. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041556)

Ingenuity and innovation thrive in adverse times as people are forced to adapt to changing circumstances. They're stifled when there's scads of money floating around and people aren't forced to make due.

Higher Ed costs have soared due to government subsidies on both sides - grants to schools and grants to students. Why not? It's essentially free money. The net result is costs have gotten out of whack.

Given the large number of unemployed graduates with useless degrees, it's clear higher ed offerings need some pruning.

Re:She's got it backwards. (4, Insightful)

Jawnn (445279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041608)

Yeah, right. There's lots of "money floating around" in the U.S. right now. In other words, your argument is bullshit. Oh, to be sure, there's money out there, but the people (corporations) who have it are NOT spending it on anything, certainly not on innovation. And this despite government welfare programs aimed at the wealthy to "stimulate jobs and innovation". Try again.

Re:She's got it backwards. (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041820)

The stupidity of tax breaks to corps and the wealthy as job stimulus is that corps don't hire unless there is demand for their products. In a recession what you have as the prevailing economic environment is low demand and excess capacity.

In a low demand environment corps are just going to sit on the money, or use it to pay off debts or buy out other companies. No reason to hire because they already make as much as they can sell. And that is exactly what is happening now. Corporations are sitting on more cash than any other time in US history, mostly because they don't have anything productive to invest it in.

Real innovation doesn't happen at corporations for some simple reasons. It takes too long to bring a truly innovative product to market. A manager isn't likely to be in a job more than 5 years, and it takes 7+ years to bring a truly innovative product to market. Innovation is also very unpredictable. You may make a wonderful breakthrough but will your company be able to take advantage ? The research will benefit somebody but you can't predict who.

Re:She's got it backwards. (1)

znerk (1162519) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041908)

Don't forget the real dealbreaker for innovation: CEOs are legally required to turn a profit for stockholders. Throwing money away on unsure bets is not the best strategy for staying out of jail, should a "bet" go sour.

Re:She's got it backwards. (3, Interesting)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042152)

The stupidity of tax breaks to corps and the wealthy as job stimulus is that corps don't hire unless there is demand for their products. In a recession what you have as the prevailing economic environment is low demand and excess capacity.


What we should have done rather than the Economic Recovery Act would have been simple refund 100% of everyone's individual income tax on the earned portion of the their income and allow them to keep the earned income tax credit. That would have put heaps of money in the hands of the middle class and provided a nice pay day to the working poor as well.

That would have spread the money around and forced the corporations and banks to *DO* some economic activity to get hold of it. That would have created JOBS, and secured American house holds by reducing debts, might have lifted real estate prices a little, and replaced all kinds of durable goods.

By injecting the money at the top instead the bottom it just let the usual rent-seeking a-holes abuse their cozy relationships to snatch those government contracts, over charge, under deliver, pace the work slowly enough that they need not increase the size of their pay roles, and basically pocket the money.

Ingenuity != Jobs (5, Interesting)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041564)

"Don't just create ideas, also make products here," she [Hockfield] said. "Buying back technologies that we invented changed our surplus into deficit. We need to have a substantial fraction of technologies that are made in America."

Right now the US and Canadian economies are not focused on producing anything with the new ideas that come out. The startups get bought out by the existing big companies if they have any hope of success, who immediately commoditize technology and ship it overseas for manufacturing.

If you want to create jobs, do something about the whole concept of outsourcing. The richest nations on the planet will always find it cheaper to outsource and offshore, because they're also the most expensive labour markets. Until the inevitable collapse happens when there isn't the money being earned to pay for the shiny new gadgets.

Re:Ingenuity != Jobs (0)

countvlad (666933) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041734)

If you want to create jobs, do something about the whole concept of outsourcing.

Or lower the cost of labor. Not everyone in this country is going to have a high paying job and high education is not for everyone. Maybe if we spent more time on lowering the cost of living in this country then lower paying jobs wouldn't be so intolerable.

Re:Ingenuity != Jobs (5, Insightful)

vadim_t (324782) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042144)

You first.

Also, just what kind of low cost labor are you thinking of, anyway? There's a constant push to eliminate as much of the lowest cost labor as possible. Where does your hypothetical uneducated worker go?

Well, they could go work at a warehouse. Except not for long. Now there is warehouse automation [youtube.com]. Yes, people are still needed there, but they need much fewer people, and the people needed are completely disposable. There's zero chances for advancement. If you don't go nuts from years of picking up a package from one robot, passing it through a scanner, and placing it in another, you'll probably be out of a job in 10 years anyway, as they'll figure out how to eliminate the remaining human labor eventually.

Or they could go work at a supermarket. Which also keep reducing worker count through tech like RFID and attempts at automatic checkout systems. They'll get there eventually.

