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AT&T Labs vs. Google Labs - R&D History

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the not-your-grampas dept.

199

An anonymous reader writes "Ars Technica has a piece looking at the history of corporate R&D, in response to an article on the BusinessWeek site essentially calling the telecommunication giants aging fossils of communication. The Ars piece looks as several innovations to come out of the AT&T Labs over the years, as well as the era of innovation brought on by the Cold War." From the article: "The Cold War, with its 'Pentagon socialism', combined with large corporate monopolies that were expected to provide lifetime employment and pensions, made for something of a golden age for American technological innovation. This is the era that brought us the transistor and the predecessor to the Internet, an era where all the seeds of today's 'information economy' were sown and carefully cultivated at great private and public expense. The great labs of this era--Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, and IBM's labs--were places with massive budgets, where the world's top scientists were invited to pursue "blue sky" research into areas with no immediately apparent commercial applications. The facilities were state-of-the-art, and there was no pressure from management or shareholders to do anything but science for science's sake."

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199 comments

Maybe they are not scientists but... (0, Troll)

blindbug (979761) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776823)

The great labs of this era--Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, and IBM's labs--were places with massive budgets, where the world's top scientists were invited to pursue "blue sky" research into areas with no immediately apparent commercial applications.
Companies like these are still around today, we just call them patent trolls...

Re:Maybe they are not scientists but... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15776938)

IBM has never been a patent troll. What crack are you smoking? Not to mention the amazing research IBM is involved with. Check http://www.research.ibm.com/ [ibm.com] for more info dumb fuck

Re:Maybe they are not scientists but... (3, Informative)

'nother poster (700681) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776939)

No we don't. Patent trolls BUY patents, or patent OBVIOUS things, and then use them as weapons for extortion. Bell Labs and PARC invented real technologies. I'm not saying that they didn't do their share of patenting stupid shit, but they did real research, and their parent companies/divisions actually deployed much of their technology in the real world, not just as a licensor.

Re:Maybe they are not scientists but... (1)

arose (644256) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777118)

They also patent things they have no idea how to make and if someone figures out.

Re:Maybe they are not scientists but... (1)

'nother poster (700681) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777224)

Not exactly sure where you were going with this. Where you refering to patent trolls, or the big R&D houses, when you said "they have no idea how to make"? If you meant the trolls, I totally agree. If you meant the R&D houses I have to disagree. These were the people that invented things like the laser, transistor, and computer mouse. They could make just about anything they wrote up a patent for.

Re:Maybe they are not scientists but... (2, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777033)

Except that these companies actually developed the stuff that they patented ... which is the difference between a legitimate business model and the anticompetitive scum that are the patent trolls.

So basically, they're nothing like patent troll corporations.

(Insightful? What were the mods smoking?)

Parent is NOT insightful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15777210)

You're not a "patent troll" if you actually have an R&D department. I'm given to understand that Bell Labs actually employed more engineers than attorneys at one point.

$7 Billion of R&D @ Microsoft Laboratory (4, Insightful)

reporter (666905) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777220)

No discussion of AT&T Labs is complete without a reference to Microsoft Labs.

In 2005, Microsoft spent about $7 billion on research and development (R&D) [techtarget.com]. By 2008, the R&D budget will grow to $8 billion. If my memory serves, no American company spends more money on R&D than Microsoft.

The research division at Microsoft is the #1 industrial laboratory in the United States. To understand the magnitude of the largesse, note that Microsoft succeeded in convincing several tenured/tenure-tracked professors at top-notch private universities (e.g. Stanford University) to quit the university and to join Microsoft.

Like the pre-breakup AT&T, Microsoft is funneling its monopolistic profits into a massive R&D budget. Microsoft laboratory has become the "Bell Labs" of the 21st century.

Re:$7 Billion of R&D @ Microsoft Laboratory (4, Insightful)

Cirvam (216911) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777378)

But what do they make? I mean Bell Labs created things in a ton of different fields and studied just about everything. I have seen some of the computer research and development that comes out of Microsoft Labs and its definatly good, but do they do anything else? It doesn't seem like they are producing the same widespread developments that Bell Labs was involved in.

I agree (2, Insightful)

Rocky (56404) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777626)

With that much money floating around, Microsoft research should be working on the CS equivalent of the Manhattan Project.

Instead we get type systems that attempt to address device driver crashing and security issues - things that would never have occured if the OS research had been done correctly up front.

Some of the Microsoft Cambridge stuff is better, but where is the beef?

Re:Maybe they are not scientists but... (1)

LordOfTheNoobs (949080) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777662)

The research parks had nothing to do with the modern patent troll.

On another note :
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20060724-73 40.html
For a company like Xerox or AT&T, what it meant to have a blue sky research lab was very much like what it means for a city to host a winning sports team; it was a source of pride and an anchor of collective identity. So much like the science that they produced, these labs were ends in themselves.

I call BS on this article as well. Read Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age [amazon.com]. That these things were never expected to return on investment is bunk.

The company treated it like a city does a sports franchise? Perhaps. Like a city constantly threatening to close down the franchise unless it starts keeping people in the bleachers. Research parks were expected to create something useful. The difference between them and floor engineers was that they measured product creation in years with expected initial investments of a decade or more.

google! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15776833)

Isnt that what google does now? Science for sciences sake and whatnot...

Re:google! (4, Interesting)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777149)

Although you got modded down, I was thinking about what companies are like Bell Labs/PARC/etc. today. It's a pretty short list. I'd say that IBM is still on there; they still do some stuff that gets into pure research, although I think it's become more market-focused than it used to be; Google strikes me as someone who is trying to take up the helm that was dropped by Xerox PARC -- a combination of marketable stuff and real blue-sky tech ... but I think a lot of other research has moved from the corporate sphere to the realm of small startups. \

It seems like people who are coming out of grad schools now don't hope to get a position as a Fellow at IBM as much as they hope to get a big wad of funding from somebody (usually without thinking too hard about who "somebody" might be) and playing the startup game. Even though as a startup, you usually don't have much flexibility or opportunity to do research, it's all about productization.

I'm still not sure though that I would put Google into the same category as the old research companies of the Cold War era. Google's stuff is good, and it's definitely innovative, but in many cases it looks less like actual new knowledge development than just new and different ways of recombining existing stuff. That definitely has value -- don't get me wrong -- but it's different than the huge amount of capital investment and long time horizons that used to be the norm at Bell Labs, for instance.

