Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government Space Transportation Science Technology

US Looks For Input On "The Next Big Things" 309

Posted by samzenpus
from the talking-fruit dept.
coondoggie writes "What are the next big things in science and technology? Teleportation? Unlimited clean Energy? The scientists and researchers at DARPA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy put out a public call this week for ideas that could form what they call the Grand Challenges — ambitious yet achievable goals that that would herald serious breakthroughs in science and technology."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

US Looks For Input On "The Next Big Things"

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2012 @12:34AM (#41615867)

    We always want to know what's next, what's the exciting thing we can dream will solve all our problems. But we don't want to finance it. And we don't want to finance the basic research for those big things without promise of a payoff.

  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @12:39AM (#41615903) Homepage

    We always want to know what's next, what's the exciting thing we can dream will solve all our problems. But we don't want to finance it. And we don't want to finance the basic research for those big things without promise of a payoff.

    These types of challenges encourage private financing. If it spurs innovation and costs very little to the taxpayer, what's the problem?

    And no, I'm not saying we shouldn't fund science grants. The two aren't mutually exclusive.

  • simple things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the_Bionic_lemming (446569) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @12:44AM (#41615921)

    How bout -

    1. Cheap and easy ways to clean water for the world
    2. Cheap and easy ways to provide light for the world
    3. Cheap and easy ways to feed the world
    4. Cheap and easy ways to maintain sanitation
    5. Cheap and easy ways to provide education to the world.

    That's what I'd like to see a focus on. Unfortunately, we're spending money on forcing the chevy volt on the world instead.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2012 @12:46AM (#41615941)

    Then we can worry about what kind of toys we want to play with.

  • by gweihir (88907) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @12:54AM (#41615971)

    Breakthroughs cannot be planned. You can put a whole lot of smart people to work, give them everything they want, and maybe you will get lucky. But any attempt to plan and direct breakthroughs will only serve to prevent them. That was one of the lessons from the soviet economy. Don't people ever listen?

  • Free Market (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mfwitten (1906728) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @01:03AM (#41616011)

    So, Government takes my money under penalty of violence and then spends it asking "So, uh, what exactly should we do with all this money?"

    Solutions are best found through variation and selection, processes that are quashed and stifled by central planning; the power structure should be decentralized and localized as much as possible, and that is precisely the point of the Free Market.

  • by Dr Max (1696200) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @01:08AM (#41616031)
    But you guys defiantly want to patent it. Good thing for you is you don't need to research it or fund it, just write a brief paragraph about your dream then sue whoever does the hard work.
  • by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @01:29AM (#41616105)
    Oh wait, some NPE just sued me for patent violation. Never mind, guess I'll go develop it in some other country.
  • Re:Research (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @02:02AM (#41616225)

    Too much emphasis has been put into basic research.

    Clearly a quote from someone not working in research. The problem facing research and development today is that there is not nearly enough focus on basic research - everything is about immediate, applied applications - which is the highest risk type of research you can do, since the goal is "build a very specific thing". And it doesn't broaden your horizons since you're aiming at specific targets informed by existing theory.

  • Re:Free Market (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @02:08AM (#41616269)

    So, Government takes my money under penalty of violence and then spends it asking "So, uh, what exactly should we do with all this money?"

    Solutions are best found through variation and selection, processes that are quashed and stifled by central planning; the power structure should be decentralized and localized as much as possible, and that is precisely the point of the Free Market.

    Yeah, 'cause everyone knows business are just lining up for an opportunity to spend their money on the kind of basic research the Federal government has funded for the past 60-70 years.

  • Re:Free Market (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fearofcarpet (654438) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @02:26AM (#41616363)

    Solutions are best found through variation and selection, processes that are quashed and stifled by central planning; the power structure should be decentralized and localized as much as possible, and that is precisely the point of the Free Market.

    The Free Market has no idea how to conduct scientific research or to do anything that requires long-term planning; markets are excellent at efficiency and optimizations for short-term gains. Look at the pharmaceutical industry, which is constantly complaining that the early stages of drug-discovery are too costly and risky and that it should be the responsibility of universities to find promising targets because they don't work under the pressure of quarterly earnings reports and shareholder value.

    That is, in fact, the basic model of technology transfer; academic labs (funded by centralized federal agencies!!!) do high-risk, fundamental research. When someone runs into a "hit," venture capitalists fund their start-up. Most fail, but the few that succeed bring us amazing innovations, and are usually absorbed by a larger company to whom you credit the discovery and jump up and down screaming "Free Market! Free Market!"

    Do you know how science was done before the scary Government started pooling our collective resources and directing them towards research efforts? Only rich people were allowed to do science, they were self-funded, and they generally got into it as a means to become famous. Where would a middle-class guy like Einstein have wound up without government funding?

