Daniel Lemire's blog

, 7 min read

Where are the “big problem” jobs?

8 thoughts on “Where are the “big problem” jobs?”

  1. John Smith says:

    lol puny engineers? try to make your arguments without resorting to inflammatory descriptors.

  2. @John Smith

    The engineers are not puny, but they are sometimes viewed as such… merely executing whatever researchers conceived. That is not my view.

  3. Phil Jones says:

    Right. But back to your original question. What jobs are there in solving big-problems?

    Why does private enterprise keep failing to deliver sustainable energy, agriculture or social justice?

    For all its faults, government is the only place that DOES do large scale investment in research that isn’t immediately profitable. You can’t get industrial research jobs in lots of areas of physics or biology. Let alone social science, history or philosophy.

    Right now, private space exploration is extremely trendy, but I’m willing to bet you that it won’t … ahem … take-off. I suggest that private space exploration is more a function of the fact that the internet has created a few extremely wealthy and geeky philanthropists willing to spend their money, than that private enterprise can, in general, make a profit from space research.

    Government does it badly. Private enterprise doesn’t do it at all. What do you suggest next?

  4. Marie says:

    I agree that much of world-shaping research is going to fall on scientists-turned-entrepreneurs. Besides Google, a great example that we’ve already been seeing are the MOOCs that have been started by the Stanford faculty. But producing scientist-entrepreneurs is difficult for two important reasons: 1) Pursuing science and pursuing commercial products are conflicting goals. One is pursued for the benefits of knowledge alone and the other is for monetary gain. Mixing the two can lead to confusing interests. 2) Entreprenurship involves a lot of risk: everything from the financial aspects to the amount of time and effort put into building actual products from research results. I doubt very few young scientists would initially go this route, unless they are already tenured faculty, with little to lose.

    I think alot of this was discussed in a post by Matt Welsh on his blog:

  5. Daniel says:

    Silicon Valley was founded with government investment to create radar tech for the cold war. I really don’t see investment as an issue. It’s a problem when it’s useless investment or
    bad oversight.

    The industrial revolution kicked off in the uk because of the environment (wanting to drain ever deeper mines) and ip law were you could use a patent to make money from your invention. For a long time the steam engines ran ahead of the basic science.

    Did the roman empire really invent all that much? It wasn’t in it’s cultural DNA, it was the Greek city states where interesting things happened.

    China invented a massive amount of fundemental ideas and machines. It just failed to pass that tipping point of feedback where each invention allows and enourages additional refinement.

    There’s also IBM with Watson and some brain emulation projects. Lockheed skunkworks and it’s reactor. Xerox had their famous research center but it was Jobs and Gates who ended up commericializing the ideas. Bell labs gave birth to Shannon’s communication paper

    The 3d printing stuff is also exciting and coming from quite a historical traditional base of tinkerers, reminscent of the home computer boom

  6. Sylvie says:

    I’m not sure which Big Problem Google Glass is trying to solve, unless it is coming up with a cheap way for the government to spy on everyone without having to use a massive police force.

  7. Mike Stiber says:

    Daniel, you’re kidding, right? Virtually every fundamental advance in computing has been the result of government funded research. Such funding has sometimes preceded commercialization by a decade or more. Think how long people were working on statistical pattern recognition/learning before it was applied to commercial products in machine translation or data mining, just to pick one example. Every major computer technology can similarly be traced back to government funded research.

  8. @Mike

    Please see my post Does academic research cause economic growth? at http://lemire.me/blog/archives/2013/02/26/does-academic-research-cause-economic-growth/

    I don’t want to reproduce the debate here.