back to article Boffins fear we might be running out of ideas

Innovation, fetishized by Silicon Valley companies and celebrated by business boosters, no longer provides the economic jolt it once did. In order to maintain Moore's Law – by which transistor density doubles every two years or so – it now takes 18 times as many scientists as it did in the 1970s. That means each researcher's …

There is only so much you can do to extend an existing field of knowledge.

Exponential growth in knowledge happens only when some new field of knowledge is discovered, and almost everything is unknown in there.

A good example was the discovery of electromagnetic waves. Before their discovery, people didn't even know that such waves existed. And of course, there was a lot to discover, once this field was opened up for research.

Running out of ideas is inevitable, when you are just trying to extend existing fields of knowledge. The only way to keep ideas going is to discover new fields of knowledge, where almost everything is unknown.

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I believe what you say is true. Perhaps it's time to rescind/remove/ignore Moore's Law.

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The most interesting advances, and along the lines you are suggesting, seems to be in materials science. Graphene is only one (trite) example of a discovery with broad reach across engineering domains. The problem there seems to be sharing discoveries in new materials and discovering which team is research what materials. I've come across duplications in that research which results in multiple teams discovering the same material applications. Perhaps opening up the information channels might further improve efficiencies.

Just my $.02.

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Today a Mr Brunel complained that the end of innovation was at hand.

It now takes 70 engineers to make a steam engine engine go only a little faster while the first engines were able to go twice as fast as a horse with only a couple of Geordies

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@Nick Z - Agreed. Until we have a new set of discoveries/theories on par with electromagnetism or quantum mechanics, we will find ourselves trying to find gold in the mine tailings not in a new ore body.

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electromagnetism or quantum mechanics

Batteries 1799

Maxwell 1855 (start)

Quantum Mechanics: Cathode Rays 1838, Boltzmann states energy states can be discrete 1877. Quantum hypothesis of Max Planck in 1900.

Very Victorian.

Also Victorian: Fax, telephone, electric hearing aids, typewriter, ballpen, lead acid & Nickel Iron batteries, Diesel, petrol, steam and electric cars competed. Punched cards for data sorting. CRT (though regular valves / tubes from 1905) and Electric light (in early Sherlock Holmes stories). Radio transmission. Plastics (inc Viscose) and Aluminium. Stencil duplicating machines.

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Basically, all the easy ideas have been dealt with, so now they have to work harder to optimize. It is the same in most fields. After initial breakthroughs, it is refinement, until the next big breakthrough and each subsequent breakthrough is tougher than the previous one.

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We've entered a logarithmic growth era, accept that fact and you'll be fine.

And be glad, because eventually a permanent negative growth era will set in and it will hurt. It will hurt real bad.

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Discovering new fields of knowledge

Requires basic research, which pretty much no corporation does anymore because CEOs aren't interested in something that won't pay off for 15 to 20 years if it pays off at all. They need to make the next quarter's numbers so they can get their stock bonus.

With government (at least in the US & UK) reducing funding for basic research as well, due to clueless politicians who are always chasing the hot new industry because all they care about is creating jobs right now, that source has dried up too.

You know who isn't pulling back on basic research? China. Say what you want about centrally planned government, it does give them the patience to do things that won't pay off for a few decades. The West has lost its patience, short term is the only outlook anyone here has anymore.

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"Across a broad range of case studies ... we find that ideas – and in particular the exponential growth they imply – are getting harder and harder to find"

I know, how about learning to make better use of the ideas we've already had?

Ask any of today's games programmers how they would go about writing a chess program that would fit into 1k of memory.

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That's a better example than you think. The fundamentals of railroading--tractive effort and top speed--haven't changed significantly in the last 100 years. Diesels and electrification were around back then, only the economics didn't favor them in general. The only things happening there that wouldn't be easily understood by a GWR engineer of the time are computer-related. Maybe something else will revolutionize everything in the next 100 years, but it won't be semiconductors.

