Saturday, April 02, 2005

Compare and contrast

To ENIAC and Beyond, by Paula Thornton

Taking advantage of my Washington DC proximity, I made a trip to the National Mall again today – this time taking in the American History Museum. While it needs some serious updating, the one exhibit that I was most inspired by was the one on the Information Age. ...

But from that display and others I later saw an interesting thread of artifacts I hadn't noticed before. Most of the justification and financing that initiated these technologies came from an unexpected industry: the military.

Militaristic technologies are generally associated to things like weapons: the advent of gunpowder and nuclear weapons. I had not really previously considered the other contributions that have seamlessly been absorbed into our daily lives without recognition.

Pentagon to Significantly Cut CS Research

Pentagon Redirects Its Research Dollars

Hundreds of research projects supported by the agency, known as Darpa, have paid off handsomely in recent decades, leading not only to new weapons, but to commercial technologies from the personal computer to the Internet. The agency has devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to basic software research, too, including work that led to such recent advances as the Web search technologies that Google and others have introduced.

The shift away from basic research is alarming many leading computer scientists and electrical engineers, who warn that there will be long-term consequences for the nation's economy. They are accusing the Pentagon of reining in an agency that has played a crucial role in fostering America's lead in computer and communications technologies.

"I'm worried and depressed," said David Patterson, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley who is president of the Association of Computing Machinery, an industry and academic trade group. "I think there will be great technologies that won't be there down the road when we need them."

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