  • by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @02:54AM (#41616463)

    It would improve your quality of life.

    Cheaper energy lowers how much people have to pay for electricity. This in turn gives people more money to spend on other things. So instead of having to pay $120 on your next electric bill you pay $60, meaning you use that extra $60 however you please. Like buying new clothes or going out to eat more often.

    Free energy wouldn't necessarily be free to consumers, since they still have to pay for the upkeep of the system + labor costs, but I'd imagine a normal electric bill to be just a few dollars. But now you basically have an extra $115 in your pocket every month. And could you imagine the sales in electric cars? The market would explode because people would save tens of thousands of dollars by owning an electric vehicle. You need engineers and factory workers to build those.

    Oh, and thanks to the unlimited virtually free energy, businesses have lower operating costs, meaning the price of items across the board would drop.

  • by lightknight (213164) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @03:41AM (#41616675) Homepage

    How about attaching a prize / royalties / some sort of agreement that actually makes pursuing some of the riskier ventures feasible? When cracking cold fusion or solving world hunger only nets you a cool million, there isn't a lot of motivation to achieve them. And that's a major problem these days -> everyone wants to be cheap, offering up intangibles (15 minutes of fame on an evening broadcast, a standing ovation, and a medal) that are kind of a bad joke for the time, effort, and energy spent on creating those solutions.

    Even on kaggle.com, which deals with finding / creating new algorithms, there is only one prize (the health prize) that come anywhere near tickling my fancy. $x0,000 to develop a new Kinect algorithm? What? MS is smoking some serious dope. Here is a company that is bringing in billions in revenue, quarterly, and potentially millions more if they can get a killer app for their little device, and they want it for less money than a decent car. I can't tell, did our current generation of 'business' 'leaders' go full retard? Who instructed them to act like this, and why? Seriously, I want to know which business school(s) they graduated from, so I can forbid my children to attend them.

    Looking back in history, when Benjamin Franklin and friends were around, you were rewarded (heavily) for your inventions. The inventors, who came up with neat inventions, and allowing for the occasional Edison, got PAID. And until inventors start getting PAID again, humanity's progress will remain at a stand-still, or rather, a mediocre pace.

  • Re:Free Market (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mozumder (178398) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @04:16AM (#41616827)

    So, Government takes my money under penalty of violence and then spends it asking "So, uh, what exactly should we do with all this money?"

    Solutions are best found through variation and selection, processes that are quashed and stifled by central planning; the power structure should be decentralized and localized as much as possible, and that is precisely the point of the Free Market.

    Still amazes me that there are people that still think that the "free market" is capable of doing anything.

    Government is far more efficient than private industry at doing things.

    It is why mail costs 50 cents to deliver via government, instead of $15 via UPS.

    Solutions are best found centrally, through planned governments activities. The only thing the "free market" does is introduce inefficiencies through profit. Variation and selection are economic wastes, when you can just arrive at the solution directly.

    Let's NEVER speak of the "free market" ever again. It is just a simple idea from people that never went to college and do not know anything about economics.

    The more government control, the better. We statists always cause the economy to expand.

  • Re:simple things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfish (1653411) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @04:20AM (#41616863)
    Some third world countries did build infrastructure, it then got destroyed because the people that live there predominately believe in magic. While they still believe in magic, they will forever be stuck in the dark ages.
  • Re:simple things (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evilviper (135110) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @08:25AM (#41617949) Journal

    1. Running water through two meters of sand will filter out nearly all contaminants. It's something any local can do, and costs next to nothing. Instead all kinds of NGOs spend money on fancy, high-tech devices, which require maintenance and replacement, so they just perpetuate a cycle of dependency.

    4. Build a toilet (basically a bucket) with a vent pipe which will allow liquids to dry up quickly. Then throw in a small amount of started microbes (for composting toilets). Odor is minimal, and when the toilet is full, it can be dumped out as benefitial compost, and start again with some more microbes. Local production of microbes should make it sufficiently cheap that it'll be easily affordable.

    5. Digital electronics, and cell phones in particular, are making this a reality, right now. A little effort by a group of educators to produce the simplest and easiest collection of useful information, tailored to various regions, is just about all that is necessary to get the ball rolling.

    If you want to criticize automobile reasearch, complain about the money wasted on ethanol and hydrogen, when everyone knew it was a pointless distraction and dead end. Electric vehicles like the Chevy Volt are the future, and a future where there's less demand for oil means a future where despotic regimes which repress their people will see their funds dwindling, hopefully enough that they'll be unable to maintain their power.

