An NBER paper from 2015 tracks the decline in corporate spending on basic science in R&D, which has become a practical, application-focused line-item in corporate budgets, creating a safe, predictable, and slow cycle of innovation.
Deepmind's AlphaGo Zero -- which taught itself to play a remarkable game of Go in just 72 hours -- is an ironic poster child for this phenomenon. AlphaGo is part of a long-term shift in AI research from generating machine comprehension to "machine learning" that is just a fancy form of statistical analysis, a brute-force approach that relies on ingesting lots of human decisions and making statistical observations that can be used as predictions about the future.
At the same time, universities have also become more short term and more focused on practicalities rather than basic science.
Perhaps it is naive to simply exhort companies to spend more on fundamental research — but somebody has to. One interesting approach is for governments to fund “innovation prizes” for breakthroughs. Such prizes mobilise public funds and public goals while deploying the agility and diversity of private sector approaches. But such prizes only work in certain situations.
Professional sport has made fashionable the practice of “marginal gains” — rapid optimisation in search of the tiniest edge. It turns out that corporate research took the same turn decades ago. There is nothing wrong with marginal improvements, but they must not be allowed to crowd out more speculative research. Science is a deeper, messier practice than sport. We must continue to devote time, space and money to bigger, riskier leaps.
What AlphaGo Zero teaches us about what’s going wrong with innovation
(Image: Michael Branson Smith)
Here’s an interesting experiment: Using mouse-movement as a lie-detection technique. Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists have long noted a big “tell” in human behavior: Crafting a lie takes more mental work than telling the truth. So one way to spot lies is to check someone’s reaction time. If they’re telling a lie, they’ll respond fractionally more […]
For €105, the delightful and enchanting silver Neuron Necklace is yours. Its just one of a number of clever items offered by science-inspired jewelry, which include brains, fetuses, spines and thyroid hormones. [Thanks, Heather!]
For more than a century there have been reports of a strange sea “monster” living in Loch Ness yet hard evidence is, er, lacking. Now, evolutionary biologist Neil Gemmell of the University of Otago is hoping that DNA testing could perhaps shed some light on what people claim is Nessie. For two weeks, Gemmell and […]
Businesses big and small use Microsoft Excel for everything from data visualization to bookkeeping, and chances are you’ve already had some exposure to this ubiquitous tool. Whether you’re looking to improve your hiring potential or boost your Excel efficiency, the Ultimate All-Level Excel Bootcamp can get you Excel-savvy with nearly 70 hours of training, and it’s […]
The workday is long, and inevitably, you’re going to find yourself needing to take a break from the daily grind. With Mini Materials Miniature Cinder Blocks, you can take some time for yourself and decompress by turning your desk into a miniature construction site. They’re available today in the Boing Boing Store for $22.49. Handmade […]
Handheld radios might seem a bit archaic, but in an emergency situation, few things will keep you as reliably connected to the outside world. This Emergency Multi-Function Radio & Flashlight takes the utility of the tried-and-true radio and combines it with a powerful flashlight and self-sufficient energy system. It’s available in the Boing Boing Store for […]