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Archive for September, 2011

On Making Innovation the Default Energy and Climate Policy Choice

The national energy and climate policy debate is broken. If it doesn’t get fixed, any new policy at the city, state, or national level may very well fail to address America’s energy challenges in any meaningful way.

So it’s time for a recalibration that makes innovation the driving goal of our default energy and climate policy choices.  In doing so, the policy debate would become a more cohesive discussion on what correct, targeted long-term public investments should be made; whether our deployment policies are correctly aligned with our technology development policies, and whether there is synergy among our energy policies that creates a competitive U.S. energy market without long-term policy support.  To be clear, this is not saying R&D is the only policy needed.  Making innovation the default choice ensures that our suite of policy choices – from basic science through market creation – are correctly working together and are receiving the right amount of support to boost innovation, thus affordable clean technologies and economic growth.  But doing do isn’t straightforward.

Part of the problem: in many cases, the failed approaches and ideologies of years past are still limiting or

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More on Gaming, Mechanical Turks, and Future of Taylorism

Well, we appear to have found a solution to the old Taylorist dilemma of working being efficient but boring: turn it into a video game.

I heard on the radio this morning that FoldIt players had solved a virus structure puzzle in 10 days which had eluded the best efforts of scientists thitherto.  FoldIt turns macromolecule folding problems — devilish 3-d puzzles — into a videogame which can be solved in parallel by a bevy of “players”.  The account of the latest solution is in Science Daily here.

How Frederick Winslow Taylor, the inventor of “scientific management” (or, more eponymously, “Taylorism”) would have rejoiced!  Although his methods reduced work to rationally most-efficient segments, it is also notorious for draining work of all pleasure or meaning.

We don’t get the meaning back with video games, but we do get the pleasure.

Mechanical Turks of the world, unite!  Your have nothing to lose but your boredom.

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Thomas Friedman’s Quasi-Market Fundamentalism

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is a frustrating guy. He has been a stalwart, welcome advocate for clean energy and for the need to deal with climate change. Further, he gets the fact that clean energy represents a major front in the battle for international competitiveness, and has even recognized the need for some big breakthroughs in the past. As he wrote in Hot, Flat and Crowded:

All the advances we have made so far in wind, solar, geothermal, solar thermal, hydrogen, and cellulosic ethanol are incremental, and there has been no breakthrough in any other energy source. Incremental breakthroughs are all we’ve had, but exponential is what we desperately need. That’s why the green revolution is first and foremost an innovation challenge – not a regulation challenge.

So he’s a green evangelist, and he wants clean energy innovation, and that’s good. But he, like many others, also has some persistent misconceptions about how to drive the innovation he wants, or how to make sure it boosts the U.S. economy and jobs while closing the trade deficit. And that’s bad, because it means he – and others who

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Gaming and “Serious” Technology Work

Went to the annual “Summit” of the Washington Area CTO Roundtable last night.  These are usually pretty good (program + schmoozefest), and last night’s was no exception.

The topic was “What CTOs Should Learn from Gaming”, and it featured Don Marinelli from Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center and Alan Gershenfeld, head of E-Line Media.

Both guys come from the entertainment business (Marinelli from the theater, Gershenfeld from the cinema and gaming), and their message for productivity in the future was:

  1. “Digital Natives” (people younger than me) are deeply trained in “interactive digital” experiences (aka videogames), and need an element of this to work productively
  2. Attention to drama, story, interaction, and feeling can improve any technology experience.
  3. Immersive environments (where you have a toolset and a “world” rather than a recipe) make for better training than didactic environments (where the learning points are laid out one by one and then drilled)

3) makes complete sense to me.  Exploring in a learning space where the laws of the space dictate the consequences of actions is exactly the right way to learn.  As they say, you have probably heard how to put

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Want Better Public Safety Networking in America? Commercialize It

One of the hottest issues in mobile broadband policy today is the nature of the national public safety network that’s been under discussion since the 9/11 Commission examined the shortcomings in the systems currently used by first responders.  The Commission’s report highlighted the incompatibility of emergency response networks used by the Fire Department of New York, the Port Authority, and the New York Police Departments, recommending improved information sharing. Subsequently, Congress and the FCC have struggled with the problem of creating a unified, nationwide emergency response network that would replace the existing incompatible systems and enable first responders to act in concert with one another. Their conclusion is that the public safety network should employ the emerging LTE standard that’s in the process of rolling out on commercial mobile broadband networks operated by MetroPCS, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint in the U. S. and by other commercial carriers around the world.

Joshua Topolsky’s column in today’s Washington Post (“Want better wireless service in America? Socialize it”) describes an alternate reality in which cell phone callers can’t call their friends on different networks, can’t surf the Web, and can’t

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Policymakers’ Vision Must Be as Big as the Potential of Small and Mid-Sized Manufacturers

Take a look at this chart.