Honestly I think it's the time horizon issue that's the worst part of today's market. I don't know if it's a product of instability -- nobody is sure what's going to be going on in 5 years, so they only plan for two -- or if it's just the desire to make short-term gains, but I think that we're starting to see the effects of lots of places not having a very coherent long-term strategy. Stagnation is bad, but a certain amount of predictability in the market can be good, if it lets people plan for longer, and thus take bigger calculated risks.

Nobody is willing to pay for research that might take 10 or more years to productize in today's market, and thus the burden falls on government and academia. They're basically some of the only institutions left that can afford to plan in multiple-decade ranges.

Independence Day! (4, Funny)

neonprimetime (528653) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776852)

Meanwhile, back in America, a perfect storm of rent-seeking behaviors by entrenched players, a broken patent system, a lack of substantial corporate oversight, and old-fashioned executive greed threatens to drown the fabled "two entrepreneurs in a garage" just as surely as those two guys helped sink the blue sky research labs of the Cold War era.

I love America. God Bless the USA.

Re:Independence Day! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15776888)

with messes like this and others it needs some love rather badly.

Re:Independence Day! (4, Interesting)

monopole (44023) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777323)

The prototypical "Two Guys in a Garage" were Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in 1939 who founded one of the top "blue sky" research labs HP Labs.
i.e. the two guys in the garage predated the cold war and founded "blue sky" research labs, as did previous inventors coming from modest origins (Bell, Chester Carlson of XEROX, Edwin Land of Polaroid). Inventors create labs, Managers kill them.

Hardly compare (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15776861)

While Google is definitely doing some cool stuff, what they are creating, and the environment that they are creating it in can't really compare in scope to what happened back in the heyday of big r&d. Google Maps/Earth is cool, but how does it compare to shaping everyones lives like color tv and the transistor. The innovations of Google are significantly more evolutionary vs revolutionary.

where's the tech? (5, Interesting)

free space (13714) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776918)

Google has some of the best scientists around. Yet what do google labs give us? autocomplete for search strings? The only thing that seems worthy of notice in Google labs is google sets [google.com], which has that 'next gen AI search' feeling to it.

The same goes for Microsoft research: while there are some gems in there, you will see people presenting research on new ways for drag and drop and similar stuff. While that's useful, it's nowhere near what IBM, PARC and others were/are doing. Even Sun seems to have cooler research projects.

Either those next generation companies are not as scientifically inclined as the old 'dinasaurs', or maybe the truly amazing stuff MS/Google have is hidden from prying eyes till the market is ready for them :)

Re:where's the tech? (1)

alen (225700) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776970)

MS does this

they give someone some money and a place to work and leave them alone

I first read about them working on something similar to .NET in the late 1990's.

Re:where's the tech? (1)

free space (13714) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777099)

MS does this
they give someone some money and a place to work and leave them alone
I first read about them working on something similar to .NET in the late 1990's.

I agree with your observation. And I agree that .NET is a great piece of technology, but I don't think it can be called "amazing stuff" compared to what IBM, Bell Labs and PARC did.

The research of those three gave us the mouse, GUI, laser printers, SQL and OOP, among other things :)

Re:where's the tech? (2, Interesting)

T-Ranger (10520) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777665)

Not a very good list; with the exception of SQL, they all came from PARC. And SQL arguably isnt that revolutionary, either. Relational databases, OTOH.....

Re:where's the tech? (1)

Vengie (533896) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777731)

What Microsoft did with MSIL and the core of .NET is actually pretty respectable. Inasmuch as I am not the biggest fan of many of the Squish's tactics, credit should be given where credit is due. [There are a ton of smart smart *smart* people at the core of .Net and SQL.]

Re:where's the tech? (2, Insightful)

tOaOMiB (847361) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777154)

"Google has some of the best scientists around." ?!?

This is where you go wrong...Google is filled with some of the best programmers around. But programmers aren't scientists, and they certainly aren't the engineers one used to find in Xerox Parc or Bell Labs. Software is never going to be revolutionary. It's hardware that has us in awe. How can we possibly compare R&D of programmers vs engineers?!?

Re:where's the tech? (2, Insightful)

trevor-ds (897033) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777286)

Google is hiring Computer Science Ph.D.s at an astounding rate. I guess you could call these people programmers (you'd hope they'd know how to write a program or two) but hopefully you'd also call them scientists.

Your second statement seems contradictory. Wasn't it in part the windowing systems and object oriented programming that made us excited about Xerox PARC? Is that not software?

Is a search engine not software? Yes, it's deployed on massive hardware, but it's a software application. The Grand Challenge vehicles are (in my opinion) primarily feats of software.

Re:where's the tech? (1, Interesting)

radtea (464814) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777758)

Google is hiring Computer Science Ph.D.s at an astounding rate. I guess you could call these people programmers (you'd hope they'd know how to write a program or two) but hopefully you'd also call them scientists.

Computer scientists are not scientists. They are at best mathematicians, but mathematics is not science, merely a tool that some sciences use.

Scientists investigate nature. Neither mathematics nor computers occur in nature. They are made things, artefacts, tools. Like all tools made by humans, they have laws limiting their scope (Godel's Theorems in mathematics, Turing computability in CS), and the discovery of those laws was a scientific process of investigating nature. But the vast majority of what computer scientists do today looks far more like either applied (sometimes pure) math or software engineering. The engineering component probably dominates since most applications depend fundamentally on the fact that a computer is not a Turing machine. Modern computers have a variety of capabilities that Turing machines do not, the most important being realtime interupts. Turing's theorems do not apply to such machines, which are fundamentally indeterministic.

The conceptually challenged will point out that the boundaries between science, math and engineering are fuzzy, and may go on to suggest that the fuzziness of the boundaries means there is no distinction. They are, of course, incorrect, as anyone who has ever crossed a road is aware: the finite width of the road and the existence of shoulders does not prevent it from having two different sides. I always wonder if the folks who claim not to be able to tell the difference between science, mathematics and engineering stand by the road wondering which side they are on.

So I do not think that Google labs or MS is a fair comparison to AT&T or Bell Labs. The latter were making discoveries about nature. The former are developing technologies for communication and computation which have a much more limited potential for creating new sources of power or other new technologies for disturbing the universe.

Re:where's the tech? (2, Insightful)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777272)

I think there's a key difference between innovation and invention. I'm not saying this to disparage innovation or engineering at all, being more on that side myself, but I think that you have to draw a line between solving a particular problem by applying existing technology in a potentially new way, from actually creating new technology and pushing the limits of what's currently known.

