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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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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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How Global Foreign Aid Supports China’s Clean Tech Mercantilism

The United States, international development organizations like the World Bank, and fellow developed countries continue to give China—the world’s second largest economy which holds $2.85 trillion in foreign currency reserves and which in 2011 will become the world’s largest manufacturer—billions of dollars in development assistance. In fact, China receives more than $2.5 billion a year in foreign government aid, according to the OECD. But China effectively plays all these countries and institutions for suckers, because it continues to take their billions even while it refuses to open up its markets to foreign countries’ products.

The numbers are astounding. In 2008, Japan gave China $1.2 billion in development aid and Germany gave about $600 million. Though the United States gave less, it still gave China at least $65 million for programs promoting nuclear energy, health, and human rights. Likewise, the World Bank provides China billions. In 2008, the World Bank supported seventy-five projects in China and provided the country over $2.4 billion in loans, bringing the total amount of outstanding World Bank loans and development credits in China to over $23 billion. Despite its $2.85 trillion in foreign currency reserves, China

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U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Issues 2010 Annual Report

The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission released its 2010 Annual Report this morning, issuing stark findings that the Chinese government continues to pursue a mercantilist-based export-led economic growth strategy, with an intentionally undervalued currency at its core, while continuing to fail to meet the promises made as part of its accession to the WTO. The Commission’s report echoes many of the arguments ITIF made about China’s and other countries’ mercantilist technology export-led economic growth strategies in a report called The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Self-Destructive of Innovation Policy.

The Commission reports that continuing problems with China’s implementations of its WTO commitments, “Can be traced to China’s pursuit of trade-distorting government intervention intended to promote China’s domestic industries and protect them from international competition.”  The report continues, “China has failed in some notable areas to fulfill the promises it made nine years ago when it joined the WTO. Specifically, China is adopting a highly discriminatory policy of favoring domestic producers over foreign manufacturers. Under the guise of fostering ‘indigenous innovation’ in its economy, the government of China appears determined to exclude foreigners from bidding on government

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Japan: Canary in the Coal Mine or Economic Experiment Gone Wrong?

In recent months, Japan has been getting increased attention; not for its economic success, but its supposed failure. Jeff Kingston’s “Contemporary Japan: History Politics, and Social Change since the 1980s” tells a story of Japan in stagnation since the bursting in the early 1990s of its economic bubble (like us, based on excessive real estate values). “The Economist” describes Japan as being in a state of “gentle decline.” The “New York Times” has been running a series on “Japan’s slow disheartening decline.

This is a critically important topic, not only for its implications for the United States and other developed economies, but also for the future of the global trading system and for nations like China that are taking a page out of the Japanese development play book.

First, the stories on Japan. It’s long been popular among the Washington economic punditry to sneer at the Japanese economy. Japan, Inc. (the idea that business and government should work collaborative to grow the economy) has long been a threat to the so-called “Washington consensus” that holds that markets, not governments, should be the sole determinate of an economy’s

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More on Exporting Process Innovation

In the software business, we learned a decade or so ago that the right level of abstraction at which to “export” software design ideas was the design pattern.

Taken from Christopher Alexander’s classsic, work on pattern languages for architecture, the idea of a software design pattern is an abstraction from details of implementation to the gist of the software algorithm.  Software design patterns are widely used to disseminate innovations in software (they should, in a rational world, be the only form in which algorithms can be patented, but we digress).

The same kind of abstraction – a process pattern, if you will – is the right way to bundle up our innovative DC processes for export.  Iraq may not want a Senate complete with two representatives from each state, but the nation builders among the Iraqi local countrybuilders may well want the Committee with Expert Staff process pattern as a model for how to digest complex policies for a generalist legislative body.

Who in the technology policy community speaks the language of design patterns and the language of policy process?  That’s the crew who needs to work

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Ending Innovation Mercantilism

As it’s becoming clearer every day that innovation is the central driver of economic growth, more and more countries are trying to be innovation leaders. Unfortunately, in that quest all too many countries are choosing to go down a path of “innovation mercantilism” by implementing beggar-thy-neighbor strategies designed to gain advantage at the expense of other nations and overall global innovation progress. These nations see the royal road to prosperity as through expanded technology exports and the best way to do that they believe is through gaming the international trading system through a number of mercantilist practices, including by manipulating their currencies, distorting technology standards, providing export subsidies, forcing technology transfer as a condition of market access, pirating intellectual property, and favoring indigenous over foreign technology products and services in government procurement.

While China is perhaps the most egregious example of a country practicing innovation mercantilism, it is by no means the only one, as similar (if not as prevalent) practices can be found in Brazil, Argentina, India, Japan, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, and a host of other, even European Union, nations. As these countries bend and break the rules,

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Exporting Process Innovation

As Director of Research at Valhalla Partners (my day job), a venture-capital firm in Northern Virginia, I’ve thought quite a bit about sources of regional advantage in the Washington, DC area. 

One thing we understand very well in Washington is process, although many of us are frustrated with it more often than excited by it.  But to my mind, it can be a source of strength.

Many of our processes are pretty good.  Consider, for example, a process we might call “Forming Consensus Among Disparate Factions”.  That’s a specialite of DC, and one which is in short supply in, say, Iraq, or Zimbabwe, or even Malaysia.

What if we could export some of our DC processes as innovations to the rest of the world?

We’ve tried it, of course, in the form of grafting our legal system onto Afghanistan or our commercial code onto Iraq.  But we’re exporting the wrong thing here.  We need to export not the details of our processes but the “process pattern” of them.

More on this in a subsequent post.

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