I just finished reading The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age
of American Innovation,
by Jon Gertner, an absolutely fabulous book on Bell Labs, and their
invention of the transistor, the laser, and almost everything to do
with modern telecommunications and computers ;).
The final chapter is about the future of research, and this passage
in particular caught my eye:
[Kelly's] larger view of innovation [ ... ] was that a great institution
with the capacity for both research and development -- a place where
a "critical mass" of scientists could exchange all kinds of information
and consult with one another for explanations -- was the most fruitful
way to organize what he called "creative technology."
Later on in the paragraph, Gertner continues:
"It's the interaction between fundamental science and applied science,
and the interface between many disciplines, that creates new ideas,"
explains Herwig Kogelnik, the laser scientist. This may indeed have
been Kelly's greatest insight.
Now, I know I'm a bit of an idealist, but to me this sounds like the
way I and other scientists are using the Internet. I post ideas, they
post ideas, and we interact on those ideas. I think things like
arXiv and blogs like Haldane's Sieve are moving it in the right direction:
free exchange of often rather deep scientific ideas.
Just to follow up this idea, as well as pimp it to those darned Open
Access fanatics... it seems to me that further developing this kind of
free exchange of ideas is what we should be striving for as science
moves forward. Not a new thought, but it does require that we be
prepared to engage with what other people post -- something I'm trying
to do more -- and develop good sites like Haldane's Sieve where we
can build fluid communities around our own little research focus of
I'm sure others have written much better things than me about this.
I'd be interested in pointers... comment or drop me an e-mail!
p.s. This book, and another book, The Emperor of all Maladies,
are two of my must-read recommendations on science and technology.
Along with anything written by Atul Gawande.
p.p.s. It is eternally frustrating that we know how to make this
stuff work, or at least have Bell Labs as a model, and yet we end up
with siloed "departments" of researchers at universities. It's almost
the antithesis of the way Bell Labs was run. Argggggh.
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