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March 27, 2006
Regional Advantage: Part 1- Pitting California's U.C. Berkeley against Belgium's IMEC
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on EDACafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor


by Peggy Aycinena - Contributing Editor
Posted anew every four weeks or so, the EDA WEEKLY delivers to its readers information concerning the latest happenings in the EDA industry, covering vendors, products, finances and new developments. Frequently, feature articles on selected public or private EDA companies are presented. Brought to you by EDACafe.com. If we miss a story or subject that you feel deserves to be included, or you just want to suggest a future topic, please contact us! Questions? Feedback? Click here. Thank you!

Note:
Go To Regional Advantage: Part 2


This is a compare-and-contrast between California's U.C. Berkeley and IMEC in Leuven, Belgium. These two institutions, ironically, use almost the exact same words to describe (at least a portion of) their collaborative research mindset. But, I will argue that although the words may be the same, the ideas behind those words are completely different.


This week I'm going to give you a brief rundown of my impressions of Berkeley's recent EECS Annual Research Symposium held in the Bechtel Engineering Center on the U.C. Berkeley campus on February 23, 2006. It was a one-day event with about 350 people in attendance. The morning was full of presentations; the afternoon offered opportunities to visit the many research labs around campus that are associated with the EECS Department at Cal.


In my next EDA Weekly, we're going to talk about IMEC. I visited IMEC in Belgium in mid-October 2005, where I attended their annual research symposium as well. There were about 40 press people there for the first 2 days of the week, which was the pre-symposium press briefing. That event included presentations, a day trip to Eindhoven, and a visit to a clean room at ASML. The actual symposium itself had many hundreds of attendees, and consumed the last 3 days of that same week.


I hope you'll stay tuned for both parts of this discussion.




EECS Research Symposium - February 23, 2006


The U.C. Berkeley campus is at the center of the dynamic, always politically charged city of Berkeley, California. The views from the campus sweep out across the San Francisco Bay and focus on the legendary Golden Gate Bridge, the mystical city of San Francisco to the left of the Bridge, and the voluptuous curves of the Marin Headlines to the right. Just being on the Cal campus, and looking out at that vista, is enough to inspire creativity and innovation even in ordinary mortals.


But the School of Engineering at U.C. Berkeley is not populated by ordinary mortals. For starters, it has one of the largest engineering enrollments in the U.S. and, per some, one of the brightest student populations in the country and the world. Within the School of Engineering, the EECS Department at Cal has 90 full-time faculty members, 500 graduate students - mostly PhD candidates, and 1100 undergraduates. Department Chair Jitendra Malik says EECS at Cal is unmatched anywhere for the "quality and impact of the teaching and research" that goes on in the department.


But there's more. The School of Engineering is headed up by EDA golden boy Richard Newton, winner of the coveted Phil Kaufman Award and highly visible investor/co-motivator behind the successes of both Cadence and Synopsys. What this guy doesn't know about high-profile personas, public speaking, managing academia, sitting on corporate boards, teaching, synthesizing ideas, investing, and drawing the shortest line between two points, probably isn't worth knowing.


So when Richard Newton decides to give a talk entitled the "Future of the Future," it probably warrants a minute or two of your time to listen in. Newton's masterful when it comes to pulling together societal and technical threads and drawing conclusions that you probably already recognized, but maybe hadn't articulated way up there in the more verbal lobes of your brain.


His address, the final presentation of the overall EECS Symposium event on February 23rd, was compelling. He may have given it before, but it was new to me and I wasn't the only one in the auditorium who was tracking closely.


Please note before we review the highlights of Dr. Newton's talk that there are at least two ways that big universities in the U.S. can make money. One is, they send in their 20-year-old basketball or football studs to score big wins on national television during NCAA tournaments. The second is, they send in their 30- and 40-year-old technology studs to score big wins with national and international industries who then invest in the university's research infrastructure.


As a Cal grad, I'm sorry to say that U.C. Berkeley didn't make it past the first round of the NCAA basketball "March Madness" this year. But also as a Cal grad, I can assure you that the EECS Department is very capable of making their own Big Wins, even if the University's athletes can not.