I'd say that Google falls more on the innovation/engineering side of things. I haven't seen much out of them that's really new knowledge; I guess maybe some of the ways that they're using AJAX or their AI stuff could be new, but mostly it seems to be new only in terms of application. Useful stuff, to be sure, but it's not like the transistor or the microprocessor; things that just fundamentally change how we work.

The dividing line between 'innovation' and 'invention' is always a fuzzy one at best, and I'm aware that there are lots of things which are neither one nor the other, and lots of innovative projects which contribute substantially to our collective body of knowledge just by applying existing tech in a new way -- developing new techniques, for example -- but I still maintain that there is some difference there.

Re:where's the tech? (1)

Penguin Programmer (241752) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777596)

or maybe the truly amazing stuff MS/Google have is hidden from prying eyes till the market is ready for them :)


This is my guess. I mean, we all know that Google has _huge_ distributed computing resources, and it's pretty well known that they do a lot of work on distributed operating and file systems. They just haven't released any of that back-end stuff (yet).

Re:Hardly compare (1)

dslmodem (733085) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776967)

Can not agree more. Those labs brought humanbeings into a new ERA. I would like to see how GOOG labs will do.

Re:Hardly compare (4, Insightful)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777014)

Google Maps/Earth is cool, but how does it compare to shaping everyones lives like color tv and the transistor.

Too early to tell. Let's check back in 40 years.

Re:Hardly compare (2, Insightful)

Epi-man (59145) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777802)

Google Maps/Earth is cool, but how does it compare to shaping everyones lives like color tv and the transistor.

Too early to tell. Let's check back in 40 years.


Why do you want to wait so long? Did the transistor not have a major impact on lives until 1987? Most consider the birth of the transistor to be 22 December 1947 at Bell Labs. I would dare say it didn't take but 20 years for it to show the promise of revolutioning society.

Differences make sense. (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777082)

Google is a business. It is interested in making profits in the forseeable future.

So, while it probably does some basic research, it's mainly known for incremental innovations.

It didn't invent the Internet Search Engine, it built better one.

It didn't invent web based mapping, it just made a more natural feeling one.

It didn't invent Ajax, it just crystalized what was in the air about DHTML, DOM and web applications.

Of course, arguably nearly every invention refines something else. The transistor was a replacment for the vaccum tube,and it was used in similar circuits, accounting for the fact it's a trannsconductance device. But its underlying operating principle was completely different; and it would be decades before enough of the wrinkles could be ironed out that it seroiusly began to replace vaccum tubes.

That's the kind of long term research that efficient organizations don't do, at least if efficiency is defined as having focus on returns in the forseeable future. Yet, no inefficient state sanctioned monopoly working on inefficient defense grants, no transistor. No transistor, no integrated circuit. No IC, not computer, no Internet, no Google.

Re:Hardly compare (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15777123)

Let's put this into perspective. Why were the transistors, and other such technologies researched? Because it met the need of the company which pays the bills. Google has a business plan and their research seems to fit the company's niche: internet & search. So while Google Labs aren't changing the way our car drives, but it definately has changed the way a lot of people find directions.

Re:Hardly compare (1)

palantir0 (945761) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777129)

Google isn't in the same league as the labs. Where Google strikes gold is the fact they have a huge audience that they can ply their nifty widgets. Widgets is a good term for most of the stuff they create. I see them basically wrapping and putting a better face on the technologies already developed. Since it takes a bit of time to create really innovative products, they will need more time to turn the crank. Of course, many people use software because its free, not necessarily because its good. Gmail is pretty good but the thought of them storing everything gives me the shivers. The whole 'do no evil' is bullshit. Cheers

AT&T Labs? (4, Informative)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776867)

We used to call it Bell Labs. Getting a job there was like the ultimate geek cred.

Re:AT&T Labs? (2, Informative)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777144)

Not anymore...

For one, AT&T (and then Lucent, which acquired MOST of AT&T's R&D assets including the Murray Hill facility, which is now Lucent's HQ) began calling all of their product development divisions "Bell Labs" - More and more the term "Bell Labs" was used to describe standard product development instead of the classic "blue sky" research. That said, even around 2000, there was still a reasonable amount of "blue sky" work being done at Lucent Murray Hill - I was quite proud to intern there back then. I happened to be the only person in the entire department without a Ph.D. (with the exception of one other intern who was an M.S. student).

Since then, that entire department has been disbanded, and from all I've heard, Murray Hill is a husk of what it used to be even five to six years ago. It's been the victim of both Lucent's overall decline due to a combination of mismanagement and the crash of the optical networking industry, and of the general change in corporate attitudes to "blue sky" research.

Re:AT&T Labs? (2, Informative)

frusengladje (990955) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777402)

Since then, that entire department has been disbanded, and from all I've heard, Murray Hill is a husk of what it used to be even five to six years ago. It's been the victim of both Lucent's overall decline due to a combination of mismanagement and the crash of the optical networking industry, and of the general change in corporate attitudes to "blue sky" research.

While some of the decline can be certainly be attributed to mismanagement, the decline of the optical networking industry had very little to do with it. While they were certainly involved in some aspects of the optical networking market, that was never their primary market. Lucent is primarily involved in telecommunications infrastructure (Central Office switches, wireless base stations etc.). The two primary factors for the decline has been the consolidation of the telecommunications industry, and their lack of GSM wireless products for overseas markets (where most of the growth is occuring). The GSM problem is one of the primary reasons for the proposed merger with Alcatel (which is largely without wireless CDMA products).

Re:AT&T Labs? (2, Informative)

anothy (83176) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777782)

this is a common misunderstanding, even by Bell Labs employees and management. Bell Labs never just meant the research folks. originally, way back when, all development was done by an organization called Bell Labs, then handed over to the business units, basically to market and sell. later, the development shops were pushed off into the business units. the employees were no longer under the head of Bell Labs on the org chart, but were still Bell Labs employees - all AT&T (later Lucent) technical employees are. i believe that was around divestiture in 1984. at that point, "core" Bell Labs (i don't believe that was ever an official term, but it was certainly common enough that everyone knew what you meant) consisted of Research and AT (i think it stood for Advanced Technology), which was essentially an in-house contracting shop. with the major restructuring of Bell Labs a little under a year ago by the then-new head (the largest restructuring since 1984, at least), AT is gone, Research is still there, and now they finally have groups with the explicit charter of taking research - real research - and bringing it into the product shops, something which had been missing since the development staff were moved under the business units.

and, in my opinion, that's what primarily caused Lucent's collapse: a decade and a half worth of disconnect between possibly the most brilliant research organization on the planet and Lucent's product shops. it started in 1984, and the inertia was just so incredible that it took a decade and a half to catch up with them.

