[FoRK] Cutting through the stimulus BS

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at ceruleansystems.com
Sun Oct 25 21:55:05 PDT 2009

On Oct 25, 2009, at 8:17 PM, Stephen Williams wrote:
>> Most of this is already under development and funded. Throwing even  
>> more silly money at it won't make the research happen faster, it  
>> will just waste money.
> I still disagree about that.  More researchers with more resources  
> and incentivized people ready to build funded solutions that are  
> created has to be better than a smaller R&D and entrepreneurial  
> market.

Multiplying the monkeys will not magically generate research results.   
And we most certainly cannot build a solution today, multiple required  
technologies simply do not exist and not for lack of research effort.  
We already spend a lot of money on this from multiple directions.  It  
is more of a "insufficient really bloody smart people" than a  
"insufficient money" problem. Unfortunately, "really bloody smart  
people" are already fully employed.

A lot of technologies are bottlenecked on multiple hard, theoretical  
problems that there are only a handful of people in the world  
qualified to even attempt to solve. And usually those people already  
are working on the problem.  Developing a larger pool of people that  
have the talent and knowledge to legitimately contribute something  
useful will take years.  You can't just pull people off the street,  
slap a "researcher" sticker on their forehead, and expect results.  It  
takes years for even very smart people to build up the background in a  
subject area to make useful research contributions.

We are already in the position where there are four nominally  
qualified deadweight research programs for every productive one. I do  
not see how adding a bunch of even weaker research teams will improve  
the productivity, though I can certainly see how it would waste a lot  
of money. In many cases, it would be a very poor investment.

> I'm advocating "get out of the way" plus "make way for" the people  
> that "will" develop this technology.  As an obvious example, the  
> solutions to the Darpa Challenges would not have happened as soon or  
> been as widely appreciated had there not been a Darpa Challenge.

The DARPA challenges illustrate the basic defect of the model you are  
proposing -- which they were attempting to work around.  First, that  
funding is completely subject to political whim and many R&D projects  
have been killed for purely political reasons without any regard for  
the value of the research.  Second, what the DARPA Challenge  
demonstrated specifically is that much of the R&D funding has been  
captured by the politically connected without regard for  
effectiveness. DARPA has been spanked by Congress many times.

I'm waiting for your solution to these fundamental problems with  
government-funded R&D.  I do not object to funding useful R&D this  
way, but you simply want to expand and throw money at a deeply broken  

Also, a lot of important research problems are not amenable to the  
Grand Challenge model in any case, nor easily packaged into a concept  
a normal technical person could even grok.  Many critical theoretical  
problems are the research domains of people who've spent many years on  
the problem, a population you can count on one hand.

> There are many better ideas than blindly bailing out the financial  
> industry.

Yet as you can see, that *is* the priority of the government.  Forget  
hypothetical solutions, show me one that is actually implementable.

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