The EECS Research Symposium consisted of 7 addresses, each 20 to 30 minutes long. The speakers on February 23rd included:


* Dr. George Necula speaking on "The Future of Correct Software"

* Dr. Jan Rabaey speaking about "The Future of Wireless Infrastructure"

* Dr. John Canny speaking about "The Future of Mobile Applications"

* Dr. Marc Davis who teamed up with Canny to discuss "The Future of Mobile Applications"

* Dr. David Wagner speaking on "The Future of Software Security"

* Dr. Chenming Calvin Hu speaking on "The Future of CMOS and Memory"

* Dr. David Patterson speaking on "The Future of Computer Architecture"

* Dr. Richard Newton speaking on "The Future of the Future"


Please be aware that this entire program is now available online - the audio portion of the presentations as well as the slides. Carve out 3 or 4 hours and go listen.


[Editor's Note: Unfortunately, the EECS event was held on exactly the same day as DVCon 2006 in San Jose. There were a number of important EDA players at Berkeley on February 23rd who might have wanted to be at DVCon, but couldn't be in two places at once. Hopefully, somebody will keep closer tabs on the calendar going forward. Having to make a choice was ridiculous.]




Dr. Richard Newton on "The Future of the Future"


Dr. Newton started by quoting an associate who said going forward into the future is like driving a car into an impenetrable fog where you can't see a foot ahead of your windshield, but the view in the rear view mirror is very clear.


Newton said the massive global restructuring going on before our very eyes means that, where as the 20th century was the Century of Big Science, the 21st century will be the Century of the Engineer. And those engineers need to figure out how to apply the Big Science Wins of the 20th Century to the Big "E" Challenges of the 21st:


** Energy - that's sustainable and low cost

** Epidemics - curing the diseases that plague the neglected parts of the world

** Education - in particular, educating women out of their second-class status in many societies


"If we at great research universities don't step in to solve these problems, who else will - or can?" Newton asked his audience. He argued that with the demise, or diminution, of great corporate research laboratories such as those at Bell Labs, Xerox Parc, IBM, HP, and Infinion - with only Microsoft Research still viable, in his estimation - it falls to the great universities to work collaboratively to tackle today's complex global issues and solve them.


[Editor's note: Dr. Newton's passion is the CITRUS center at U.C. Berkeley - The Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society. He said the faculty, students, and industrial partners at the Center are addressing the enormous global issues facing technologists today.]


Newton described his vision of a great research university as a "Demilitarized Zone of Research" where companies can come together with great faculty and great students to work collaboratively on problems important to us all.


He said that reduced corporate investments into long-term research, mean that "pre-competitive collaborative" sites like U.C. Berkeley, in association with government labs like Lawrence Berkeley Labs, as well as SLAC (The Stanford Linear Accelerator), UCSF (The University of California's Health Science Center and School in San Francisco), and Stanford University (in nearby Palo Alto), can provide a heady collection of resources and "really smart people," to create a geographic epicenter for creativity and sustainable innovation.


Then Newton turned to a brief discourse and counter to Thomas Friedman's recent best seller: The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.


Newton summarized Friedman's thesis as saying that globalization through the power of multi-national corporations has lowered trade and political barriers worldwide - has "flattened the world" - and resulted in a linking of global scientific advances and the ability to communicate with billions of people simultaneously.


Newton noted that several reviews of the book he'd seen, extracted pessimistic conclusions from Friedman's discussion: "One reviewer said that Friedman wants to tell you how exciting this world is, but if you're an American the book's message is that you're going to be trampled … The math is against us; our standard of living is headed for a substantial fall."


Newton said that if those were Friedman's conclusions, "Tom didn't talk to me, or anybody from MIT, IIT, Stanford, Chin-hwa, or any other leading university or research institution in the world!"


Newton said the pessimism perceived in Friedman's book is unfounded: "I'm the dean of the one of the most distinguished colleges in the world, dean of the university that produces more PhDs than any other university in the U.S. Our graduates have created over $250 billion dollars of wealth through innovation, so you might think I should care [about Friedman's conclusions], and I do."