Re:AT&T Labs? (5, Interesting)

Brickwall (985910) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777263)

Bell Labs did enormous technical work in hardware and software - where did Unix start, after all?

But one other little known area they did work in was, of all things, economics. The Bell System Journal of Economics contained many ground-breaking papers on the structure, regulation, and pricing of utilities. One classic paper by Richard Posner in 1975 introduced the "capture theory of regulation". He wrote that when an industry is supposed to be regulated by the "public", which is represented by some board or trustees, the industry has an intense and concentrated desire to get the board to see things its way, while the public's desire to (say) have lower prices is more diffuse. In addition, the industry will have the technical and legal experts (and the cash to pay them), while the public depends on volunteers and/or screaming harpies with axes to grind to make their case. The inevitable result, he wrote, is the board becomes "captured" by the industry, and basically does what the industry wants.

Explains a lot, don't you think?

Re:AT&T Labs? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15777267)

AT&T Labs != Bell Labs after around 1996. At that time, Lucent was split off from AT&T and kept the original Bell Labs facility. About half of the researchers stayed at Lucent Bell Labs, and the others went to the newly formed AT&T Labs. If you follow the history of Bell Labs, you have to look both at what Lucent did to Bell Labs (heart-breaking) and what AT&T has been doing with their research division (slightly less so).

As a Former Bell Labs Employee... (2, Informative)

Black-Man (198831) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777473)

That company started acting like a bureaucratic siv. Towards the end of the glory days, there were as many slackers doing "research" as folks doing actual work. My group was bounced around from project to project with no focus. We were aligned with Bell Labs, therefore AT&T groups wanted our expertise... even if it was for stupid shit like "add some ksh code to our home-grown ksh database system". Like WTF??

I could go on and on...

Re:AT&T Labs? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15777766)

I worked in the Labs for 15 years. It was the best job.... until they decided to spinoff Lucent. It was all downhill after that. With AT&T chasing the ghost "MCI", they cut everything everywhere trying to get to the numbers MCI was claiming at the time. They sold off the cellular tech. right when cell technology became viable. Then came Mike Armstrong who finished gutting the company for the top exec's gain.

Ahh... Nerdvana... (4, Funny)

bADlOGIN (133391) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776869)

"there was no pressure from management or shareholders to do anything but science for science's sake."


You know the world of today sucks when you're nostalgic for your parents good old days.

Re:Ahh... Nerdvana... (1)

HoboMaster (639861) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777084)

You know everything is normal when someone old enough to be your parent is nostalgic for your parents' god old days. Wanna take any guesses as to the age of the author? I have my suspiscions. I'm 20, and am just now coming into the tech market, and I see nothing wrong with the way things currently are. Granted, they're different than they used to be, but not necessarily worse.

Re:Ahh... Nerdvana... (1)

Hedgethorn (859353) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777156)

The author (Jon "Hannibal" Stokes) of the linked article is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. He's not a 20-year-old, but he's not your father's age either.

Re:Ahh... Nerdvana... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15777301)

Ahh yes. The good old days. Back when women couldn't vote because they were busy making my dinner. And the niggers sat in the back of the bus. *sigh*

Actually, I was just going for the 70's (1)

bADlOGIN (133391) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777504)

That was when UNIX was invented, these old school labs were still operating & inventing stuff like the internet (sorry Al Gore). When women voters and black activist groups had more of the power that they diserve through high-profile media attention and grass roots campaigning. There was a sense of change in the air and right wing nut-jobs lost offices and dodged impeachment because of illegal activites in high office instead of holding the nation hostage. For actual progress of everyday american citizens, yeah: I'll call it the good old days.

P.S. It's coming up on 10 years since the mid 90's. Am I the only one who would give anything to hear the top story on the news being about cigars and blue dresses instead of what we're seeing today?

What is *pensions*? (2, Funny)

drewzhrodague (606182) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776878)

What is this thing (tilts head), pensions?

Re:What is *pensions*? (4, Funny)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776948)

I'm not sure but I'm pretty sure I've been getting emails telling me how I can make it bigger and/or longer.

Re:What is *pensions*? (1)

twiddlingbits (707452) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777063)

Funny as hell but I know a lot of retirees that would love bigger and longer pensions. Don't tell the spammers this idea or we'll get a whole new set of Spam. They'll just change a few letters and bypass the filters.

Show Me This (5, Interesting)

triskaidekaphile (252815) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776912)

Take those "go-getters" of the hey-day, compare the educational curriculum, pop culture, and political philosophies of their childhood to those of our children today.

Just a hunch, but I suspect that comparison will show darker times ahead for the U.S.

Re:Show Me This (4, Funny)

93,000 (150453) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777186)

Just a hunch, but I suspect that comparison will show darker times ahead for the U.S.

My parent's generation said the same thing about my generation 20 years ago, and we turned out . . . ah . . . um . . .

Shit.

Run for the hills.

Re:Show Me This (1)

77Punker (673758) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777243)

Look at every generation and its parent generation. In every generation, most of the people in it are mundane Joes. Scientific superheroes can come from any background; it is up to the individual to decide what he will do with his life.

But here's the worrying part (5, Insightful)

Moraelin (679338) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777517)

Look at every generation and its parent generation. In every generation, most of the people in it are mundane Joes. Scientific superheroes can come from any background; it is up to the individual to decide what he will do with his life.


Look at every generation, and its parent generation and... you'll see that not generations were equal, as scientific progress goes. It goes up and down like a yoyo, and it did so since the beginning of time.

E.g., ancient Egypt must have started with some really bright minds, since they discovered a lot of things. And I mean including a ton of medical and other stuff, not just how to pile stones in a pyramid. Yet right before the macedonian invasion it was already at a stage where nothing much was invented any more. Medicine for example had been solidified into something that was religion, law and malpractice insurance rolled into one, and everyone just followed the same official texts literally, and never tried anything new. For _millenia_.

E.g., in Europe the golden ages of Greece and Rome were followed by what we call the "Dark Ages". It's not just that they discovered fewer things, it's that actually a lot of information has been _lost_ in that time.