See the plum and green sections in the ovals? That represents the medium-low and medium-high tech parts of the manufacturing sector. Germany and Japan have a lot of plum and green. The United States has too much blue—the low-tech activity.

This chart underscores yet again what my colleagues at ITIF and others have been arguing for years, particularly in the last two years as the country struggles through the ravages of the Great Recession: The United States needs to revitalize its manufacturing sector and can do so only with a coherent national strategy that harnesses national labs, private sector innovators and government.

This chart was presented by Stephen Ezell during an event this morning at ITIF on a new report, “International Benchmarking of Countries’ Policies and Programs Supporting Small and Mid-Sized (SME) Manufacturers.” The thrust of the report is that the governments of many of the United States’ formidable competitors for high-skill, high-wage manufacturing jobs put considerable effort into keeping their companies at the cutting edge of innovation. These governments make sure their SMEs know about ground-breaking research and then put it

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What the President Did Not Do in His Jobs Speech

As expected President Obama’s speech before Congress last week laid out a moderate agenda for job creation through Keynesian-style stimulus and targeted tax cuts.

Certainly there is much to be lauded in the speech, so let’s start by addressing what he did do. The opening portion compellingly described an America where the social compact that said “you can succeed if only you work hard” has eroded. He went on to add that America’s deteriorating infrastructure (which receives an overall grade of “D” from the American Civil Society of Engineers), and crumbling schools are hampering our competitiveness. He did talk about investments we need to make and protections we need to keep. He did talk about priorities.

But the president missed an opportunity to elevate the narrative. He failed to decisively, crisply, and compellingly spell out an answer to his own question: “what’s the best way to grow the economy and create jobs?” The president could have used the question to pivot to a principled discussion of the progressive vision of economic prosperity. He could have drawn a stark contrast between his progressive values and the importance of “building up” the

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Building a Green Economy and How Supporting Innovation Ecosystems Can Get Us There

This blog is being cross-posted with the World Resources Institute and is authored by Letha Tawney and Pablo Torres.The full report, Two Degrees of Innovation, can be downloaded here (and the executive summary here).


In these turbulent economic times, leaders around the world are looking to strengthen their economies and create jobs. They are grappling with how to effectively capitalize on the green economy to drive growth. In a new WRI working paper, we look at ways that policymakers can create new green jobs through investments in innovation to meet our challenges in the power sector.

Building the capacity to innovate is a key competitiveness strategy. Successfully competing in the growing low-carbon power sector is no different. However, innovation—improvements in cost and performance—can also close the gap between the low-carbon technologies of today and the low-cost, high-performance technologies the world needs. Policymakers have a crucial role to play in supporting innovators and creating a dynamic innovation ecosystem where they can thrive.

A large and growing global market for low-carbon power technologies

The transition to low-carbon power, needed to avoid disastrous climate change, has begun. While there is much

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“Contagion” and Innovation

My wife and I saw “Contagion” on Saturday night. Basically a very decent thriller with a satisfying bevy of villains human and viral.

The film is essentially about touching (or not touching, as the case may be). A touch can kill, and does multiple times.  But a human touch can also save, as it does, multiple times.

The film is also, unabashedly, pro-science, science as the condition of innovation. The virus is unbeatable with hysteria, troops, greedy bloggers, and even that mainstay of American media life today, feelings, no matter how strong. The only thing that beats the virus is patient, skeptical questions and answers about where the virus comes from, how it spreads, what it looks like, and how to boost the immune system against it. You need courage, too, but courage has to be guided by reason.

This is science, which comes in for an awful beating in our political life nowadays. And there’s a lot of “folks” (as we call people we want to speak for) who think we can have innovation without skepticism. It doesn’t happen, in or out of the movies.

Your thoughts?

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Cloud Computing: Policy Challenges for A Globally Integrated

Summary: “Cloud computing” is much more than simply a new set of technologies and business models. It is rapidly emerging as the platform that will underpin the next generation of digital products and services. Cloud Computing is transforming how consumers, companies, and governments store information, how they process and exchange that information, and how they utilize computing power. Consequently, it opens a new set of policy discussions while at the same time underling the importance of old debates. This post was co-authored by Jonathan Murray.

Discussions of policy in an era of “cloud computing” will continue the debate about classic questions: the terms of market access for services and the rules for privacy, security, IP and more. However, the Cloud must be understood as at once a competitive service, a dynamic enhanced utility, an ICT infrastructure/platform and innovation eco-system, a marketplace, and a production environment. The pervasive, disruptive multi-role character of “cloud computing” demands that a new array of vital questions be opened.

First, though, what exactly is Cloud Computing? Firms are marketing a wide variety of services as “Cloud Solutions,” leading – often deliberately – to some confusion. If

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