Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Book Bundles: Closing the Innovation Gap and Science for Sale

Just a quick post since I'm still getting up to speed at work post-ICT.

I had ample reading time during my time in camp, so here's a book bundle for your consideration.

Both Closing the Innovation Gap and Science for Sale are 3-star recommendations from me. They're both good books, but get only three stars each from me because their narrow focus generally appeals only to those with a personal or professional interest in science and technology.

The first book deals with what the author considers the necessary conditions or elements required in an innovation "ecosystem" in order for innovation to flourish. The book emphasises a well-known thought among scientists, of how necessary basic research is for innovation to happen. Serendipitous discoveries from seemingly disparate and unrelated fields feed into each other to make new technologies happen. One remarkable (but in hindsight obvious) insight I took away from the book is that technology corporations (such as Intel and Genentech) are all for more (USA) governmental funding for research because basic research is the lifeblood of their (companies') commercial innovation, but the kicker is that they don't want to pay for it. Companies only want to cream off the profitable technologies they can commercialize, so they most certainly aren't going to lead loss-making basic research.

The second book talks about the perils of commercialization of university based research, and how the mission of universities as institutions of learning and knowledge sharing have been compromised by "technology transfer". It also highlights the damage done to the open culture of scientific inquiry by patents, NDA's (non-disclosure agreements) and other barriers to knowledge sharing, all erected in the name of protecting profits. It's a well-researched, hard look at what many people take to be an unequivocally good thing, of universities spinning off their technology. This is particularly relevant in the case of Singapore as we have essentially placed a heavy bet on research in science and technology as an additional pillar of our economy. 

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