RE: A bit of bomb throwing....

From: Prokopp, Christian <>
Date: Thu, 19 Jan 2006 06:00:23 +0800

I do not think anyone (myself for sure) was criticizing academia but
rather pointing out (as you said too) that everyone has a different
stake/interest and furthers society from a different angle.
I completely agree with you - especially with "Open source is about the
software that you can build right now. Academia is about the software
that you might be able to build 5 or 10 years from now." For that
academia and corporate researchers have to explore many possibilities
and should work unrestricted (although that is never fully possible).
IMO it is not academia's responsibility to disseminate technology and
create products.


-----Original Message-----
From: David Karger []
Sent: Thursday, 19 January 2006 2:10 AM
Subject: Re: A bit of bomb throwing....

I've seen several mentions in this thread of the idea that while the
goal of the open source community is to build stuff (clearly a sign of
brains and productivity), the goal of academics is to publish papers
(clearly some vain form of social parasitism). As a parasite---er,
academic---I assert that in fact both communities have the same goal,
which is to make things better than they are now. We simply have
different horizons. Open source is about the software that you can
build right now. Academia is about the software that you might be able
to build 5 or 10 years from now. The reason we write papers is that, by

definition, the thing we are describing can't really be built right
now. While research invariably involves building prototypes (such as my

group's Haystack client), those prototypes are typically too fragile to
deploy for broad use, because they are trying to do something that we
don't fully understand how to do yet.

Some may argue that if you can't build it for real now then there's no
point in working on it at all, but I would say this is a lot like
driving at night with your headlights off---sure you can see 2 feet in
front of the car, but is that really sufficient? You need to try out
ideas to see them fail, so you can fix them, and it would really slow
progess down if we only tried out ideas that were practical right now.
Under the current research system, by the time something becomes
practical, researchers have (hopefully) played around enough with it in
its impractical stages to let us know how to build good solutions
quickly. Just to snag one example that appeared on this thread, Timbl's

creation of the web didn't just happen; it arose from a background of
plenty of previous research on hypertext that did not result in broadly
deployed systems, but that did produce a background of ideas that others

could draw upon to build new artifacts.

So yes, academics may suffer enough human vanity to be disappointed when

their "pet algorithm is discarded in favor of something better for the
product", but that is irrelevant to the broader goal of getting that
algorithm out there so that it can be picked up and used 5 years from
now when it is just the right thing for the next product.

David Karger
Professor, EECS
MIT Computer Science and AI Laboratory
32 Vassar St.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Received on Wed Jan 18 2006 - 22:00:08 EST

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