"I posit that the real irony of the 'flat world' - which is a corporate and business view of a world where geography doesn't matter - is that never before has it been more important where you are working [and collaborating]."


[Editor's Note: Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat may not be as revolutionary as all that. Barbara Tuchman, in her 1962 Pulitzer Prize-winning classic The Guns of August, describes a book that was all the rage in 1910 that addressed this same perceived 'flatness' of the world: "[In 1910], a new book, The Great Illusion by Norman Angell, had just been published that proved that war had become vain. By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished. [The book] became a cult. At the universities
… and other industrial cities, more than forty study groups of true believers had formed, devoted to propagating its dogma."]


Richard Newton went on: In Friedman's world, corporations are not bounded by loyalty to nation states, and would be better off flying a corporate flag than a flag that represents the country of origin of the corporation's founders. Newton said that is simply not the case. In fact, in the San Francisco Bay Area, just the opposite is true.


"Silicon Valley and the Bay Area are cradles of innovation," Newton said. Then he went on to site a statement from Dr. Patrick Scaglia: "The Bay Area is the Corporation."


"Patrick's absolutely right," Newton said. "In fact, I'm looking for a student right now who will study and determine what the revenues, expenses, R&D resources, market, sales, and advanced research resources are that [characterize The Bay Area Corporation.]"


"[When people change jobs here in the Bay Area], they're actually just moving among the various divisions of the Bay Area Corporation," Newton said. "It's never been more important, therefore, to invest regionally, to accentuate one's regional strength, to distinguish ourselves here in our Bay Area Corporation [from other regions in the world]. To create a bump here [that stands out sharply] on Friedman's world of profound, corporate global flattening."


"In fact," Newton said, "Today more than ever before, the region is more important than the state, and more important than the nation. Never before has our well being been so closely tied to the quality of our schools, our regional infrastructure, our ability to attract new industries, high-paying jobs, and the quality of our lives. Therefore, it's never been more important for us here at Berkeley to effect collaboration between the region's universities and the region's industrial [strength]."


Newton quickly pointed out, "Of course, I'm not excluding our international partners [in this proposition]," and got a cheerful chuckle from his audience.


[Editor's Note: Considering the depth of investment from TSMC alone at U.C. Berkeley, that was the right stance for Newton to take at that point in his impassioned address.]


"Companies should be judged on where they invest and create jobs, not on their flag or origin," Newton said (agreeing, perhaps inadvertently, with Friedman).


"So, how do we keep Berkeley up-to-date and alive through today's challenging business transitions? It's simple - through identifying, recruiting, and retaining the best knowledge workers in the world. We need to double down in the face of [global competition] to attract students, faculty, staff, and small-to-medium size industries, and bring them all here to Berkeley."


Newton recounted several conversations he's had recently with presidents and deans of various universities overseas. He said he challenged these individuals: Rather than wait for American universities to establish satellite campuses on your home turf, why don't you come to Berkeley and build a satellite campus here. We've got 90 acres, and you could put up a campus right here in Berkeley.


Newton said the presidents were surprised at his suggestion; one said, "he'd think about it." That last got quite a laugh out of Newton's audience in the Bechtel Center.


Newton said, "We're creating a 'bump' on the flat world - ideally, it will be a mountain - right here in Berkeley. While our competitor universities here in the U.S. are creating satellite campuses in Qatar, or Singapore, the U.K., or Dubai, we're [working on the theory] of intellectual in-sourcing. And, we have an unfair advantage."


"Fully a third of our students come from families that earn less than $35,000 per year. We have more economically disadvantaged students than all of the Ivy League combined. We celebrate the advantage that gives to Berkeley, and [note] that the private schools have yet to tap into that resource [in any significant way]."


[Editor's Note: I attended a luncheon in March 2003 on the U.C. Berkeley campus and sat at a table with the then-Chancellor Robert Berdahl. He told us that his own children couldn't be convinced to attend Cal. They wanted to attend private schools elsewhere.]