E.g., take China. It was at one point one of the most technologically advanced places. They have a long list of inventions, including stuff from paper to gunpowder to trebuchets to crossbows (including the repeating kind) to the compass to god knows what else that they invented more than a millenium before the Europeans. They were _that_ advanced. Even their less glamorous stuff, e.g., the composite bow, might get less hype, but you can see its efficiency against European equipment and tactics when it was brought over by the Huns.

Yet then came an age of decline and it ended up with the Manchu Qing dynasty, where literacy actually decreased and the government was literally more concerned with enforcing a uniform haircut (yes, I'm not joking) than with any kind of science or technology pursuit. The Chinese army actually regressed from having _some_ guns during the Ming dynasty, to all spears, swords and bows during the Qing dynasty. That sad.

Or take Japan. Yes, now they're doing damn good technologically and have been even more impressive as progress goes during the Meiji Restoration. But before that they had periods when it stagnated or even regressed. E.g., the Heian period, also remembered for the rise of the Samurai caste, is also considered by some a time of stagnation and even regress.

So, yes, times can change. Sometimes for the better, but sometimes for the worse. Some societies fail to give those "mundane Joes" incentive to go and learn or research something. Yes, each individual can decide what to do with his life, but if on the whole it's a smarter or more popular choice to aim low intellectually, people may well do just that. And then stagnation and even regress follow.

Re:Show Me This (3, Informative)

celticryan (887773) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777312)

This is an interesting notion. But how can you compare? The curriculum that students have access to these days is far and away better. Access to Advanced Placement classes is increasing. Case in point is the Wisconsin Advanced Placement Distance Education Consortium WAPDEC [wisc.edu]. The expectations may not be there from teachers, but the individual drive of the "elite" students should make up for that. The access of current students to technology is much greater today (I believe). These elite students have always been outside of pop culture thus that has no effect on them.

When you are talking about Bell Labs of yester-year, you are talking about some Nobel Laureates. Can you even compare genuis of that level? So... if you think the "go-getters" that made it to the top Labs, such as Bell, back then are your Average Joe that attends public school, you are wrong.

one of my dream come true and fade away... (1)

dslmodem (733085) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776913)

One of my dream when I was young was to enter Bell Labs as a top notch scientist/engineer. I had indeed been there in late 90's and it was a down-hill ride. Partially, it is due to the fierce competition that drove down the revenue by 10+ folds. One minute long distance was $1 and you can get 1c now. Overall, industrial research institues need huge $$ support from their business.

Re:one of my dream come true and fade away... (2, Interesting)

Tungbo (183321) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776966)

It was still good in the early 80's.
But as soon as the AT&T break up occured, all the money
were redirected to applied research.

Too bad. Had the BEST corporate library I've ever seen.

Re:one of my dream come true and fade away... (1)

Andy Dodd (701) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777200)

Most of Bell Labs went with Lucent, which wasn't part of that brutal competitive environment. Lucent was doing extremely well until the end of the decade, at which point a combination of less-than-competent (and from what I remember hearing, somewhat corrupt) management combined with the crash of one of Lucent's "bread and butter" business areas, optical networking. In short, the economics of laying fiber (laying 100 fibers was only slightly more expensive than laying 1, due to the fact that almost all of the cost was installation labor and not materials) resulted in huge amounts of "dark fiber" - Who cared if shiny new equipment from Lucent could push a hundred gigabits/second through a single fiber when you were already doing 25 with much cheaper equipment and had 99 more fibers to light up? Around 1999-2000, pretty much all of the optical networking companies (Lucent, JDS Uniphase, Corning) tanked and as far as I can tell never really recovered.

To even mention Google and Bell Labs together... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15776914)

...is a insult to R&D. Bell Labs came out with some very innovative ideas that helped change the world while Google is just a Ad-cramed database on steroids - but nothing special that won't soon be duplicated by SE Asian programmers making $0.85/hour.

Then came quarterly reports.. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15776934)

The type of R&D that does not have a specific company use yet like mentioned in the headline seems to be directly tied to the companies desire for short term financial goals. If you think only about the next quarter, your R&D budget is limited to an ROI in the following quarter. HP comes to mind here. Once a computing and electronic power house but now seems not much more then Dell. I used to work in communications, electronics, and the nuclear power fields including calibration labs and depot level repair facilities. Every place I ever worked had top notch HP test equipment. Frequency counters and generators, transciever testers, O-scopes, signature analyzers, power supplies, time response testing equipment blah blah blah. I think everyone agrees that the HP printers have gone down hill as well. I remember the tank 5Si that seemed to still chug along with little maintenance after 3 million pages, even many of the 4 series.

and then come the lawyers (4, Insightful)

Speare (84249) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776956)

And then comes a series of decade-long court battles over who invented what.

Take for example the Xerox PARC "Unistroke" patent. I happened to visit PARC before I saw the first PalmOS machines come out, and saw Unistroke in action. Some conference rooms had wall-mounted "sign up" devices on the wall by the door, which offered unistroke entry. PalmOS comes out with a very similar "Graffiti" concept. Great fit for the idea-- arguably better than the whole-word recognition that Apple Newton was trying. Several years pass where everyone who was anyone learns how to jot down stuff in Graffiti. And then the lawyers got involved. Over ten years later, the dust is starting to settle, and for what?

And those who didn't enter their thoughts in one-stroke alphabets entered their thoughts with teeny two-thumb keyboards. Hm, that sounds familiar... RIM Blackberry vs who was that?

No matter which side you choose to support, and I think everyone's put forward good arguments for and against every conceivable angle, when it ends up in court, everyone loses .

Pure research is great. Xerox got burned in the whole Apple Lisa / Macintosh thing, so they sorta swung the other way with Unistroke. There has to be a middle ground, though. Right?

Re:and then come the lawyers (1)

'nother poster (700681) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777018)

No, there doesn't. There should be, but there doesn't have to be. The only thing worse than getting lawyers involved in patent disputes is getting politicians involved. There's a recipe for disaster.

Re:and then come the lawyers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15777128)

Xerox willingly sold stuff to Apple (for stock and some cash), they didn't get burned.

Re:and then come the lawyers (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777751)

Xerox got burned in the whole Apple Lisa / Macintosh thing, so they sorta swung the other way with Unistroke.