Maybe they could go work in construction. Except the tech will get there as well. You can bet that the construction companies are salivating at the prospect of having machines that print walls, and they'll get made at some point.

My point is, what you're advocating is increasing the amount of people in a segment of the population that's quickly becoming obsolete. A lot of those people will find out that they can't get a job because nobody needs a brainless drone anymore. That's not good for the economy (because unemployed people don't buy much), and not good for political stability either.

Re:Ingenuity != Jobs (3, Insightful)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041838)

The richest nations on the planet will always find it cheaper to outsource and offshore, because they're also the most expensive labour markets.

False. The richest nations on the planet will *sometimes* find it cheaper to outsource and offshore, because they're also the most expensive labour markets. Lack of capital, lack of accessibility, lack of training, combined with the fact that often the labor costs are not a big chunk of the unit cost, can still make the rich nation the cheapest place.

Re:Ingenuity != Jobs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041902)

"If you want to create jobs, do something about the whole concept of outsourcing. "

Like what? If you stop outsourcing, then you have to pay expensive Americans to make stuff, and you go out of business because that's not competitive with the other countries that had China make the same widget for 1/5th of the price.

The ONLY way forward is to compete. Right now, China is out-competing the US and Europe. Ergo, they win, we lose. There's no way to avoid it other than to also become competitive, and that takes hard work, education, and other things westerners think are too difficult.

Re:Ingenuity != Jobs (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041988)

You are incorrect.

Companies are buying up anything they see as an idea (not a new one) that has the highest profit potential. I have built and designed a Android based car stereo and shopped it around to several car stereo makers, NONE of them think that someone would want a car stereo where you can add apps to it. or runs on a standard platform that has a GUI that is not a giant steaming pile of crap (for example all double din car stereos out there now, they all have a crap UI)

I have a working prototype based on existing hardware so it will be EASY to manufacture. Problem is the world of car audio is full of the "if it was not made here we dont care", one wigged out about it not having a CD player in it as an excuse to dismiss it out of hand.

Here is the other problem, I just wish someone would STEAL my idea and run with it, even a china maker. but they wont. China car stereo makers are in love with pirated Windows CE on their products. My idea is not revolutionary, someone else should have already though of it.

I have a product that every single person I have demoed it to has said without hesitation, " I want that, can I buy one?" and even with my response of it will cost $3500.00 in my single hand made quantity, they still whip out checkbooks. I just don't have the time to manufacture them. This stereo could EASILY be made for less than $800.00 in quantity and would easily sell for $1600.00. A cheap china version could be made for $400.00 if you used a crap LCD and touchscreen and underpowered the processor to only 600mhz.

So I sit here with a product that I know would sell like crazy that I cant generate any interest in outside of consumers. And I dont want to be in manufacturing.

This also mirrors experiences posted online from other inventors. If it's not a high profit (400% or more) item companies could care less. Look at the lack of innovation out there in consumer electronics. WE have nothing new compared to 4 years ago for this holiday season, just rehashes of other ideas.

You're blaming government spending cuts? (5, Insightful)

Bacon Bits (926911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041566)

Look, we've spent the last 30 years sending all as many science, technical and engineering jobs overseas that we can and shutting down commercial research labs. Now you're going to argue we're going to lose our science and technology advantage because government is cutting spending? If science and technology suffer in America's future it's because bean counters gave our edge to the rest of the world in exchange for 2% profits and million dollar bonuses.

This is just MIT selfishly bitching about losing funding. If you really care about barriers to education, how about you lower your goddamn tuition [fundmasteryblog.com], assholes?

Re:You're blaming government spending cuts? (1)

znerk (1162519) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041972)

Just wanted to say, love your sig.

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a Communist.

Oops, here come the off-topic mods.

Re:You're blaming government spending cuts? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042044)

MIT is need-blind. My MIT education cost less than my own state's in-state tuition would've cost.

Re:You're blaming government spending cuts? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042116)

I think you don't have it completely right. My perspective is: Companies want cheap labor and products delivered.

Many companies have found they need little money invested, as they use the same mechanism the government uses: put lots of money into Grad students (cheap labor) to get your advances using NDA (same way military projects limit access to foreigners and particular research).

They get a group of PhD candidates to work on projects, at the end, perhaps one of those gets to be hired.

Once in production, you don't need excessively qualified people to support the product, so you ship support to a place where basic technical jobs are way lower.

Now, is there a problem with government cutting funding? I guess so, that means that companies perhaps don't want to invest if they cannot use/link to some of those projects, so they will have to put more money, and we know these days, companies don't want to spend money where there is no instant money back.

I think you can blame anyone you want.

Patents, lawsuits, and healthcare (5, Insightful)

Manip (656104) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041572)

Want to know why small business is impossible in the US, three simple reasons: Patents, lawsuits, healthcare.