Newton added, "Here at Berkeley, it's far more about our culture than our content. Here researchers are rubbing shoulders with students, faculty, industrial partners, and visitors - working with everything that generates new and exciting ideas. It's a culture that raises expectations. People who walk the corridors here are people who want to make a difference - and they want to do it through teaching, through research, and through their service."


"The Bay Area is the Corporation, and we're doing everything within our power to make the most of it. We're not rising above the gathering storm. We're gathering above the rising storm! Hopefully, I've convinced you that place is more important than ever before!"


But Newton wasn't done: "Research needs to be multi-disciplinary. Implementing effective multi-disciplinary research is critically important given everything that's happening in the world today. So we need to reorganize everything we do. [In fact], in 25 years will we even remember [the idea of a separate] EECS?"


Newton ended by a quick review of various U.C. Berkeley research initiatives into the controlled synthesis of biological systems through the manipulation of genomes, proteins, enzymes, and specific pathways in sample organisms such as yeast and E.coli.


He said that, where as in his youth, "We contributed to the relentless evolution of Moore's law, starting with the physics of materials - and now, 25 years later, can put a billion components reliably on a single piece of semiconductor material - today professors are working in the nascent field of the self-assembly of biological systems, uncovering the secrets of how these systems [operate]. Once again the engineers have arrived on the scene, [working to assemble] new living systems which are designed from the bottom up."


Newton suggested that such work would eventually produce a cure for malaria, the ability to treat additional types of cancer, and the use of photosynthesis to convert carbon dioxide into efficient energy sources. "No doubt this new field of synthetic biology will revolutionize our world as much as semiconductors."


Newton ended: "I would agree that the 21st century will be the Century of the Engineer and the IT worker. The Future of the Future is built on the role of great research universities more than ever before. My 'Demilitarized Zone" of research will be a place where corporations and government can come together with young people to [reinvent] the future."


"I would argue that it is our responsibility not just to accommodate the flat world, it is our responsibility as a region, state, and nation to use every bone in our body to counter that flatness - to create our own special bump on the flat world. To provide leadership in all aspects of science and engineering, and to make Berkeley, the Bay Area Corporation, California, and the U.S. into the most important place in the world for engineering and scientific collaboration."


Dr. Newton got a big round of applause from his audience.




Q&A from the audience after Dr. Newton's talk


Question: The U.S. Government recently denied a visa to a world-class chemist from India. How do we do intellectual in-sourcing in such an environment?


Newton: I think you know the answer. It will take another couple of years [laughter], but hopefully we'll get there.


Question: How do we inspire high school students to pursue degrees in science and engineering?


Newton: When the President of the U.S. [in his recent State of the Union Address] says to invest in alternative energy, it moves the culture of the country towards that kind of progress. We can hire more teachers, but if there are no students, who will they teach? Ultimately, it has to do with the climate we create.


Queston: Ninety percent of your speakers today were White males. How does that inspire students of color or women?


Newton: I didn't choose today's program [laughter], but we are having some limited success in that area. 11% of our faculty are women, although we're not doing as well with other under-represented minorities. We're at 25% women students in the school, so we're doing better every year. I would argue that women like to work in outcome-oriented fields of engineering. Those disciplines like transportation engineering, nuclear engineering, and use-inspired basic research which improve the quality of people's lives with technology are more interesting to women than just talking about the technology itself.




The Price of Admission to the DMZ


In the packet of information handed to each of the attendees at the Berkeley EECS Research Symposium in February, the single most fascinating item was a one-page 'data sheet' explaining the costs and benefits of investing in Berkeley's "Demilitarized Zone" of research. At the risk of reducing all of that idealism and vision to simple dollars and cents, here are the details.


For starters, you can join the EECS Industrial Liaison Program. Participation at this level requires an annual gift of $7500, although there's a small business membership (defined as less than 20 employees, or less than $2 million revenue) discount of $2000 per year. These dollars will get you the EECS/ERL Research summary, all IPRO-produced publications, (Industrial and Public Relations Office), including graduate student resumes, assistance with on-site recruiting activities including internships, and an invitation to the Berkeley EECS Annual Research Symposium.


