blind_html Fwd: Stimulus: Stanford's president on the $800 billion question

  • From: Nimer Jaber <nimerjaber1@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: blind_html@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2009 09:34:39 -0600

-------- Original Message --------
Subject:        Stimulus: Stanford's president on the $800 billion question
Date:   Tue, 14 Apr 2009 14:02:57 -0000
From:   Ray T. Mahorney <coffee-craver@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Reply-To:       Blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
To:     <blind-chit-chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>

Stimulus: Stanford's president on the $800 billion question

Ars interviews John L. Hennessy, RISC computing pioneer and Stanford
University's 10th president, on rebuilding America's research
infrastructure, intellectual property reform, and the hard problems in

As of February's passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
of 2009, the US is now committed to spending almost $800 billion to
stimulate our stalled economy over the next few years. Apart from job
creation, one of the goals of the stimulus package (as it's commonly
called) is to boost long-term American competitiveness by rebuilding the
now-depleted fund of basic research capital that the Cold War era
produced, the dot-com era spent, and the post-9/11 security state
finished off.

If I were the Obama administration, and I were really serious about
putting those billions into the hands of a crowd that has a spectacular
record of turning public money directly into transformative public
goods, I'd go straight to the area in and around Palo Alto, CA, home of
legendary labs like Xerox PARC and ground zero of the still-mushrooming
information explosion. And to narrow the geography even further, I'd
make my way to the campus of Stanford University, and ask the school's
president, computer architecture pioneer John Hennessy, how to spend the
stimulus money.

So, when I recently got the chance to interview Hennessy at a conference
on technology and public policy, that's exactly what I did.

And while I had a minute with one of the fathers of the RISC movement
and the co-author of the main textbook in the computer architecture
field—the Gray's Anatomy of computing—I also asked him about the
multicore revolution, and about the on-going evolution of computer
Stimulating innovation

JS: If you were in charge of spending $800 billion dollars worth of
stimulus money to get the country back on track, how would you split
that money up?

JH: There are what I would call several pots [that you can put the money
in]. First of all, there's core research, and what we should be doing is
laying down a ramp of research funding that will take us [from where we
are now up] to a level of where we might be on base-level funding on NIH
and NSF, say, two years out. So what we want to do is say, "we believe
the budget can support this funding level, which is higher than were we
are today, at NIH and NSF, so let's construct a ramp between here and

Pump some money into DARPA to try to get it back on the track of
long-term research, as opposed to these shorter-term, metric-driven,
six-month/one-year check-ins—wrong idea. Fund big strategic areas, and
fund multiple teams at multiple universities. That's what you do on the
research-funding side.

And obviously, there's a set of key problems you can think about. There
are computing problems, the energy issue, in the biological sciences
there a number of opportunities. We haven't funded stem cell research at
the level we should. Neuroscience has big new opportunities; I think
this next 50 years is going to be the neuroscience equivalent of the
understanding of DNA—the 50 years that went from DNA to the sequencing
of the human genome; the same thing will happen in the neurosciences. We
understand how neurons fire, but we don't understand how the brain
works. There's a big gap in-between. Close that gap, and that will lead
to much more robust treatments for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and
diseases that right now we treat in a sort of hit-or-miss, empirical
fashion. So I think there are lots of good things to do on the research

Secondly, you take a pot of money and say that we've got an ailing,
out-of-date infrastructure, both in terms of instrumentation and
equipment in the labs, as well as some of our research buildings. Let's
go invest in that, and that creates lots of jobs.

Increasingly, in the physical sciences and the biological sciences,
instrumentation is the make-or-break piece of it. You've got smart
people, and you've got instrumentation, and you have to bring those
together. So I think we need to really invest there. The cost of setting
up somebody who's working in basic materials area, for example, has gone
up to $1 million per investigator, $2 million for a more senior person,
and $10 million for a shared facility of some sort. So we need to be
thinking about numbers like that when we invest in facilities and

Then, I think you have to deploy a bunch of this money to do a bunch of
things that we're simply behind on. Fixing the broadband infrastructure
in this country. Fixing our piggish use of energy in lots of
places—going back and really inspiring people to do energy efficiency,
and supplying the up-front capital so that they get there. I think there
are a number of things like that—roads, and the transportation
infrastructure, as well. You want to be doing things like that because
that will help put us in a better economic situation so that the rest of
our economy can run better.
Intellectual property reform

JS: One thing I'm surprised that you didn't touch on is intellectual
property reform. Do you see a role for IP reform?

JH: Yeah, I do. My good friend Rick Levin, the president at Yale,
participated in this study that was done by the national academies on
intellectual property reform—trying to streamline the process and make
it cleaner. I support what's being done there and I've argued in favor
of it. It does place some additional burdens on universities to be more
prompt about recording, because one of the key issues is switching to
first-to-file instead of first-to-discover, but I think the reality is
that that's where we have to go to, and the universities shouldn't block
something that is so obviously good for the rest of the economy and the
high-tech sector. So that's my feeling about that, and we ought to just
get our act together.

If intellectual property protection is important to the universities...
I don't think that it's the most important thing, by the way. The most
important thing that universities do is fuel the rest of the economy by
the creation of intellectual property—sometimes it's patented, sometimes
it's not, but the country benefits in the end. Even private institutions
are quasi-public in terms of their funding, so I'm less concerned about
protecting intellectual property than I am in ensuring that the country
reaps the rewards of that benefit.

But I think that the concept of a challenge period for a new patent,
where external people can submit claims or requests to investigate
before the new patent is nailed down—I think that is absolutely
required. If you visit the patent office and talk the patent officers,
you realize that these guys are just overwhelmed. Typical processing
time is down to less than 24 hours, meaning 24 hours of one person's
time, or about three days. They simply don't have the time to keep up on
all the literature. Despite recommendations in the past that they create
a sabbatical program or a continuing education program, it hasn't really
been done at the level it needs to be done. So the result is that the
patent officers look primarily at the contents of the patent.

Sure, they can do a patent database search or a literature search, but
if they're not an expert in the field then it's almost impossible to
search the literature in the field and read it and figure out whether or
not this invention is a trivial extension of something that has already

So I think we need this [challenge period], and we need it also from a
global perspective, because technology is now globally created and
distributed, and we need to deal with it that way.


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