Patents are granted too easily, cover too much, and cover it for far too long. What's worse is that the damages are absolutely insane and companies can literally have your product banned from the entire country simply because you for example used a "menu" to "navigate a complex system" or some nonsense.

Lawsuits are too easy to bring in the US, too costly to defend, and there is no punishments for bringing frivolous suits. For small businesses one or two of these suits no matter how much merit they have can sink the company. So big businesses just sue for nothing and bankrupt small businesses.

Healthcare, too expensive, significantly more expensive for small businesses than big, and it discourages the best employees from working at smaller firms because they literally will have to pay 100% more per year for basic healthcare.

And while I have the soup box let's talk about political corruption allowing monopolies or duopolies to control the market and make it literally impossible via regulation or market manipulation for competitors to form (e.g. Cable, Internet, 3G, Cellular Services, Health Insurance, Health Providers, Drugs Producers, Children Toy Manufacturing, etc).

Re:Patents, lawsuits, and healthcare (4, Insightful)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041636)

Actually, I think that "IP" is now the number one problem. What's more, as the USA tries to expand its IP empire abroad, a backlash is inevitable.

The present system means that corporations can attempt to prevent innovation in others while not having to do anything about it themselves. It is, in effect, like the medieval guild system that is hitting the economy of Italy, or indeed like the theocratic regimes in Iran or Sa'udi Arabia. It all went wrong when the USPTO ceased to be a cost center and become a profit center, and a whole new class of "IP lawyer" saw the opportunity. Not to mention the entire economy of parts of Texas.

By healthcare, please specificy INSURANCE (2)

RedHat Rocky (94208) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041910)

We all need to make sure when we say "healthcare", we generally mean healthcare INSURANCE, not actual healthcare.

In my opinion, the big problem with healthcare is healthcare insurance. People tend to go for any procedures that are "covered" by insurance without regard for the actual cost. This puts the insurance companies in the customer role instead of the actual recipient. One can follow the downward spiral for non-insured recipients from there.

Re:By healthcare, please specificy INSURANCE (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042028)

It's not just insurance. As someone who works in healthcare (as a healthcare provider, and who also does scientific research), I think insurance is mostly a symptom. I.e., it's definitely a problem, but it reflects the expense of healthcare, rather than being a direct cause.

The healthcare expense crisis is complex, but this is what I see contributing more (or just as much as insurance):

1. The privatization, consolidation, and resulting monopolization of healthcare. Hospitals are increasingly being run as for-profit businesses, with all of the ills of modern American corporatization. They're being administrated by individuals whose experience, training, and interests are in making a profit, with little understanding of what makes for efficient healthcare. They're also consolidating, which reduces competition in any regional market. If all the hospitals in an area are owned by one corporation, insurance companies can't negotiate as effectively.

2. Overrregulation by the government in terms of licensure, etc. It's too hard for people who could provide services to provide those services, which creates bottlenecks in supply of care. Have you ever asked yourself why you need a prescription for antibiotics from an NP, PA, or MD? Doesn't it make sense to get that without a prescription from a pharmacist (much as with pseudophedrine), or with a prescription from an AN? Why has it been so difficult for psychologists to obtain prescription privileges, even when it's proposed as being optional and dependent on successful completion of extensive pharmacology training? If healthcare is so expensive, why isn't it being made easier for people to obtain services from a wider range of types of providers? Sure, there would be risks in some cases, but I believe those risks are often overstated, and it would decrease costs overall.

Insurance does play a role, as well as other things--e.g., malpractice, population changes in health, etc., but I think those two issues above are the major culprits. I don't see healthcare costs changing until those things are honestly addressed and changed.

And no: I have zero ties to the insurance industry.

Re:Patents, lawsuits, and healthcare (1)

DogDude (805747) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041946)

"and it discourages the best employees from working at smaller firms because they literally will have to pay 100% more per year for basic healthcare. "

This is either hyperbole, or wrong. Health insurance is expensive, but the cost is rarely more than a few hundreds bucks a month per person, significantly less than minimum wage.

Re:Patents, lawsuits, and healthcare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042104)

Patents, lawsuits, and healthcare are risks. Government regulation is a full time detriment!

No, it's losing its money. (5, Insightful)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041592)

Innovation needs to be rewarded. How many of you have signed contracts that give *any* invention you create to your employer as a condition of having a job? How may of you have the means to quit to pursue making a business out of your invention? (Hint: You ALL signed one, and you can't if you have a family). And if you did manage to start a business, would you have a legal fund to defend yourself from getting "wallet-whipped" form the inevitable lawsuits?

