This issue has risen its head again in the form of an article by Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal a week ago.
Ridley says pretty much the same thing but adds two components that are different from me. First, he argues that the vast government subsidy of science is a waste of money because science does not advance business or technology. Second, that technology is always based on incremental improvements.
Three cheers for the first observation. When I hear so many people who suck at the teats of government science funding say that ‘basic research is the core of new technology’ I know it is probably wrong.
Many of my tech friends complain that university research with government funds is not original and often puts new products on the market that have onerous patent protections. Putting businesses in the same field in the open market at a great disadvantage.
I watched bidding for 23 battery technologies at Livermore Labs (pure government research). None of them worked in the real world and two that were useful kernels of ideas created university patent barriers to market development.
Thanks Matt. Science is a good place to cut the budget.
Matt’s second observation is ‘right on’. I’ve never discussed how technology works. It is always incremental. My favorite is the theory of superconductivity at absolute zero. Scientists developed theories that stopped superconductivity from occurring above 5 degrees absolute. So technologists kept experimenting and moved that number up to 90 degrees. Sometimes it is best to ignore science.
My point is that technology keeps improving machines and these machines keep making finer and finer measurements possible which in turn create new data that science has to explain.
Technology is incremental because it is driven by basic human drives: simpler, faster, cheaper, more accurate and more reliable. The same human elements that drive cost reduction in commerce.