Subject: Re: Tom W. Bell paper
From: Thomas Lord <lord@emf.net>
Date: Sat, 02 Sep 2006 15:29:09 -0700

Ben Tilly wrote:
>> You also make a mistake if you are saying that product orientation
>> is antithetical to "fundamental" research.

> Actually Tom, Simo would be right on this one.  Trying to focus on
> specific commercial products and outcomes generally runs counter to
> fundamental research.  Occasionally by happy coincidence the two will
> align (random example, lots of astronomy research got done because it
> helped people figure out local longitudes), but it must be understood
> that this is a coincidence and is not an expected outcome.  Generally
> it will be found that there is a trade-off to be made, and a product
> orientation guarantees that the trade-off will not benefit fundamental
> research.

I think we are pretty much on the same page and I don't really want
to put a dog into a fight on that issue but, just real quick, two items:

Commercial (profit oriented) research is not necessarily aimed at
specific products.  E.g., Claude Shannon.   E.g., bio-cataloging for
pharma purposes.   Product aspirations can suggest fundamental
questions.

Even when aimed at specific products, product oriented research
easily winds up working on fundamental problems.  My (limited)
academic research experience at CMU and, more recently, in
connection to a project at Harvard have both demonstrated that
to me very clearly -- both projects aimed at specific commercial
products and both winding up spending real money on fundamental
questions (hence, the nice alignment of interests between academia
and business).   There's plenty of stuff in cosmology, physics,
etc. that I don't anticipate the fortune 500 suddenly working on
but it seems to me that projects aimed at creating hard-to-realize
products pretty easily stumble into working on fundamental problems.

None of this is to say that Simo's criticisms are anything less than
welcome.   I feel like like we've now had a brief round of, for the
benefit of close readers, refining terms, illuminating fine but
important distinctions, and giving hints for further reading.   Nice
transcript.

Thanks,
-t