Patent law, labor law and contract law have all skewed the results of innovation so that corporations profit, while individuals make a few thousand dollars bonus and get a pat on the head from management. This soft corruption is ever so slowly strangling the geese that lay the golden eggs. There are a few Apples and Microsofts and a Facebook. And what would have become of these ideas had Jobs, Gates or Zuckerman been working for IBM at the time they had them?

If I had a million dollar idea tomorrow (and they're not that tough), I can't think of a reason in the world to bother with it while working for a company in the USA. You'd have to be in college, having never worked for a corporation, or offshore in a country that protects you from patent disputes or confiscatory contract provisions.

Re:No, it's losing its money. (1)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041732)

Not quite true, at least in the software industry. Most companies have a non-compete clause and will seize ownership of anything you create if they can, but in reality the "all your inventions are belong to us" clauses have not held up well in court. The only people who get taken by that abusive phrasing are the ones who don't know their legal rights.

I've often crossed out and initialed that clause on an employment contract just to be safe, and never had it questioned.

Re:No, it's losing its money. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041784)

I signed no such contract at my current job. We just focus on getting things done, keeping our clients happy, and keeping ourselves happy (those last two really do go together if management is worth anything at all). Based upon prior workplaces, however, you are right vastly more than now, and that is a big problem in this country. I don't think any large employer is capable of being the sort of place I work currently, because it isn't easy (possible?) to do it efficiently. I think we need a return to a lot of small companies working together rather than a few huge companies doing a bunch of unrelated things. "Too big to fail" is just the latest symptom of the problem. I think before you hit that point you've already passed the "too big to succeed" point as well, and are doomed.

We either shouldn't have bailed those companies out and let better run companies gobble them up, or should have only under the condition that they be restructured into "small enough to fail" companies.

Re:No, it's losing its money. (1)

countvlad (666933) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041868)

So don't work for that employer. Work for yourself or work for someone else. Start a company which reverses this trend: allow innovators to keep the right to their ideas in exchange for being reimbursed the cost of developing the technology. I hope you don't consider yourself an inventor, because quite frankly you don't seem to have the balls to handle the competition (hint: if you want the government to rewrite the rules in your favor, you're doing it wrong). If you think corporations or the government has all the power, they only do because you let them have it.

There are real benefits to having a corporation fund your work. For example, there's almost zero risk for the inventor. The company will pay for the development and marketing of your idea and absorb (or default) on the loss if it fails. Sure, you might lose your job, but you're not going to go bankrupt or lose millions (and potentially more) on an idea with no guarantee of return. Your family isn't going to starve if your idea flops, or the market dries up.

Re:No, it's losing its money. (1)

alexgieg (948359) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041906)

I'm in principle against the very notion of copyright and patents, but between both extremes of my ideal and what currently exists, there's a middle ground that would make things much more sane, if it ever had any hope of being implemented in law, which it doesn't: the abolition of the concept of transferring (and of licensing with exclusivity) one's intellectual production, what would mean making moral rights and copy rights one and the same. Being employed by a corporation in this scenario might still mean ceding a non-exclusive right for them to use your intellectual production, maybe with a clause of non competition for as long as you worked for them. And such a law would need a clause establishing a hard upper limit on for how long a ceding contract could be valid before requiring a renegotiation. But the net result would be that you'd still fully own your intellectual production, and would be able to re-license it to whomever you wished, again and again and again, once the initial term was up. Big pharma, big software, big labels, big anything, would be "big" only so long as lots and lots of intellectual producers were willing to keep within them. If they left, for whatever reason, the corporation itself would break apart, thus giving HUGE incentives for these corporations to do things in a sensible manner. Much more so, at least, than what we have today.

Re:No, it's losing its money. (1)

sgtrock (191182) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042060)

Innovation needs to be rewarded. How many of you have signed contracts that give *any* invention you create to your employer as a condition of having a job? How may of you have the means to quit to pursue making a business out of your invention? (Hint: You ALL signed one, and you can't if you have a family). And if you did manage to start a business, would you have a legal fund to defend yourself from getting "wallet-whipped" form the inevitable lawsuits?

I never have signed a contract containing such terms. I don't plan to, either. Given by the other responses to your post, I don't think that clause is as common as you think it is.

Another nail in the Coffin of the USA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042112)

This sort of restriction is modern day equivalent of Indentured Labour.
Why should any business have a claim on something that is not related to their business that you have done in your own time.

In other parts of the world this sort of employment contract condition is illegal. So why do they insist on it in the US?
I'm not from the US but worked there for 4 years under my UK Contract. I was offered a permanent position but turned it down due to this clause in my contract.
My current employer is cool with me working on two FOSS projects in my spare time knowing fullwell that they can't claim ownership of any code I write in my own time.
If the US wants to encourage innoovation then they need to let people create stuff in their own time and then to let them take the risks with it. You did once but sadly not now.
With all these MAD Patents lawsuits, don't you see that the rest of the world is laughing at you while they get on with life and business.

