Google’s Chief Technology Advocate (aka ‘Evangelist’) Michael Jones said scientists shouldn’t be asking for or getting grants to create Web sites or put data online any more than we would write a grant to take a taxi somewhere. This is, in my parlance, part of the cost of doing business. His remarks came during his Frontiers in Geophysics talk at the AGU Fall meeting on Monday evening.
I see his point, but there is a cost to preparing and maintain Web sites, to posting data and converting data from paper records to digital. For many, these costs can or should be part of the indirect or overhead costs of carrying out projects. [This gets to one of my key issues, support of our scientific infrastructure. We as a nation pour billions into research and innovation, but do not systematically support and maintain the resulting facilities, samples, and data. This is a topic for a later post – do we need a National Science Infrastructure Foundation or initiative to follow on behind the NSF et al? After all, the Federal Highway Administration deals with keeping the road infrastructure in repair and functioning after building them. Shouldn’t we do the same for our technical infrastructure?
Another of Jones’ points is that competitive advantages have much shorter half lives today because change is happening so fast. He joked that things are not likely to go to a singularity and simply disappear, but there is a “Time to Technical Irrelevance” or TTI that is measurably shrinking. This means that the power of a company to dominate in a field is shortening so that companies (industries?) like automobiles, that last on the order of a century are being replaced by economic powers that may come and go in decades (noting that a decade ago, no one was doing Google searches while today there are 1.53 billion a day – geez, is Google really that young?). In addition to the Google searches, there are 183 billion emails and IM’s sent daily and 10 billion YouTube videos streamed monthly.
There is a need for constant technological innovation, which devalues hard assets and promotes intellectual assets. Jones said Internet access is changing the world and for Google, that means running harder to stay ahead of the curve.