  • by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@@@gmail...com> on Thursday October 11, 2012 @08:33AM (#41618001)

    Because the implication it has on the transportation sector is very similiar to what robotics was to manufacturing. Today a lot of workforce is tied up at trivial driving, something that a computer can do cheaper and more effeciently. Just like robots didn't replace all manufacturing self-driving cars will not replace all driver. It will however free a large portion of that workforce without any loss in productivity. This workforce can then be used for something that we can't automate yet.

    In most countries this problem is mostly already solved.
    It's called public transport.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @08:35AM (#41618023) Homepage Journal

    Although I understand what you're saying, I think the GP's issue is when you have to spend billions to get something like cold fusion working, then a million seems kind of anticlimactic.

    And my issue is that when you "have to spend billions" it should be public research.

    We're seeing too many cases of human beings being held hostage to proprietary technology.

    How many people would be dead if mosquito netting or the Salk vaccine would have been patented?

    If you look at the advances that have led to the world around you, how many of those were the result of a corporation "spending billions" and how many of them had basic research done with public funding?

  • Re:Research (Score:5, Insightful)

    by That_Dan_Guy (589967) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @08:55AM (#41618181)

    I"ve gotta stick in the video from Neal deGrasse Tyson here on this very topic of "The next big thing"

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VjY0vqgDMnE [youtube.com]

    Lots of people talking about hitching a ride with other people doing the research and work are foolish. You do that to catch up, not to lead. If you wait for someone else to pass you so you can follow them, you'll end up at the back of the line.

  • Re:Free Market (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 11, 2012 @09:40AM (#41618607)

    I think you're missing the point: the discussion is not the current funding (or about your source at the HuffPost), it's about the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA).

    In an op-ed piece at the NYT, Panzar (2011) notes:

    "The crisis environment is heightened by reports that, given projected revenue and cost flows, the Postal Service will "default" sometime next year. This urgency results from what can only be described as an accounting snafu. It is projected that the Postal Service will not have the cash flow to make required payments to the U.S. Treasury to fund its retiree benefit plans. However, this would not be an issue if Congress could agree on a way to refund billions of dollars in overpayments to those plans that all parties agree the Postal Service has made over recent years. If the accounting matter could be resolved, the Postal Service would no longer be on the verge of "default," but the long term problem would remain." (Panzar, 2011)

    The same thread was found by Jilani (2011) who reported on a statement by Ralph Nader:

    "As consumer advocate Ralph Nader noted, if PAEA was never enacted, USPS would actually be facing a $1.5 billion surplus today:

    By June 2011, the USPS saw a total net deficit of $19.5 billion, $12.7 billion of which was borrowed money from Treasury (leaving just $2.3 billion left until the USPS hits its statutory borrowing limit of $15 billion). This $19.5 billion deficit almost exactly matches the $20.95 billion the USPS made in prepayments to the fund for future retiree health care benefits by June 2011. If the prepayments required under PAEA were never enacted into law, the USPS would not have a net deficiency of nearly $20 billion, but instead be in the black by at least $1.5 billion." (Jilani, 2011)

    From Nader's statement (2011):

    "It is clear that these prepayments for future retiree health care benefits are -- at this point -- the primary reason for the U.S. Postal Service's financial crisis. In fact, simply looking at the numbers reveals that the Postal Service's "financial crisis" is in fact an entirely manufactured "crisis" precipitated by the ill-advised schedule of prepayments for future retiree health care benefits mandated by the 2006 PAEA passed by Congress and signed by President Bush." (Nader, 2011)

    More recently, the Postmaster General has continued to ask for Congress to act, not just provide temporary funding:

    "[Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe] said the two missed payments totaling $11.1 billion for future retiree health benefits -- payments ordered by Congress in 2006 that no other government agency or business is required to make -- along with similar expenses make up the bulk of the annual loss. ...
    Postal unions also say Congress is mostly to blame for losses, but disagree that a reduction to five-day delivery is an answer.

    "What is needed is for Congress to undo the harm it has done with the prefunding mandate and for the Postal Service to develop a balanced plan moving forward," said Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers." (Yen, 2012)

    So let's reframe this in terms that people are more familiar with today: foreclosure. Let's say you bought a home with a variable-rate mortgage. After five years, the payment balloons, but you find that you are unable to make the payments. In this case, the last thing you would want would be an offer from the bank for a new line of credit; that only makes the problem worse. What you want, is to renegotiate the terms of the original agreement.

    Now that we're on the right topic and we have a better frame of reference, you can ignore the conversations that center around treating the symptoms (e.g. changes in service, workforce, pricing due to the threat of insolvency), and cure the disease by changing the PAEA.

    References

    Jilani. Z. (2011). A Manufactured ‘Crisis’: Congress Can Let The Post Office Save Itself Without Mass Layoffs Or Service Reductions. ThinkProgres

% APL is a natural extension of assembler language programming; ...and is best for educational purposes. -- A. Perlis

Working...