Legislated innovation (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041606)

Much of the innovation that came out of Silicon Valley was spurred by Government - internet, RDMS, electronics, etc ...

But the thing is, all of those Government sponsored innovations had a very specific goal and were to solve a specific problem; nothing as vague as promoting innovation or what have you.

Or to put it bluntly, unless Government has a very specific problem to solve, any money spent will be flushed down a pork filled toilet.

So if they say, "this money is for "innovation"" you can bet your ass that Joe politician will find a way to steer the money to something useless that rewards a buddy of his.

No (3, Insightful)

xstonedogx (814876) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041624)

A few points in no particular order:

1. Those automatic cuts are hardly automatic. They'll be repealed if legislators can't come up with a plan. These guys would rather preside over the disintegration of the union than cut their constituents' favorite federal programs.

2. Government does not create innovation. Examples like NASA are always trotted out, but I think if you total those successes with the failures, pork, and corruption, you'll find we could have gotten much more for less. Maybe not NASA and it's indirect benefits specifically, but something else.

3. What has the federal government ever done for education other than turn principals into truancy officers? Don't get me started on tuition cost increases due to the ease of getting federally backed student loans.

4. If you want to increase manufacturing: drop the minimum wage.

Re:No (5, Insightful)

nickmalthus (972450) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041850)

Last week on HDNet Dan Rather Reports did a special on Singapore schools, some of the best in the world. One thing that stuck out in my mind is that culturally the teaching profession is held in the highest esteem there. Here in America teaching has become a job of last resort where only the desperate or truely dedicated put up with the abuse and meager wages. There was a time in America where learning was cherished as a virtuous means of self improvement for both private and public good as the ancient greek philosophers promoted. Now with avarice instead of virtue motivating our country teachers are restricted to simply programming automatons for a standardized test and are held in contempt for being in any way associated with the government. Respect and upraise our teachers; they are directly involved in defining our country's future.

Catch 22. (1, Insightful)

HornWumpus (783565) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041954)

If we had been paying and respecting our teachers we would have good ones.

But we haven't and we don't. So raising their pay has to come second. First is merit pay, reform multiple new teachers unions and abolish tenure for professional teachers. (ed majors, leave it for college profs where they actually should be independent researchers.)

The problem is the teachers we have today aren't even worth what they are making. Paying them lawyer's salaries won't help in the short term.

Re:No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042128)

Countries like Singapore (along with many other Asian countries) tend to hold all authority figures in esteem. That's not what makes their education system better any more than it makes their cops better or their politicians better.

Re:No (5, Insightful)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041900)

Yes, don't insist on minimum wage laws in our trading partners, just lower the price of labor here, while the CEO's keep raking in huge obscene bonuses. Your solution is just cuts, cuts, cuts, and kiss the middle class goodbye.

Re:No (5, Interesting)

Xenkar (580240) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041912)

On number 4, I don't see how someone earning $7.25 a hour is too much to be paying factory workers, especially when automation is lowering the amount of workers required to keep a factory running.

Assuming our current minimum wage and maximum part-time hours to avoid paying benefits, each worker will cost about $10000 a year. This worker probably won't have to pay any federal income taxes after deductions. This worker will be eligible for Medicaid. He won't be able to pay off the loans for his house and the car he'll need to drive out to the middle of nowhere where your factory is located because of cheap land prices and interstate access.

Now republicans and libertarians not only want to lower the amount this worker gets paid, they want to remove the government provided healthcare option that they themselves don't want to offer to workers.

I just can't see how the average American worker would be better off. I do understand how the top 1% will be better off from these ideas. At least until the bottom 99% decide to eliminate those who do so little yet take so much.

Re:No (1)

MacTO (1161105) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042008)

On point 2: government contributes a hell of a lot to innovation, as well as pure research (which is necessary for some innovation). Claiming otherwise it to ignore all of the work done in publicly funded university labs from around the world.

Maybe I should give you two ripe examples that you can understand: the computer and the internet. The former simply would not have been developed without government intervention. Without the latter, we would be living in an expensive and tightly controlled network environment (like AOL or Compuserve of days gone by).

Then there is medical research ...

How much more proof is needed ? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041642)

How much more proof is needed for the West to understand that free trade will destroy it in the long term and no amount of "government financing" is going to chnage that. Bring back tariffs or welcome soon in the third world. Keep voting for free traders guys.


Re:How much more proof is needed ? (1, Insightful)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041914)

The sad thing is seeing people, even here in this thread, arguing in favor of reducing the middle class down to third world levels. No talk of fair trade, just that everyone should take a pay cut to compete with slave labor.