I would say that is a harsh assessment of what happened. Apple asked for and received a demo of Xerox's Star computer with Xerox's engineers. Xerox corporate told their engineers to give Apple what ever details they wanted. Xerox corporate did not know what to do with the Star as Steve Jobs put it "they were a bunch of copier heads."

no problem (1)

crodrigu1 (819002) | more than 7 years ago | (#15776965)

Well: about Telco do not expending any money in R&D, the same pattern apply to other sectors, last year Intel said would expend 450 million in R&D (just because they want to cut prices to compete with AMD). At the same time, Samsung said that wants to replace Intel and to do so they will spend 1.2 Billon, Intel then expands its R&D to 1.5 Billon, so the new processors that Intel has developed are thanks Samsung. The moral is that R&D is not in the American corporation vocabulary, R&D and personnel are evils that if they can be never used (or replaced with something cheaper).

Re:no problem (1)

minerat (678240) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777459)

Yes, because processor development time is much less than a year. Conroe is all because of Samsung last year threatening to invest more into R&D than intel.

Ah, now those were the days ... (4, Insightful)

krygny (473134) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777013)

... were places with massive budgets, where the world's top scientists were invited to pursue "blue sky" research into areas with no immediately apparent commercial applications. The facilities were state-of-the-art, and there was no pressure from management or shareholders to do anything but science for science's sake."

I really miss school. Now, all anybody wants is results.

Re:Ah, now those were the days ... (1)

99BottlesOfBeerInMyF (813746) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777696)

I really miss school. Now, all anybody wants is results.

You obviously had a different school experience than I. We were a top notch engineering university where companies outsourced all sorts of research disguised as grants and donations with strings. I worked on a number of class projects where the profs were more concerned about results than teaching. One of the best EE profs was voted teacher of the year for his exemplary teaching abilities and was canned the same year for pulling in $10K under his agreed upon grant money numbers. This was years ago, so I'm guessing the situation has not been getting better.

Last month's Harper's magazine... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15777049)

...has a large piece on antitrust legislation, ostensibly aimed at Wal-Mart. However, there's a fascinating section that links R&D investments with vertically-integrated companies. If a company specializes on only one thing, it's in its best interest to invest heavily in R&D to make sure its widget is in front of the competition for years to come.

What produces large, vertical businesses? Anti-trust legislation with teeth. The Reagan (and Clinton) administrations did a lot of damage to antitrust law, and paved the way for extremely horizontal organizations. Not only did this destroy visionary R&D shops, but it's responsible for today's monopolistic bullies.

Yay, free market capitalism!

Then versus now. (4, Insightful)

MaWeiTao (908546) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777095)

The question back then was, "How can we outdo the rest of the world?"

The question today is, "How can we maximize our ROI?"

Once money becomes the driving goal above all else quality and innovation suffers.

Re:Then versus now. (1)

Mikkeles (698461) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777214)

'Once money becomes the driving goal above all else quality and innovation suffers.'

... and, inevitably, the money eventually dries up too.

Re:Then versus now. (2, Insightful)

nuggz (69912) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777310)

The only difference is perspective.
Companies have always been concerned with ROI.
Some companies are just a bit more risk tolerance with the R.

Companies like IBM, 3M and Google continue to have good success with significant research.

I think it will remain a balance, right now we're heading into a very cost focused business environment as people talk about moving to low cost countries. The companies that manage to focus on their real strengths will be the ones that prosper.

IMO some companies don't need huge research investments, but I think this is becoming an increasingly small piece of industry.

Without AT&T there'd be no UNIX (or UNIX-Like (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15777103)

This article doesn't even mention ATT's role in inventing UNIX, without which it's hard to imagine any UNIX-like OSs.
Google depends on Linux, which again, probably wouldn't be around had it not been for ATT's UNIX.

This isn't to disparage Google, who are still cool in my book, and will probably do something as revolutionary as UNIX.

Science for science's sake... (2, Interesting)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777121)

While I've read about the huge shift to commercial/applied science, it seems to me a lot of pure research is still of the "let's find out what we can and damn the applications" variety. While the only things that come immediately to mind are cosmology and some of the "research" branches of physics, I'm sure there is more out there that doesn't demand a consumer product as the end result. I'd like to see a resurgence of long term projects with big money backing and no worries about being canned like what happened in 1993 to the huge super-collider in Texas. Who knows what may have come out of that, perhaps more advanced/larger ones have been brought online in the meantime, but we could have had at least some of those results sooner. Are there even any agencies (Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, DOE, etc) who are willing to fund a "we're OK with no results but knowledge gained" project in what is currently considered an applied science field?

Jonah HEX

Re:Science for science's sake... (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777414)

Are there even any agencies (Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, DOE, etc) who are willing to fund a "we're OK with no results but knowledge gained" project in what is currently considered an applied science field?

That's the wrong question to ask; the real question is who's OK with funding something, if the only "results" are that knowledge was gained? In effect, who is willing to pay for knowledge?

DOE used to be, particularly in nuclear physics for weapons research, but that's slowed down a lot. I don't understand why they're not the premier source of funding for fusion research now: shouldn't that be right up their alley? Not to mention in the national interest. (Of course, it's probably not in the oil companies' interest.)

There are quite a few places that seem like they ought to be doing more research, but don't; I'd expect the DOE to be funding find-stuff-out, blue-sky projects; I'd expect DARPA to be paying for bizarre sharks-with-laserbeams and killer android research. When I don't see them doing stuff like that, I think they're forgetting at least part of their mission.

Xerox vs Xerox PARC (3, Informative)

SecondHand (883047) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777122)

I remember Alan Kay saying that Xerox wasn't easy on Xerox PARC. It was PARC's directors that shielded the researchers from the corporate pressure and gave them the time and space to do their work. Not Xerox'. So I don't think these historical companies had a grand vision of research. They had good research directors. Note also that some well known projects survived because they were kept below the management's radar and caught on outside the research lab. Both UNIX at ATT and HTML/HTTP at CERN took off partly because the management didn't care much about them.

Comparision (2, Interesting)

Stalyn (662) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777180)

Bell Labs

-Information Theory
-LEDs
-C/C++
-UNIX
-WLAN
-6 Nobel Prizes

Google Labs

-PageRank
-AJAX Mail Client
-Contextual Advertising

Re:Comparision (2, Informative)

bblazz (746281) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777616)

That's a very limited look at what Google is doing... like their machine translation group scored first at NIST 2005 Machine Translation Evaluation Official Results [nist.gov].

The MT-05 evaluation consisted of two tasks. Each task required performing translation from a given source language into the target language. The source languages were Arabic and Chinese, and the target language was English.

And this is probably just a little fraction of their research. Same would probably go for Microsoft Research...

Re:Comparision (3, Interesting)

Com2Kid (142006) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777714)


Google Labs

-PageRank
-AJAX Mail Client
-Contextual Advertising


You do not realize the significance of these?