Of course, you can also choose to throw unlimited dollars at the DMZ to support the research of any specified faculty member, support student programs, student scholarships, and Fellows, and /or donate equipment or software - but that last won't guarantee an Industrial Liaison Program membership unless it's also accompanied by a $7500 cash donation.


Upping the ante a bit, you can be an EECS Research Partner. That will cost you $50,000 per year, with those moneys going to support faculty research. You get everything mentioned above, plus a VIF (Visiting Industry Fellow). If you throw in an additional $55,000 to cover research and administrative costs, plus a commitment to cover the visiting researchers' salary, Research Partners can make arrangements with a professor from the department to send a visiting scientist from your organization to work and study with that professor and her/his group for a period of up to a year - on an ad hoc basis. If VIFs are sent in subsequent years, the company has to be a Berkeley EESC Affiliate (BEECSA).


A BEECSA is an organization that ponies up $125,000 to support research and instruction. For that you get membership in the ILP, a VIF, office space for the VIF (not sure where they would sit otherwise), administrative and telephone service for the Fellow, participation by the Fellow in the departmental seminars and colloquia, and participation by the Fellow in department research teams or groups, computer services, and once returned to your company at the end of the year, network access to the EECS system for continued contact. You also have the option for an annual research review meeting at Berkeley, or your location, with a choice of topics selected from the current research in the
department.




Some personal thoughts on the DMZ


This lengthy report was supposed to begin with a thought piece about how ideas are born [now posted below], and how that process varies somewhat between industry and academia with an aside about idealized environments for innovation and protecting intellectual property. Having listened to Dr. Newton on February 23 - and re-listening to his talk online - I have come to a somewhat altered conclusion to my initial construct.


The fact of the matter is, at American universities - and I am quite sure it's the same at all great research institutions - the job of the leadership is to articulate a vision and a dream, the job of the faculty is to showcase their various research opportunities and road maps, and the job of the business development department is to 'close the deal' - to get potential investors to buy into one or more of the research initiatives and support the faculty and grad students associated with those initiatives.


I came away from the Berkeley event impressed with the creativity and cauldron of ideas bubbling over there. I also came away with the impression that the university is for sale. Buyers are lining up on the sidewalk hoping to buy their way into one or more potential home runs being showcased by the technologists there.


Academia is big business. It's really no different from the corporate setting - and that's not news. I'm just probably the last person to find out.




The Research Presentations on February 23, 2006


If you're interesting in electrical engineering, computer science, materials, and the impact of science and technology on society, this was a romp! I sat on the stairs up towards the back of the room with my elbow on my knee, my chin on my hand, absolutely captivated for the full 4 hours.


* Dr. George Necula speaking on "The Future of Correct Software"


Necula said where there's software, there are bugs. It's something we all struggle with. In fact, 1% of the GDP is spent on finding bugs, and that doesn't include the costs of intrusions and attacks. Fully 50% of attacks are due to programming mistakes. Programmers are notoriously overconfident of their ability to produce good software, and they're only interested in learning from their own mistakes, not those of others. Necula added, "I don't see any more bugs," is not the same as, "There are no more bugs."


Here's the theorem: Software today is so complex, there's no hope of building a tool that looks at software and distinguishes between good and poor software. Necula said, on the contrary, technology must provide affordable tools for corrections by bringing more information into the software process, software synthesis from high-level specifications, and software distributions that come with semantic assurance and support. Necula's research group is using an open source model to look at the entire process of software development and hoping to develop a robust set of tools that will meet those needs.


* Dr. Jan Rabaey speaking about "The Future of Wireless Infrastructure"


Rabaey spoke about ubiquitous multimedia networking, where every gadget will be wireless. He said we need to enable the "collaborative" paradigm, where tens of billions of devices will be connected worldwide. He listed the many companies collaborating on the concept of ambient intelligence, and said the home environment will eventually be reactive to both people and objects - new devices will self-configure into whatever environment they find themselves in. Today's patchwork of standards - Rabaey called it a Tower of Babel - must be resolved to get interoperability between protocols, devices, and interfaces.