Done on purpose (5, Insightful)

Okian Warrior (537106) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041644)

We've done everything possible to stifle innovation over the past 20 years.

Innovation: Patent trolls, nuclear patent portfolios, submarine patents, generic and inscrutable patents, court district shopping, DMCA, ACTA, losing tech to other countries, H1B visas.

Infrastructure: Rationed internet(data caps), net neutrality, spotty cell coverage, polluted water supply, inscrutable laws, discretionary enforcement, tax complexity, offshoring

Growth: Tax breaks to rich companies (if GE pays no taxes, it's hard to make a competing product), regulatory failure (example: deepwater horizon), tax incentives for companies to move from state-to-state, profligate wasteful spending.

Is it any wonder that American innovation has lost its shine?

Ingenuity and Innovation is in danger .... (1)

fsckmnky (2505008) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041646)

... because if we keep spending like drunken sailors, we'll destroy the economy even more, and that's been done before.

Money Does Not Create Innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041650)

The best innovations have always been on a shoe string budget. The simple approaches to a problem often lead to the most innovative solutions. But, instead we throw billions at a problem and hope that some bureaucrat finds some motivated scientist to solve a problem. Just think of all the garage innovations that have come about. (The personal computer?)

Learn to play guitar (4, Insightful)

qualityassurancedept (2469696) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041680)

The idea that you would pay an american to do what lots of people all over the world can do for a fraction of the cost is ludicrous, and that goes for "research" at universities as well... unless of course you are talking about stealth bombers or nuclear weapons research, which it is illegal to export. Now that they have the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, american research in physics, for example, is on its way to becoming second rate and other than Women's Studies and Business School, American universities have less and less to offer. The american university system is more about generating revenue through student loans than it is about actually producing first rate scholars. The student loan debt bubble, that has lasted for 30 years, is probably ending and with it you will see a dramatic decline in the international prestige of american universities. It was always about the money... and it was the money that attracted the foreign nationals to the united states to teach... and the foreign nationals who moved to america are the only reason american universities were ever all that good.

A long time ago.... (5, Insightful)

girlintraining (1395911) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041710)

Bill Gates was once quoted as saying he doesn't fear other companies; He fears the guy working out of his garage who's busy producing the next big thing. Naturally, legislation has since been passed so Bill and the other billionaires of the tech world can sleep easy knowing he'll never get through the red tape to bring his product to market. There's patent law, copyright law, tort law, contract law, EULAs, and a plethora of other things making damn sure he'll get bought out or buried in debt and legal proceedings.

Has America lost it's luster? Yes. Quite awhile ago. You don't have to spend anything on education or science anymore... it's really quite pointless... nobody can benefit from it in this country anymore.

It lost its shine long ago! (5, Insightful)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041716)

Here's why:

Take a look around your house and count the items that were manufactured in the USA. In mine, it's the toilet! Imagine, the toilet bowl. Everything else was manufactured in Mexico, Taiwan, Canada or China.

Now, there will be those who say: "Well, but that stuff was designed in the USA." To them I say, "nonsense."

Being designed in the USA is almost irrelevant if we spend all our cash abroad, servicing our debt. Banks are able to make profits because they 'enslave" us in debts and fees. That's how they make money. With our spending getting out of hand, foreign powers will only have to sit back and live on the interest we as a nation pay them while servicing our debt. It's insane.

That's how American academics dismissed the Japanese in the 70s and guess what, in a few years, you could not find an American (100%) made product.

We were a once proud nation with corporations like Zenith. It was the inventor of subscription TV and the remote control in addition to being one of the first to develop HDTV in USA. Where is it now? History.

Our car brands are non sellers abroad. Talk of GM and Asians will laugh at you. That's where the market is at the moment.

The latest frontier in electronics in the OLED with the AMOLED variation. No American patent is relied on in OLED technology. It's all Korean. How did it start? Yes, factories moved abroad...then the cash followed.

It's bad folks. When it comes to airplanes, an increasing percentage of these are foreign made. The new Boeing 787 Dream-liner has at least 30% [latimes.com] foreign components. These will increase and when they get to more than 48% all manufacturing followed by research will be abroad.

I am waiting to see where America still shines. Worst of all, we're broke!

Re:It lost its shine long ago! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041816)

The unfortunate thing is, every first world country is broke. Every single one. I'm glad we (UK) are not on the Euro, but we're not doing much better.

You could argue that China is a first world, but we keep them going. If we implode and stop importing/buying, they implode as well.

Re:It lost its shine long ago! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041990)

Just wait until China's own property bubble bursts and they'll be as broke as we are...

Re:It lost its shine long ago! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042086)

Ah, but we still have the defense industry, those industrial death merchants hammering us deeper in debt. We are the new Soviet Union, destroying ourselves trying to keep our empire.