PageRank is a method by which billions of related and interlinked pages of information can be searched across, that returns relevant results.

They managed to (nearly) tame the beast that the World Wide Web had become. The fact that they managed to do this using an almost sociological approach is all that much more amazing.


-AJAX Mail Client


Which also represents a new form of interaction with threaded information. Not the most revolutionary thing in the world, but hey, technically the LED is just another form of light.


-Contextual Advertising


Which represents just one application of research into machine learning.

I am on a subscription mailing list for intern employees. Two topics that come up often are car pools and drinking. Google's contextual advertising engine is so smart, it starting showing me ads for DUI lawyers next to emails from this distribution list! That freaked me out a bit, Google's computers had managed to learn that this distribution list consisted of people who drove around a lot of drank a lot of alcohol. Woh. The fact that Google is using that technology to show ads does not make it any less impressive. As it is also impressive that Gmail knows when my GF sends me a short message "go see superman next Saturday?" Gmail asks me if I want to add "Going to see Superman Movie" to my calendar.

Google's research is rather limited in that they primarily (solely?) deal with information theory, but within their research domain, their findings are quite amazing. Indeed, others have tried hard in the past to achieve the same results, and others still try today. Ask.com has managed to pull off some pretty amazing stuff (which is then replicated by Google is, oh, say, about 3 seconds. ;) ) but their stuff still resembles complicated word matching more than it does new insights into, well, as Google puts it,


organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

nothing left to invent (1)

freg (859413) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777255)

The decline in new and glorious innovations is undoubtedly caused by the fact that we've already invented everything ground breaking that can be invented. What a boring world we live in now. We'll look back on these years and realize that since the coming of the Segway humans have done all we can do...

jk

Re:nothing left to invent (2, Insightful)

bferrell (253291) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777593)

I seem to recall the pundits of some foregone day had the same opinion... This was well before the internet and computers of course

at&t (1)

Trailer Trash (60756) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777259)

For all the innovation to come out of bell labs (and I'm using some of it to type this message), they still never seemed to get what counts. I still have my grandmother's last phone, a western electric desk phone (with dial) that she "rented" for $5/month for as long as I knew her. She paid literally hundreds of dollars for that phone. I can go buy a phone at Wal-mart now for $5 that has more features than that beast. I love Unix, don't get me wrong, but you'd think they could have come up with something practical for their customers.

Re:at&t (1)

LMacG (118321) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777479)

Sure, and if you look at that Wal-Mart phone sideways it'll break. Those Western Electric units were built like tanks. And they had REAL bells inside. Turn that ringer up and you know when your phone is ringing.

I'd love to have a nice model 500 desk set; a 2500 would be OK too.

Re:at&t (1)

Brickwall (985910) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777559)

Yes, and your grandma's phone still works, doesn't it? Let's see how many months you get out of your $5 WalMart special. When I buy a cheap handset, it usually doesn't last a year.

At&T's goal was to install the phone and *never* have to service it. Service calls cost money! Part of the design "test" was to hammer in a nail with the handset, crack walnuts with it, etc. As for features - considering it was designed in the day of rotary switches with pulse signalling - there weren't a lot of features possible. So they built a rock solid product that did exactly what it was designed to do for years.

My grandfather died in 1996, and we removed a phone he had installed in 1932. 64 years and still working - I think that's an excellent piece of design.

Re:at&t (1)

nelsonal (549144) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777607)

What and you think the money to pay for that lab just grew on trees? It was from everyone renting their phone from western electric and paying a buck a minute long distance that provided so much money that it had to be reinvested in something that wouldn't produce a return for a long, long time to keep the government from getting too interested in just how profitable they were.

Re:at&t (1)

anothy (83176) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777676)

the "rent your phone forever" model made a lot more sense when they were manufactured to last forever, cost proportionally more, AT&T controlled who could connect devices to their network, repairs/replacements were free forever with good turn-around time, and so on. the decline of that started probably in the early '70s, and certainly by divestiture in 1984 it no longer made sense for folks to lease their phones. from at least that point, your grandmother had the option to buy a $35 Radio Shack phone, or whatever else she preferred, to do the job.

believe it or not, some folks are still renting their phones. AT&T (and Lucent, who i think actually manages the phone leasing business now, with a name under license from AT&T) certainly understands that this isn't a wise thing to do, but that doesn't mean they're going to say "no thanks" to people who'd rather give them lots of money.

besides, your general point is misguided: they came up with plenty which was practical for their customers. things like phone rentals - relatively low cost, steady income stream - help subsidize other things like the development of direct-dial long distance. and that was pretty cool for their customers.

They just don't get it (1)

jeffc128ca (449295) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777319)


I have had arguments before with people from the telcom industry (for simplicity I am lumping cable co's with telephone co's) before in slashdot and other chat groups. What always astonishes me is how blind people in the telcom industry are. It's as if customers everywhere are yelling loudly to the telcos "YOU SUCK!" and their response is "So your monthly bill starts on the 5th and includes a system access fee of....". They are totally immune to the level of hatred customers have for them. For now they have us by the gonads. Who else are we going to get our TV, phone, and internet from? They have thought this way for so long they don't have any other way of thinking. This is why they don't see what's over the horizon, or even care.

As time goes by and wireless becomes more of an option these companies will continue to think the same way. There will be bumps along the way. Telcos will get laws passed and harass any attempts at competition. But competition will find a way, I would bet on wireless providers and wi-fi. When that day comes and customers call up to cancel their service, there will be technicians and VP's alike crying on TV about there jobs disappearing. They did it to themselves so don't pity them. Serious investment in R & D, whether by government or private industry, is necessary to stay competitive in the future. That's just a fact of life.

Welcome to 10 years ago (1)

bberens (965711) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777327)

Listen folks. I know it's difficult to comprehend but the golden days of the Industrial Revolution are over. It's time for a lull. We will continue to see small incremental changes in our tech (computers getting smaller/faster) but nothing life-changing for some time. Look at the pervasiveness of e-mail, cellular phones, the home computer, high speed internet. We'll need a generation or two in this brave new world before we can make the next step. Anyways, I'm getting a little long winded so I'll just close by saying we're in the process of moving from the Industrial Revolution into the Energy Revolution.

Cheers,
~b

Monopolies for research, I don't think so (1)

llZENll (545605) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777346)

So having a monopoly flush most of our money down the toilet is ok as long as 1% of it is going to a pie in sky research lab? Anyone today with enough smarts to come up with 'the next big thing' can easily support themselves and devote 90% of their life to a project if they choose to do so.

