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Re: [ontolog-forum] Ontologist Aptitude Test?

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 15 Jan 2010 13:41:27 -0500
Message-id: <4B50B6D7.1090304@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Dear Matthew and Rich,    (01)

I'm back from my travels and catching up on some emails.
Following are some comments on your notes from Jan 5 and 6:    (02)

MW> Whilst I do not think you should attempt to justify blue
 > skies research, I think there are things you can do to work out
 > if industrial, or applied research is worthwhile, based around
 > the reduction in risk of decisions that you make based on the
 > results of the research.    (03)

First of all, it's often hard to distinguish "blue sky" research
from "applied" research -- except in retrospect.  Nuclear fusion,
for example, has always held the promise of limitless amounts
of power, but none of the "applied" R & D has come to fruition.
Conversely, the "blue sky" research on lasers and solid-state
physics has reaped benefits beyond anybody's wildest dreams.    (04)

MW> Should I invest in fission reactors, fusion reactors, solar
 > cells, wind farms, tidal barrages, carbon capture, biomass
 > (which sort), clean coal? I have $50b+ to invest over 20 years.    (05)

Nobody states or evaluates alternatives in that form.  Different
groups with expertise in each of those areas sponsor low-cost
studies and experiments.  When something promising turns up,
they try to get more support from government, industry, or VCs.    (06)

MW> Making a bet on any of these today carries a huge risk.  What
 > is the information that would help reduce that risk?    (07)

The best kind of information is that some university, underfunded 
researcher, or clueless competitor has discovered something that works.
Example:  A clueless competitor like IBM invents relational database,
publishes papers about it, but can't commercialize it because of
internal political battles.  Then a hungry start-up company like
Oracle implements it and corners the market.    (08)

RC> R&D budgets have to be justified to the financial stakeholders
 > based on ROI, risk, market share, strategic and tactical grounds.    (09)

Shareholders are even more clueless than pointy-haired bosses.
VCs invest in something they don't understand, make a fast buck
in an IPO, and dump the shares on people who know even less
than the clueless.    (010)

Some of the most successful companies are started on a low budget
by graduate students who understand the technology and are supported
by universities that get a cut of whatever their students invent.
Three examples from Stanford are Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems,
and Google.    (011)

The reason why grad students could start such successful projects
while companies like IBM couldn't is (1) their R&D costs were
modest, (2) they didn't have to justify their projects to pointy
haired bosses, and (3) they didn't have to fight internal political
battles against a corporate strategy (i.e., competing divisions
with a vested interest in other technology).    (012)

RC> And of course Bell Tel spent its subscribers' money on blue sky
 > R&D to justify their investments instead of handing the money back
 > as the regulators urged.    (013)

Bell Labs was one of the leading corporate research centers for
many decades -- along with others such as IBM and Xerox PARC.
All of them invented fantastic technology, which their internal
politics prevented them from commercializing, and which other
companies happily copied with great success.    (014)

John    (015)

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