Rabaey described an environment of ambient intelligence that will provide energy management, environment controls, security, health care monitoring, advanced user interfaces, and entertainment. Accomplishing this requires novel wireless devices, which are compatible and reconfigurable. This amount of flexible computing will require teraflops of data, and high degrees of portability and scalability.


The answers will come from dual core, multi core, FPGAs, and a variety of operating systems.


* Dr. John Canny and Dr. Marc Davis speaking about "The Future of Mobile Applications"


Canny and Davis said there are 6 billion people on earth, and in the next year 1 in 8 will buy a cell phone. That's 4 times the number of PCs and TVs combined. Today's phones are fairly simple, voice-based SMS devices. But programmable, media-rich smart phones will bypass those earlier models to serve not just as communication devices, but as the most common compute device on the planet, while providing an ever deeper feature set including video, gaming, camera, storage, and that final holy grail feature - to know where you are at all times and what time it is.


Canny and Davis want to penetrate the Third World and overcome the lack of access to digital technology by using the phone as a CPU in conjunction with an inexpensive keyboard.


* Dr. David Wagner speaking on "The Future of Software Security"


Wagner said the Bad Guys are finding bugs faster than we can. He asked the audience three questions:


* Do you use Microsoft Outlook for your e-mail application?

* When was the last time you backed up your computer?

* When was the last time you downloaded the latest patches to your security hardware?


He said networks and firewalls are getting clobbered by applications purposefully tunneling through and over HTTP - and virus detectors are a total kludge. "It's just patch and pray."


Developers need to try harder, develop hardened languages, tools to find bugs in legacy code, and exercise better programming discipline. Wagner is working on a C model checker that's showing promising results.


* Dr. Chenming Calvin Hu speaking on "The Future of CMOS and Memory"


Hu spoke at length about CMOS. He said despite critical problems with power and quantum tunneling at small process nodes, there are ways to get around these things and CMOS still has a long future ahead. He said there are a variety of strategies that will ensure that future, not the least being a personal favorite of Hu - the finFET.


Hu said the world continues to want CMOS, and won't be turning to self-assembled systems anytime soon because the manufacturing infrastructure worldwide is already in place for CMOS. It's too expensive to re-tool that global infrastructure and the world can't afford to gamble on unknown technologies. It's for good reason that Dr. Hu is the TSMC Distinguished Chair Professor of Microelectonics in EECS at U.C. Berkeley.


Per Hu, "CMOS will be a platform for deploying innovations in materials, devices, circuits, and nanotechnology. CMOS is a mutant monster. You can knock it down, but it will only absorb your energy and grow stronger. I'm not discouraging alternative research, but our budgets need to not be based on winning the lottery."


* Dr. David Patterson speaking on "The Future of Computer Architecture"


Patterson said we desperately need a new architecture that embraces parallelism. Also, the old paradigm has changed. It used to be that power was free, but transistors were expensive. Now power is expensive and transistors are free. It used to be that chips were reliable internally, and the errors were at the pins. Now there's a huge increase in hard and soft errors on-chip. The old wisdom was that innovation came through compiler optimization. Now that innovation takes more than 10 years.


We need a renaissance of performance, which can be had through using multiple processors. Looking at recent product announcements in industry, now the processor is the new transistor. We need to design complex systems with hundreds or thousands of processors on chip. The future is multicore and everything's going to be parallel.


Patterson and U.C. Berkeley are part of an ad-hoc consortium of players from MIT, the University of Texas, CMU, Stanford, Intel, and the University of Washington who are assembling a design protocol for these massively parallel systems. They've had success assembling a 1000-processor system on 40 FPGAs, and they hope to announce more over the coming year. The group is calling itself The Watering Hole, and I think they're serving up more than just well drinks. They're serving up algorithms, programming languages, compilers, operating systems, architectures, and libraries.


