Saturday, August 19, 2006

Well of Knowledge

Arstechnica: AT&T Labs vs. Google Labs: not your grandfather's R&D

While AT&T may have shown some Business Week author a IPTV demo to pitch him on what the company is doing in the consumer services market, the company has by no means abandoned R&D. AT&T Labs is still open, and it still has multiple active research programs. In particular, AT&T researchers are working in the areas of voice recognition, network traffic analysis and shaping, the use of graphics processing units for nongraphics DSP algorithms, data mining, information security, wireless networking, and the list goes on (and on and on). The lab remains one of the largest and most productive in the country, in spite of numerous high-profile splits over the years and quite a bit of downsizing.

The real problem is that what AT&T is doing today is not your grandfather's R&D, and neither is the work coming out of Google's labs, or Microsoft's, or the labs of any of the other information economy wunderkinds.

As the author goes on to point out, this is a huge problem. We're drawing down a well of knowledge that we're simply not replenishing. I like to think - and perhaps it is a foolish idea - that a Microsoft or a Google* would fund a 'Bell Labs' because it's a benefit to the culture that enables them to be the success they are. Something like a small-business owner particpating in a neighborhood business action committe - the hours he spends making the area a better place to shop indirectly benefits him with - among other things - more foot traffic. Yes, that is simplistic and perhaps that's expecting too much.

*or, you know, Liftport circa 2020.  If we're going to go down that road - and committing to an idea like that might gain us some needed support - then we might be making a good start with the papers Tom Nugent (Director of Research) has written. Hey Tom - want to be running Lifttport Labs in twenty years?
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