I agree with your definition of science but at the end you are talking about technology as if science and technology were one and the same thing. Of course the two are closely linked but what the average person sees is not “pure” science but rather technology – and they only see that technology because someone is making money out of it!There are many problems. If an early version of a technology is commercially acceptable better versions can be blocked because people have adjusted to the original technology (which may have become an international standard) and there are more people wanting the old technology (even if science has shown it to be inferior) than would benefit in the short term if the improved technology were introduced.A good example is the QWERTY keyboard which was used on early typewriters, then on teleprinters, which were used as early input devices for computers … Much excellent research has been done on better keyboard, using the latest scientific advances – but QWERTY is still with us, although its is being replaced in some areas by completely different forms of information input.The problem of competing technologies is illustrated by the triumph of VHS over BetaMax (which was said to be technically better) because the real battle was who would get the biggest market share – as people would buy the system with the biggest collection of recordings.This raises a potential trap – if a new technology comes along and is extremely successful because there was no competition its total domination of the market would make it almost impossible to develop and market improved versions – and as a result it could be difficult to fund blue sky scientific research which questions the foundations of the technology.Let me suggest where this may have already happened. The stored program computer emerged in the 1940s and was soon seen was a money spinner – with many companies rushing to get a foothold in the market. The rat race to capitalise on the invention has resulted in systems which dominate everyday life in much of the world, where the technology is taught in schools and everyone knows something about how computers work – if only in the form of an inferiority complex because “they are too difficult for me”.In fact it is considered as an unavoidable truth that computers are black boxes where the internal workings are incomprehensible to the computer user. But the stored program computer is incomprehensible because computers were originally designed to process mathematical algorithms carrying out tasks which the average person would also find incomprehensible. The problems computers were designed to solve are about as far from the problems faced by early hunter-gathers as it is possible to imagine.There must be an alternative. It is well know that nature has produced information processing systems (called brains) which start by knowing nothing (at birth) and can boot-strap themselves up to tackle a wide range of messy real world tasks. In the case of humans their brains can exchange information and people can work together symbiotically.So which scientists in the 1940s was saying that blue sky research into whether a “human friendly computer” that worked like a brain would be possible?. … or in the 1950s? … or in the 1960s? … …If you look through the literature virtually everyone who ever though about the problem was taking the stored program computer for granted. You will search the old literature in vain – and when people started to worry about the human user interface it was about writing programs to hide the inner black box from the human user. No-one was going right back to first principles to see if there was an avoidable weakness in the use of the stored program computer. And – because they were thinking of analogies with the stored program computer – it was taken for granted that the brains “computer” must be so clever it was very difficult to understand because it was “obviously” difficult to program. In effect the very successful technology was beginning to influence the way that scientists were thinking about research into how the brain works.In fact in 1968, backed by the team which built the Leo Computer (the world’s first commercial computer), work started on early studies with the purpose of designing a fundamentally human friendly “white box” information processor. I was the project leader and the project ended up under the name CODIL. The problem we faced (which has got worse over the years) is that even if it had been successful (and results with software prototypes were very promising) it would have to battle with the established stored program computer market. Look at the investment in hardware, applications, data bases, trained staff, public understanding, etc. etc. of conventional systems and the inertia against possible change is probably valued in trillions of dollars.To conclude I suggest that, because the computer revolution was technology led, key blue sky research was never done – and anyone proposing such blue sky research now is more likely to be greeted with hostility rather than adequate research funding.
Sunday, 14 April 2013
Don't confuse Science and Technology.
Having read Robin Ince's post "The Fascism of Knowing Stuff" I felt he was confusing Science and Technology and added the following comment to his post.