Awww (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041744)

Diminishing returns on stolen German WW2 era technology, have to make your own now :(

obligatory (-1, Offtopic)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041788)

Is American Innovation Losing Its Shine?

No, he's in the White House.

Re:obligatory (-1, Troll)

PopeRatzo (965947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041800)

I just want to point out the courage implicit in the willingness to suffer Karma loss for the sake of a cheap joke.

Not everyone has what it takes to make such a sacrifice. I do it to honor the veterans, of course - to do my small part.

Well, what do you expect? (1, Insightful)

p51d007 (656414) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041790)

We have a "leader" bashing the United States 24/7 We have kids brought up in a world surrounded by helicopter parents, giving them everything they want, trying to buy them anything they want. We teach "conflict resolution" and other political correctness crap in schools. We never let kids fall down and get hurt, never let them play around with boxes, tape, scissors to "make stuff". Then if they make it out of high school with the ability to walk and chew gum without falling down, they go to college, get a degree in underwater basketweaving, rack up 200,000 in debt, THEN complain they didn't get a 100k a year job with 2 weeks vacation with no experience, hang out for a month on "wall street" complaining. You want to know why we are losing out in inventing things? We have no one to blame, but ourselves!

Re:Well, what do you expect? (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041930)

Ohh no no no...I take issue with this point you make:

We have a "leader" bashing the United States 24/7

No sir! That leader is saying the truth. Heck, all other past leaders have been sugar coating our situation, masking the truth while America was degenerating. Do you think the current perceived degeneration started when this "leader' came into office? I for one would like a leader who tells the truth.

I agree with you on this:

We have kids brought up in a world surrounded by helicopter parents, giving them everything they want, trying to buy them anything they want. We teach "conflict resolution" and other political correctness crap in schools. We never let kids fall down and get hurt, never let them play around with boxes, tape, scissors to "make stuff"

No wonder kids from the poorest nations come here and still out-perform our kids. One such kid, from one of the poorest countries on planet earth, wondered how one can "fail" in America...where everything is at your disposal. This kid used charcoal to write on hardened earth. Her class was under a tree. When she came here, she was 3 grades ahead of her age, solving mathematical problems in her head, spoke "correct" English and wondered why people spoke in sentences like, "I am like ..." What kind of English is that? She wondered.

Consumerism is killing us: I always wndered how someone would spend 14 hours for a store to open, spend upwards of $600 in order to have the "latest gadget", which gadget would be obsolete in 11 months. Insane. How much production work would that be?

You want to know why we are losing out in inventing things? We have no one to blame, but ourselves!

I agree 100%. We have whole legions of people on welfare with no hope of ever leaving it. Heck...put them to work. There are farms in Tennessee, Arizona and Texas that would be willing to get them work, but guess what, they are not willing to do that kind of work, but are willing to wait for a welfare check. Then follow the kids and grand kids...then we wonder why our nation cannot collect enough revenue to sustain basic human living standards. It's sad my friend.

Well no wonder (5, Informative)

Anti Cheat (1749344) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041844)

With the US business greed focused on making the fastest profit possible still in full swing, and this also true in other western countries. I'm not surprised innovation and ingenuity is faltering. Why would industry focused only as far as the next quarters profit see any benefit on long term investment.

For sometime now Companies have massively laid off it's historical knowledge held by what it considers costly western labour and researchers. Add to that the offshoring momentum and it set the stage for a 20 year decline in the skilled research and workforce.
We could make a long list of where all the short sighted decisions that all compile to spell out the US decline

So just a few examples of a long list that has lead to the US and other western countries slow and steady downfall.
a) Attraction of cheap offshore manufacturing jobs as 2nd world nation's labour forces gain education/training. Of note is that significant costs of that were paid for by Western companies as cheaper alternative to western training costs..
b) The rising costs of basic education and there being no desire to spend taxes on it in the west. In some cases a disproportionate shift to who shares in payment.
c) The secondary level education rising costs of a degree/diploma without the job that could pay it back in reasonable time.
d) Bleeding out the existing wealth of the middle class over to the so called 1%,Why destroy the middle class? Long term short sighted?
e) Traditionally in the last 50 years it had become the middle class that supported innovation and ingenuity through support of education as less and less was supported by industry.
f) Companies will follow the wealth. They have no loyalty to any nation or people. It's only to those people that control those companies. Rarely does a Corp have a sense of morality. Only what the laws allow is it's morality and that is not morality at all..
g) Corporate influence in making laws that benefit not the country or it's people, but rather only for its profits. Even if its convenient to the detriment of the country and its people.
etc etc etc. A sad comedy off errors.

Re:Well no wonder (2)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042020)

g) Corporate influence in making laws that benefit not the country or it's people, but rather only for its profits. Even if its convenient to the detriment of the country and its people

That sad thing is that when a "reformer" tries to do something, the reformer is labeled a socialist/communist...as if we cannot have anything somewhere in between.