We will have far fewer great discoveries and inventions compared to the past century for a very simple reason, all of the stuff capable of being invented and discovered by one person has mostly passed. It now takes a huge team of specialized skills just to make an incremental improvement over a past invention, let alone discovering something totally new and breakthrough. The knowledge needed to make a great discovery spans many fields, and is impossible for one person to master, of course there are always exceptions, like Al Gore ;)

Misleading post (1)

openfrog (897716) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777355)

The post summary seems to suggest that Ars Technica is defending the telcos as innovators against the BusinessWeek attack of them as dinosaurs. This is a misleading interpretation of the tone of the article. Ars Technica merely qualifies and nuances the BusinessWeek stance with a deeper analysis of the past and present state of "blue sky" research versus commercially driven research. But the charge against the telcos as non-innovators and even as suppressors of innovation still stands:

In today's more agile economy, where workers hop from job to job and businesses spring up from nowhere to dominate an industry in the span of half a decade, there's no longer anything in the private sector like the enduring safety of the Ma Bell monopoly to lavishly support a blue sky research lab. The closest we have today is Google's "20 percent time," where engineers are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time working on whatever research project strikes their fancy. But 20 percent isn't 100 percent.

science for science's sake (0)

gatkinso (15975) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777366)

Under Bush.....?

Hell I'd settle for any science *at all*, regardless of the expense.

Pharmaceuticals (1)

guisar (69737) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777411)

Perhaps the world has moved on (at least a little) from the type of research the people here like to discuss. Drugs and biotech seem to me to be the big money research areas at the moment- besides the huge government subsidies and highly regulated markets they also have the "think of the children" factor helping to pay for any toy they bring to market.

Re:Pharmaceuticals (1)

Kadin2048 (468275) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777511)

While the research budgets of the pharma companies are indeed large, and the investment in any particular new drug is indeed substantial, I think the amount of "pure research" that goes on at those companies and which is applied to real 'blue sky' problems is overstated.

While I'm sure they probably have big research budgets when it comes to finding the newest diet or stay-hard pill, the research on things like vaccines (actual solutions to disease, rather than just treatments) are quite limited. The pharmaceutical industry is rampant with the same kind of next-quarter/next-FY, revenue-driven thinking that's polluted the rest of the business world.

Eventually I think we're going to start seeing "real disease" drugs being produced only from the accidental findings or as offshoots of the research that goes on to find "lifestyle" drugs. (Actually, if you want to really go the tinfoil hat route, I could see a situation where a pharmaceutical company would intentionally suppress the knowledge that a lifestyle drug cured some widespread disease, because of the risk that their patents might be ignored and it would be manufactured generically before it could be made profitable.)

I'm rather cynical of the pharmaceutical companies -- I'm sure there are good ones out there somewhere, but it seems like an awful lot of the pure research on actual diseases is the domain of academia and government today.

Funding Pure Research and Hard Science Projects (3, Insightful)

FractalZone (950570) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777525)

What happened, as best I can tell, is that shortsighted corporate executives forgot that (applied) R&D rarely produces new fundamental knowledge about the universe while that is the main goal of pure research. A lot of great research is done when true scientists are given a budget that has already been written off by the bean counters, as IBM and (the old AT&T's) Bell Labs demonstrated many times.

The problem is that such research tends to be very expensive and non-geeks just aren't interested in results they can't understand. The only reason we have nuclear power today is that the United States was willing to spare no expense to develop a bigger and better bomb in order to win WWII quickly an decisively. Nazi Germany sponsored a lot of good science and then took some of the results with military potential and did a tremendous amount of R&D to create amazing new military technologies...tech that just happens to have had amazing commercial potential. Jet aircraft and booster rockets come to mind.

You will hear NASA fans gripe because now that the Cold War is over, NASA has to justify whatever it does to the drones in government who get paid to eliminate government waste. NASA is no longer a great source of new scientific and technical knowledge, but it probably could be again. So could a lot of private enterprises if NASA and other parts of the U.S. government didn't have a practical monopoly on many interesting areas of research.

For major research projects to get significant funding now, they either have to have tremendous (and fairly obvious) commercial potential, or be extremely trendy, in a politically correct sort of way. No expense (to the taxpayers) is spared protecting "endangered species" that (AFAIK) have no real significance except that they are about to succumb to Darwin's Law -- despite all the bleating of the ecowackos, wasting money on the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker is not going to produce new knowledge or improve the chances of Man surviving another century. Having plentiful, cheap sources of energy would.

But try to get money on the scale of the Manhattan Project for the purpose of finally developing nuclear fusion power plants... That is not by any means pure research, but the amount of pure research that can only be done with the kind of energy a large fusion plant could produce is staggering. But why stop with fusion? Total conversion seems about as likely to be a practical source of energy now as utilizing light pipes and orbital spacecraft as the backbone of a worldwide communications network did during WWII.

Do you think the U.S. might have fusion power plants online and/or total conversion reactors in the lab by now if such projects had received oh, say $100 BILLION dollars in additional research funding since WWII? That's a Big Pile O' Money! It also happens to be roughly what the U.S. has wasted on handouts to Israel since that nation was created by fiat in 1948. Why not just cut all foreign aid for non-humanitarian purposes (Israel gets only about 1/3 of the U.S.'s foreign aid largess, after all) and use the proceeds to fund a pure research lab or ten that are operated by private sector organizations that have track records of doing cutting edge research and producing useful knowledge?

Stop real government waste and use the savings to fund hard science research projects that short-sighted bean counters consider waste because they know no better, ignorant touchy-feely nitwits in search of warm fuzzies and/or vote generating pork-barrel projects that they are.

Google hasn't invented ANYTHING (2)

KidSock (150684) | more than 7 years ago | (#15777739)

This is an insult. AT&T Bell Labs invented UNIX, C, the transitor, and countless other things instrumental to the development of the telecommunications and computer industry. Google has a great text searching program. They didn't even really "invent" it either. They just built a much better one than anyone else had at the time. What else have they done lately? Sure you can rattle off a list of things but is any one of them REALLY useful for anything more than inflating their stock price? The only other thing they have that I would catagorize as remotely innovative is maps.google.com but the entire basis for that is the XmlRpcRequest usage which if you had to attribute it as an "invention" (which it's not) to someone you would have to give credit to Microsoft. Google Earth was purchased so they didn't invent that.
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