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rescind Moore's Law?

you can't rescind, remove or ignore it, as it has never really existed in the first place. Moore made a thought experiment suggestion in the context of much wider and more interesting matters, and as usual everyone jumped on the bit they fancied, canonised it and continues to worry it to death. Reminds me of the Monty Python sketch where the broadcast interviewer of a successful composer wants to discuss nothing except how many sheds he has in his garden.

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Re: rescind Moore's Law?

There's plenty of room for vast improvements in semiconductors, we just have to become smarter. Someday we'll be able to assemble things precisely atom by atom, which will make current manufacturing techniques based on removal of material via light and chemicals look positively stone age. We may not live to see it though, depending on how hard it actually turns out to be.

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Because

Most "research" is development. In the past, basic research was often funded by the taxpayer (sometimes indirectly), these days not so much. The quest is now for a short-term financial return, so a basic research project doesn't get past the first step.

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Re: Because

Yet more proof, if any was needed, that bean-counters kill basic research.

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Pint

Research productivity is declining

The truth is a process can only be optimised so much, and each iteration becomes progressively more difficult. The fact we've got this far with silicon is a testament to the folks who work in the industry.

Saying that, we really do need a paradigm shift, with a move to light based processing or meta-matetials (troll Face)!

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Re: Because

This was my thought. Is it a decline in original ideas, or a decline in support for originality. We no longer value education or research for knowledge's sake. Whether it's about the content of school curricula, arguing that students should have expensive loans and not tax funded grants, because "Why should the people who don't go to university fund those who do..", academics having to show "productivity" in terms of numbers of papers published rather than originality or power of what they do produce or journals accepting only papers that will help them to sell copies and adverts. We've devalued academic study and replaced it with training.

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Re: Because

""Why should the people who don't go to university fund those who do..""

To me the answer is obvious, but then I'm not a crab.

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Joke

Re: Because

"Yet more proof, if any was needed, that bean-counters kill basic research."

In their defence, have you seen the price of a CERN?

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Re: Because

It's also one of those weasely disingenuous arguments even taken at the face value. Graduates also pay taxes -if the argument holds any water they pay more than non-graduates because they supposedly earn more. And VAT/Corporation tax etc provide a pretty major part of the tax base too ( though maybe not Google's share).

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Re: Because

I think there's a few more reasons covered than just that.

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there's always

computational chemistry

space exploration

biosphere maintenance

fusion/Thorium power generation

world peace

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Re: there's always

Plenty to be getting on with.

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Re: there's always

Those are taxpayer funded.

The examples were areas where research is 90% corporate.

What the paper shows (with numbers) is that modern corporations suck bricks sidewize through a thin straw in R&D. It is something some of us who have suffered from being Research Detention in a modern corp know all too well.

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Re: there's always

"Just to sustain constant growth in GDP per person..."

Not strictly related to innovation and research, but focus on GDP per capita is stupid since (a) it doesn't take inflation into account* and (b) GDP and GDP per capita figures grow even when all teh growth accrues to a small number of people. Median per capita income adjusted for true inflation rate is the rate that should really be tracked (and I suspect that this has not improved much if at all since teh 1960s)

*Official Real GDP figures are skewed since they use a low estimate for inflation not teh real figure. See for example:

http://www.businessinsider.com/gdp-adjusted-for-inflation-2011-5?IR=T

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Re: there's always

And because I piqued my own curiosity...

https://markbc.net/doomer-economic-commentary/is-the-us-government-really-spending-its-way-to-oblivion/

The real GDP per capita graph shown in the link is actually that it peaked in teh 1980s and is now back down to where it was in the 1960s. That's for US but probbaly similair in other western countries

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Studies show . .

there are no answers.

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Re: Studies show . .

No. of sensible questions > No. of sensible answers

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Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

Is this sustainable? Maybe we need some ideas on how to, uh, even things out.

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Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

Is this sustainable

It sustained the Persian Empire, then the Roman empire, then the Byzantine empire, then a succession of Islamic empires, then the Spanish and British empires.

For most of human history the poorest 3/4 of the planet have owned nothing - generally not even themselves

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Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

It sustained the Persian Empire, then the Roman empire, then the Byzantine empire, then a succession of Islamic empires, then the Spanish and British empires.

All of which are gone. Sustainable?