Re:Well no wonder (1)

znerk (1162519) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042032)

The root cause of all of these issues is likely the law requiring companies to show their shareholders a profit. A CEO can not only be fired, but can be fined and jailed for not showing a profit.

Things have deteriorated to the point where not only can the execs not make mistakes that cost the company money, but they literally have to not make mistakes that reduce the profit margins.

Corporate entities are a legal fiction that is destroying our economy.

End sports in college or make a sports only couse (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041932)

System where people in sports don't take up space in classes and don't get a free pass in class as they are on the football team.

Pay the people on the sports teams with the option of useing that to PAY for the NON sports classes or keep that for own use and treat being on the sports team like any other job.

LOL ingenuity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38041976)

I love the notion that the success of the US in the post war era was purely a result of American 'ingenuity' - and not, say, the decimation of the most developed competitor nations, and a continents worth of natural resources to exploit.

Sure, some things were invented in the US (far fewer than most Americans believe though) but you can't ignore non-human factors just to give yourselves a pat on the back.

Re:LOL ingenuity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042114)

I love the notion that the success of the US in the post war era was purely a result of American 'ingenuity' - and not, say, the decimation of the most developed competitor nations, and a continents worth of natural resources to exploit.

Sure, some things were invented in the US (far fewer than most Americans believe though) but you can't ignore non-human factors just to give yourselves a pat on the back.

Call it the Reality Distortion Field of Americans.

Stop outsourcing production, first (4, Insightful)

Krachmanikov (670121) | more than 2 years ago | (#38041994)

Cry me a river! America's innovation lost its shine, because of outsourcing every single production bit overseas. Most innovation steps are incremental improvements, not radical. Therefore, feedback from the market (customers) and from the production line is absolutely necessary. By outsourcing production to an external contractor, companies will first loose the feedback from production. Once the outsourcing contractors know the products, they will get to know the sales channels, too. In time companies loose their market, their ability to produce products and finally the ability to improve their products. What we see today is the result of a short-sighted service-oriented economic principle. Wake up! Start "doing" things, again.

The tech feeds needs some kind of apprenticeships (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042012)

System or some kind of way to have smart people not to get tied down by others going to college just for the piece of paper.

Also there is big parts of innovation and other part of it. Like testing, building out and deploying it.
That can work better then just sitting in a class room.

Now the time in class is to long 4 years of theory for IT work and programing? Lots of crap software comes from people with 4 year CS that is lacking in the hands on part. And other people are real good with no college at all.

Now why can't we have some kind mixed tech school, apprenticeships system? I think big time theory is to high level now some theory is nice.
But whats the point of coming up with good idea based on theory with out the knowing about the hands on side of working with tech to see how stuff goes together?

MIT Prez predicts disaster if education funds cut (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38042036)

Well, what did you think the University President types would say?

This reminds me of how newspaper publishers predicted that if they were allowed to go under, the Internet would eventually be full of fluffy, unfiltered press-release type stories masquerading as news.

Wait a minute, I guess that did happen...

It is not the Idea . . . (1)

NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042092)

. . . it is the execution. If I had a nickel for every idea ever conceived, I could pay off the federal debt, buy China, and still have enough money left to bail out Europe. The problem is implementing the idea. It has always been hard, but the government (a.k.a. we the people) has created an environment where productivity is taxed to a point, then unregulated. For example, if you are smarter and work harder than me, and then you make twice as much money as me, you will pay OVER twice as much tax as me. If you manage to make enough money, you may become wealthy enough not to need to work at all. Then you can hire a tax attorney and a financial analyst to move your money to a place where you pay LESS tax than I pay, maybe no tax. Of course, most hard working, smart, and honest people never reach this level of wealth. The point -- the barriers to implementing good ideas are not just talent and effort. The country has become more of a hindrance. If we just taxed passive income (and not active income), then more ideas would be realized. There would be fewer billionaires, too


roman_mir (125474) | more than 2 years ago | (#38042124)

Well, not all my comments end up like this [slashdot.org]

Here is a comment from "NASA Head Ignores Congress, Eyes Cooperation With China" story. [slashdot.org] (more than a year ago now)


Here is the thing: society that loses manufacturing jobs, loses the manufacturing sector, it then pretty much loses the need for engineering, and in reality in most of realities, engineering is what drives progress forward and it even drives the need for scientific advancement forward.

So society that stops making stuff, stops thinking of stuff as well. You can't be thinking without actually producing, even though those who really build/engineer and those who do basic science are different people and working in different institutions.

Lose your manufacturing economy and you'll lose your knowledge economy, or did you think you could have the cake and eat it too?

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