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Why the future of Facebook and Google depend on academia - Quartz

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What did you learn?

Unfettered research is important and Google is helpful.

If not academia, where will breakthroughs be made? One place to look is the Google X, a research lab that has developed driverless cars and the infamous Google Glass. It makes Google as much a player in the tech research world as any traditional academic environment.

In the Guardian, Michael Mace sheds light on why Google is leading the way:

“Google doesn’t seem to respond to the rules and logic used by the rest of the business world. It passes up what look like obvious opportunities, invests heavily in things that look like black holes, and proudly announces product cancellations that the rest of us would view as an embarrassment… I think most reporters and analysts don’t understand how fundamentally different the engineering mindset is from traditional business thinking. It’s a very distinct paradigm, unfamiliar to most people who haven’t studied science … By announcing its terminated experiments, I think Google isn’t admitting failure, it’s proudly demonstrating that scientific principles are in use.”

Google’s research budget in 2012 was $6 billion alone, almost 10% of the entire spend by academia in the US across all disciplines. Total US private industry R&D spending was $279.6 billion, double that of the US federal government. Google is not the only tech company pouring money into research and is by far not the biggest investor. Samsung, Microsoft and IBM outlay even more.

I think it has to do with timelines.  The business world is used to 1-3 year ROI.  Google invests in things that seem to have 6-12 year ROIs.  DARPA, that obscure US government set of programs, is set on Moonshots and 15 year ROI.  They all serve a purpose.  Google's R&D program is great.  If they couldn't afford to do the research nobody else could, nobody would fill that gap.

There's a famous quote from Bill Gates. 

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.

Bill Gates

He's wrong though, it's we under-estimate what will change in 10 and over-estimate what will change in 30. 

The next ten years seem particularly exciting: mapping the genome, mapping the brain, nanotechnology, self-driving cars, leisure space travel, and smartphones and Internet for more than half the people on the planet.

Google is unusual among businesses because it can invest in experiments many years out.

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