Regional Advantage: Part 1- Pitting California's U.C. Berkeley against Belgium's IMEC
Newton ended: "I would agree that the 21st century will be the Century of the Engineer and the IT worker. The Future of the Future is built on the role of great research universities more than ever before. My 'Demilitarized Zone" of research will be a place where corporations and government can come together with young people to [reinvent] the future."
"I would argue that it is our responsibility not just to accommodate the flat world, it is our responsibility as a region, state, and nation to use every bone in our body to counter that flatness - to create our own special bump on the flat world. To provide leadership in all aspects of science and engineering, and to make Berkeley, the Bay Area Corporation, California, and the U.S. into the most important place in the world for engineering and scientific collaboration."
Dr. Newton got a big round of applause from his audience.
Q&A from the audience after Dr. Newton's talk
Question: The U.S. Government recently denied a visa to a world-class chemist from India. How do we do intellectual in-sourcing in such an environment?
Newton: I think you know the answer. It will take another couple of years [laughter], but hopefully we'll get there.
Question: How do we inspire high school students to pursue degrees in science and engineering?
Newton: When the President of the U.S. [in his recent State of the Union Address] says to invest in alternative energy, it moves the culture of the country towards that kind of progress. We can hire more teachers, but if there are no students, who will they teach? Ultimately, it has to do with the climate we create.
Queston: Ninety percent of your speakers today were White males. How does that inspire students of color or women?
Newton: I didn't choose today's program [laughter], but we are having some limited success in that area. 11% of our faculty are women, although we're not doing as well with other under-represented minorities. We're at 25% women students in the school, so we're doing better every year. I would argue that women like to work in outcome-oriented fields of engineering. Those disciplines like transportation engineering, nuclear engineering, and use-inspired basic research which improve the quality of people's lives with technology are more interesting to women than just talking about the technology itself.
The Price of Admission to the DMZ
In the packet of information handed to each of the attendees at the Berkeley EECS Research Symposium in February, the single most fascinating item was a one-page 'data sheet' explaining the costs and benefits of investing in Berkeley's "Demilitarized Zone" of research. At the risk of reducing all of that idealism and vision to simple dollars and cents, here are the details.
For starters, you can join the EECS Industrial Liaison Program. Participation at this level requires an annual gift of $7500, although there's a small business membership (defined as less than 20 employees, or less than $2 million revenue) discount of $2000 per year. These dollars will get you the EECS/ERL Research summary, all IPRO-produced publications, (Industrial and Public Relations Office), including graduate student resumes, assistance with on-site recruiting activities including internships, and an invitation to the Berkeley EECS Annual Research Symposium.
Of course, you can also choose to throw unlimited dollars at the DMZ to support the research of any specified faculty member, support student programs, student scholarships, and Fellows, and /or donate equipment or software - but that last won't guarantee an Industrial Liaison Program membership unless it's also accompanied by a $7500 cash donation.
Upping the ante a bit, you can be an EECS Research Partner. That will cost you $50,000 per year, with those moneys going to support faculty research. You get everything mentioned above, plus a VIF (Visiting Industry Fellow). If you throw in an additional $55,000 to cover research and administrative costs, plus a commitment to cover the visiting researchers' salary, Research Partners can make arrangements with a professor from the department to send a visiting scientist from your organization to work and study with that professor and her/his group for a period of up to a year - on an ad hoc basis. If VIFs are sent in subsequent years, the company has to be a Berkeley EESC Affiliate (BEECSA).
A BEECSA is an organization that ponies up $125,000 to support research and instruction. For that you get membership in the ILP, a VIF, office space for the VIF (not sure where they would sit otherwise), administrative and telephone service for the Fellow, participation by the Fellow in the departmental seminars and colloquia, and participation by the Fellow in department research teams or groups, computer services, and once returned to your company at the end of the year, network access to the EECS system for continued contact. You also have the option for an annual research review meeting at Berkeley, or your location, with a choice of topics selected from the current research in the department.
Some personal thoughts on the DMZ
This lengthy report was supposed to begin with a thought piece about how ideas are born [now posted below], and how that process varies somewhat between industry and academia with an aside about idealized environments for innovation and protecting intellectual property. Having listened to Dr. Newton on February 23 - and re-listening to his talk online - I have come to a somewhat altered conclusion to my initial construct.
The fact of the matter is, at American universities - and I am quite sure it's the same at all great research institutions - the job of the leadership is to articulate a vision and a dream, the job of the faculty is to showcase their various research opportunities and road maps, and the job of the business development department is to 'close the deal' - to get potential investors to buy into one or more of the research initiatives and support the faculty and grad students associated with those initiatives.
I came away from the Berkeley event impressed with the creativity and cauldron of ideas bubbling over there. I also came away with the impression that the university is for sale. Buyers are lining up on the sidewalk hoping to buy their way into one or more potential home runs being showcased by the technologists there.
Academia is big business. It's really no different from the corporate setting - and that's not news. I'm just probably the last person to find out.
The Research Presentations on February 23, 2006
If you're interesting in electrical engineering, computer science, materials, and the impact of science and technology on society, this was a romp! I sat on the stairs up towards the back of the room with my elbow on my knee, my chin on my hand, absolutely captivated for the full 4 hours.
* Dr. George Necula speaking on "The Future of Correct Software"
Necula said where there's software, there are bugs. It's something we all struggle with. In fact, 1% of the GDP is spent on finding bugs, and that doesn't include the costs of intrusions and attacks. Fully 50% of attacks are due to programming mistakes. Programmers are notoriously overconfident of their ability to produce good software, and they're only interested in learning from their own mistakes, not those of others. Necula added, "I don't see any more bugs," is not the same as, "There are no more bugs."
Here's the theorem: Software today is so complex, there's no hope of building a tool that looks at software and distinguishes between good and poor software. Necula said, on the contrary, technology must provide affordable tools for corrections by bringing more information into the software process, software synthesis from high-level specifications, and software distributions that come with semantic assurance and support. Necula's research group is using an open source model to look at the entire process of software development and hoping to develop a robust set of tools that will meet those needs.
* Dr. Jan Rabaey speaking about "The Future of Wireless Infrastructure"
Rabaey spoke about ubiquitous multimedia networking, where every gadget will be wireless. He said we need to enable the "collaborative" paradigm, where tens of billions of devices will be connected worldwide. He listed the many companies collaborating on the concept of ambient intelligence, and said the home environment will eventually be reactive to both people and objects - new devices will self-configure into whatever environment they find themselves in. Today's patchwork of standards - Rabaey called it a Tower of Babel - must be resolved to get interoperability between protocols, devices, and interfaces.