Patterson invited those in the audience to get involved. "How would you like to get a preview of the computer of the future to do software development on today?" He didn't ask for a show of hands, but it was obvious that many in the audience were tempted.


All of the speakers presenting their research on February 23rd at U.C. Berkeley were completely captivating in their energy and enthusiasm. It's a great faculty with lots of exciting things going on. If these are the Best and Brightest in The Bay Area Corporation, we've got a great future ahead of us!




Epilogue: How ideas are born


At the core of everything we do, as technologist and human beings, is the question of how ideas are born. How does innovation happen? And once achieved, how is innovation implemented to both improve society and enhance the financial circumstances of a company, although not necessarily in that order. Of course, the question is far more complex and n-dimensional that these brief words would suggest - even the definitions of "society" and "company" are open to debate - but you get what I'm saying.


If you're reading this column, you're probably interested - in fact, involved 24x7 - with the question of how ideas are born, in high-tech in particular. Well, giving birth to ideas in high-tech is very tough, and it's tough for two reasons.


You've got to be really, really smart to come up with new ideas - in general, not always, but in general you need to be formally trained in engineering, or computer science, or one of the basic sciences - and you've also got to know how to collaborate with other smart people, whether they're annoying, unkempt, tidy, proud, self-effacing, wealthy, poor, optimistic, pessimistic, foreign-born (a relative term), mono-lingual, or mono-syllabic.


That collaboration thing is a difficult nut to crack, but without sorting out the process - how to work as a team to come up with new products and services that are based on the ideas that come out of the individual brains of the individual team members - nothing that we commonly refer to as "high-tech" can, or will, move forward to that next great sign post on the horizon. Absolutely nothing.


Now, along with the critical dynamics and skill sets associated with teams in high-tech, there's also the problem of protecting intellectual property - those ideas that you yourself give birth to at 3 o'clock in the morning while everybody else is sleeping but you aren't, because a problem you're working on won't leave you alone - and the ideas that are contributed to the team effort from other equally obsessed problem solvers, which when put together with your unique ideas creates a whole that's bigger than the sum of the parts and therefore constitutes the intellectual property of the team. Intellectual property that, for the sake of the group, needs protection from idea-raiders.


These are not easy things to do in a corporate setting - the generating of new ideas, "team think," and protecting intellectual property - but they're even harder to do in academia.


It's true that academia is about being smart, and working with other smart people in a collaborative manner to birth new ideas and concepts - not to mention, teaching and mentoring the young - but that part about protecting your intellectual property and that of your team? That's a much "dice-ier" problem in academia than it is in industry.


How new ideas are born in academia - and protected from voracious carnivores in other ivory towers, not to mention industry - is a problem that all major academic research institutions deal with. Because academia is, in principle, about sharing. It's about promoting smart people and getting their ideas out into a public forum, so those ideas can instigate ideas from yet other people who are also interested in exploring the same solution set or subset. Academia is about cooperation, but it's also about protecting the institution's intellectual property when there are carnivores around.


Of course, in reality, academia is also about huge, world-class egos, fiefdoms, empires, labs that carry the name of the lead researcher, getting papers into print as fast as you can, racing to get your name and the name of your group on the idea that you'all gave birth to, and seducing the moneyed classes - usually that's spelled i-n-d-u-s-t-r-y - into funding your school, your programs, your faculty, your graduate students, your research initiatives, your labs, and your life.


The problem in all of this, in my opinion - the problem with this hurried, competitive, frenetic, proprietary, ego-driven insanity - is that it's very counter-productive to the sleek, emotionally satisfying Zen of birthing new ideas.


Because ideally, ideas are born out of a creative, supportive, tranquil environment where minds can roam unfettered, free of worry and fear. An environment where there are long periods of silence, where individuals can explore solution spaces during the daylight hours, as well as at 3 AM, and where researchers can share their solutions with other like-minded researchers, whether they arise out of the same scientific or engineering discipline or not.




Coming April 13th - A trip to IMEC in Leuven, Belgium. Same words, different model.






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-- Peggy Aycinena, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.


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