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Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

Tim Worstall suggests hyperventilating lefties should relax:

https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2017/01/16/oxfams-annual-davos-whining-8-people-have-more-wealth-than-the-bottom-50-of-all-humans/&refURL=https://www.google.co.uk/&referrer=https://www.google.co.uk/

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Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

It's also not true, unless you are happy counting Harvard graduates with massive college debt as the poorest people in the world. (Which of course Oxfam is, as it gets a bigger number.) And, of course, if you have very narrow definitions of wealth designed to maximize apparent inequality. (Which of course Oxfam is, as it gets a bigger number.)

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Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

"All of which are gone. Sustainable?"

How sustainable do you want something to be? If we are looking at more than 500 years into the future then a lot of things are not going to be sustainable. For example, energy production, which will boil the oceans long before then at our current rate of energy consumption expansion.

(This is not anything to do with global warming, or hyperbole. Plugging in our increase in energy production, and treating the Earth as a black body, you find that you get a significant increase in temperatures just because of entropy, enough to boil the Earth long before half a millennium's time.)

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Coat

Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

I wouldn't recommend boiling oceans, as it leaves the fish rather dry and tasteless. Poaching is always better, especially for white fish

Sorry, couldn't resist. Mine's the one with the Keith Floyd cookbook in the pocket

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

It is a fact that these 8 people that owns almost the entire world.

But this is also a fact:

Research shows that companies own other companies, which own other companies, etc etc. If you back track you will find that only a few companies own or have a large stake in all other companies, via bulvan companies. These few companies cooperate tightly.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21228354-500-revealed-the-capitalist-network-that-runs-the-world/

Could these few companies have the same owners? Why, they cooperate tightly, they have the same will and same orders. These 8 rich men, must have put their money somewhere. On the stock market? Most of a company stocks are not for sale actually. Only some percentage are publicly traded on the market. Most of the stocks are held and not traded. Check how to calculate index calculations to learn more on this.

These 8 richest people, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, etc have built their wealth in a single mans lifetime. How rich can you become, if you are an entire family striving to build your wealth for centuries? Who are the richest families? We hear about richest men top list, but how about richest families top list? It is reasonable these super rich families, if they exist, are super discrete - they dont want anyone to know how rich they are, right? Dont want to become a target. They gladly let the new billionaires get all the fame and attention, mean while they continue to rule the world.

Maybe you should google for richest families to learn more about real power. Google a bit, and read what historians say about these rich families. They try to avoid the lime light, but can not. They just shun fame, and despise everyone striving to become famous.

If you are really powerful and basically own the whole world, you dont want anyone to know that and shun fame. New poor billionaires strive for attention and are despised by the old super rich families. These families are much much much much wealthier than Bill Gates, Buffet, etc. Just google a bit.

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Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

From a financial point of view there is quite a difference between balance sheet wealth and P&L wealth. In my book, true wealth is if your P&L is positive ie net cash inflow that is more than enough to cover expenses, and high enough that those expenses can lead to a comfortable lifestyle.

The lawyer or doctor making half a million a year and spending it all is not so rich since if they stop working their lifestyle comes crashing down, and the more they work the less time they have to enjoy their big house, nice car etc. The Oxford graduates with a mountain of debt are not poor if they can generate much more income than they have expenses including loan repayments.

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Tim Worstal's article

Tim Worstal was one of my favourite register writers when he was there, and I often find myself agreeing with him. In this article, he makes the good point that for rich entrpreneurs, their wealth derives from value created to others.

The basic reasoning is sound but there is some flaw in the detail. For example, just as successful companies generate more value than their income, the company employees generate more wealth than they are paid. There were plenty of successful companies generateing global value even when their CEOs were making 20X the employee average. CEOs making 1000X more than employees do not add value, its just a result of the circle-wank between CEOs, board members, financial analysts and Wall Street. So while I do not begrudge company founders / owners their wealth which does come from added value, there are many high-level executives paid much more than the value they get to the company.

Secondly, companies do not craete value in a vacuum, they can do so because of surrounding infrastructure, education of employees, rule of law etc many of which are publically funded. When companies do not pay their fair share of tax they are stealing away value by using public services without paying for them.

