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steve crandall

I should add that having a problem space to focus on is extremely important, but the basic approach ("we have the pieces, let's build!" vs "what are the missing pieces and what do they mean?") makes a huge difference in the nature and depth of the work. Universities are now largely charged with the leading edge of what Bell Labs types would call innovation - but they are under enormous pressure. Most of them have funding issues with basic and applied researchers spending a good deal of their time applying for grants and having a class load. If the goal is new discovery, the process has become much more inefficient. The other issue is universities do not naturally foster an interdisciplinary approach.

No approach is perfect and there are no incentives for companies to have horizons like the old Bell Telephone Laboratories - it would be impossible to justify the value to shareholders. AT&T did not see itself as a company as much as it did a utility that was almost a part of the government and society. As its IP essentially became readily available to all comers in 1956 the die was cast for a very different world. With divestiture it became impossible to support the old concept and a slow death ensued.

We do need to worry where the leading edge stuff will come from and how it is passed from step to step to form transformational innovations. This is probably never efficient and many externalities are involved making the water muddier. It is very important to understand what universities and national laboratories are at this point as they are so critical.

But for a few decades the efficiency of the BTL to change the world was astonishing. ..

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