Thirdly, many of the richest people in the world aren't rich by providing value, they are rich through family, politics, monoploies and a host of unpleasantries ranging through downright nastiness. Not wanting to tar everytone with the same brush, but how many of the mega-rich oil sheiks, Russian oligarchs and Chinese communist-party-buddies-billionaires are really providing more value than they earn, or that they would earn on a truly open market? And how many of the richest people in the first world are rich because they and/or their ancestors were robber barons, usurers, arms dealers etc?

Sure, poorer countries are getting less poor, poorer people are getting less poor, inequality between teh bottom and teh median is decreasing. That doesn't mean that Oxfam et al should stop campaigning against gross inequality and injustice

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Re: Tim Worstal's article

You may have got more wealthy in the past few years from promotion, or by a switch from permanent to contract employment, or by realising a capital gain on an investment. But if you're really honest with yourself how certain are you that rate of growth will continue? And for most of the readership salaries are struggling to keep pace with inflation.

Western economies are increasing inequality. That itself will not be sustainable. Whether through revolution or reaching for "populists" who peddle hatred and fear, the current situation will not endure for even a human lifetime. You poor take courage. You rich take care.

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Re: Tim Worstal's article

But what if this time the rich simply bring out the Terminators or whatever, kill all the proles, turn over the work to machines, and close off their walled gardens to hash it out amongst themselves?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

You're missing the really important thing here. It should be four men and four women.

When they spend more on shoes than fast cars everything will get better.

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Re: Tim Worstal's article

"But what if this time the rich simply bring out the Terminators..."

he rich don't need the poor to work for them. They need the poor to define themselves against. If everyone has a million dollars, no-one is wealthy.

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Re: Eight men control as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people

"From a financial point of view there is quite a difference between balance sheet wealth and P&L wealth."

There's no such thing as 'p&l wealth vs balance sheet wealth'. Wealth is what you own, minus what you owe, full stop. Profit v loss is income, and is a completely different thing. Conflating the two is not helpful.

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Anonymous Coward

A resurgence in LSD usage should sort that out.

People today just aren't doing enough psychedelics.

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Semiconductors are getting hard to fill

Its getting harder and harder to fill a semiconductor die and afford one. At 28nm we put a 4 core a57 complex, big GCU and VPU codec, cell phone modem on a 60mm die and sold them for under $10. It got to the point that each generation just had bigger/more CPU, GCU, and VPUs and if you didnt jump nodes every other year you were left behind. 7nm mask sets will be $7-$10 Million contain the same old units. But if you mess up, it gets even more expensive. But there was really nothing "new" during the last 5-8 years. You see the same thing from Intel, AMD and NVIDIA as well as the DDR, NAND and other memories. Just more cores, bigger cores, more memory cells. No really new ideas. Just bigger/better/faster. This is why you see the huge consolidation in the area now.

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Re: Semiconductors are getting hard to fill

I reckon we are "at saturation" with that . They are small and fast enough - move on to something else.

Time travel ,

GM crops

Animals that want to be eaten

ebola vaccine

babel fish

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Re: Semiconductors are getting hard to fill

Babel fish are worth a punt. If everyone understood each other it would improve not only research but a lot of other aspects of commerce. Now, where do we start?

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Re: Semiconductors are getting hard to fill

"not only research but a lot of other aspects of commerce"

Think bigger - world love and peace and harmony for mankind ,the end of war , also maybe we'd find out what the dolphins are going on about.

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Joke

Re: Semiconductors are getting hard to fill

Babel fish are worth a punt. If everyone understood each other it would improve not only research but a lot of other aspects of commerce. Now, where do we start?

1. Design a little fish shaped Bluetooth earpiece with an audio pickup beyond your own voice

2. Connect it to your phone*

3. Have phone* listen and interpret incoming audio

4. Send translated audio to earpiece.

Et Voila, la BabelFish is born.

*or more likely a dedicated device that's the size of a small PC, but bound to get smaller when they make smaller chips....oh

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TRT
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Re: . If everyone understood each other it would improve not only...

“Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”

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