Surprise! The US Doesn't Fund Robotics!
Wired.com has a scathing article in an interview with George Bekey,
emeritus professor of computer science at the University of Southern
California. The article states how US robotics builders are scrambling
for cash for robotics because besides funding military and space
robotics the US just ain't putting out. The article says the United
States is falling behind Europe and Asia in robotics research, and
unlike many other developed countries, the United States lacks a
coordinated strategy to cultivate robotics development. Robotics
research funding has been dropping in the United States for at least the
last decade, with the National Science Foundation's funding now at less
than $10 million per year. In contrast, Japan's government will spend
nearly $100 million in 2005. And over the next three years, Europe plans
to spend nearly $100 million on a new program called Advanced Robotics.
South Korea, meanwhile, spends $80 million on robotics research
annually. Perhaps if US robot builders want grant money, they should
look into robotic art?
The article also has some great pictures from the exhibits displayed
during the NSF gathering. You can also watch a boring 40
minute video (skip the first 4 or 5 ultra-boring minutes) press
briefing about the NSF study.
I think somebody there is blurred from the bragging budgets. Since when
does dollars euate to knowledge ? Did they ever measure how much
knowledge is attained from the supposedly low budgets that the U.S. has
? They should take a closer look and measure what has actually has been
learned from the research over the decades rather than counting dollars.
An obvious observation from the large budgets being consumed elsewhere
typically involves the enormous expenditures on building prototypes.
Anyone can throw dollars at something and say they are making progress.
In MY opinion, Corporate Wellfare is ALWAYS wrong, unless I'm the one on
the receiving end. :-)
I think's probably not as direct a path as that but there is a
connection. To get to the knowledge you need to do the science.
is very expensive and somebody has to pay for it. Corporations don't pay
for as much research as they used to because they have very short-term
outlooks these days. Stockholders generally won't stand for long term
planning. They want a short term profit next quarter. So very little
corporate money is funding basic science. That leaves non-profits and
government. There's relatively little non-profit money for basic science
research, particularly in the field of robotics. And our current
government leaders actually seem to be anti-science unless there's a
direct application to war.
Aside from money, the other thing you need for scientific research and
development is educated scientists. The US education system seems to be
having major problems these days. What little money is available in
schools gets wasted on sports and what little science still gets taught
seems to be under constant attack by special interest groups. And aside
from all that, we live in a culture that seems to have a growing
distaste for science and education in general. I stumbled across
an answer Carl Sagan gave when asked about why science has such
a bad name and what we can do about it. He said:
I think one, perhaps, is to present science as it is, as something
dazzling, as something tremendously exciting, as something eliciting
feelings of reverence and awe, as something that our lives depend on. If
it isn't presented that way, if it's presented in very dull textbook
fashion, then of course people will be turned off. If the chemistry
teacher is the basketball coach, if the school boards are unable to get
support for the new school bond issue, if teachers' salaries, especially
in science, are very low, if very little is demanded of our students in
terms of homework and original class time, if virtually every newspaper
in the country has a daily astrology column and hardly any of them has a
weekly science column, if the Sunday morning pundit shows never discuss
science, if every one of the commercial television networks has somebody
designated as a science reporter but he (it's always he) never presents
any science, it's all technology and medicine, if an intelligent remark
on science has never been uttered in living memory by a President of the
United States, if in all of television there are no action-adventure
series in which the hero or heroine is someone devoted to finding out
how the universe works, if spiffy jackets attractive to the opposite sex
are given to students who do well in football, basketball, and baseball
but none in chemistry, physics, and mathematics, if we do all of that,
then it is not surprising that a lot of people come out of the American
educational system turned off, or having never experienced, science.
That was a very long sentence.
Reading that made me think Sagan would have liked Stargate SG1. It's the
only TV show I can think of in recent memory in which a heroine was a
scientist doing a lot of basic science who also took time out to save
the world every week. ;-)
There have been several robots.net articles in the past talking about the
introduction of robotics related curriculum into schools that may
helping to change some of this. Robots are something kids can understand
and seem to be excited about. In many cases they're showing the same
level of interest that has been shown for non-educational activities
such as sports.
If anyone is interested you can read the Sagan Q&A in full here:
It includes a question about whether or not he every really said
"billions and billions". ;-)
I think most of us know whole heartedly how we are sometimes short in
man-power and materials for research, both corporate and academic. But
there are many sources of research dollars that this article fails to
identify. This article falls short in awareness of significant research
what goes on nationwide. This article is just another classic tabloid
example of 'look at the small country that can do better than the big
US'. IMHO, this article has no place here.
I've posted plenty of articles promoting theories of consciousness that
I thought were downright looney but my experience has been if you ever
want to find out what's really going on, you have to listen to a lot of
ideas, debate their strengths and weaknesses, look for ways to test their
validity, and sometimes you eventually arrive at the
truth. I think the same thing applies here.
We've posted quite a few articles in the past on Japan's lead in
robotics research, particularly in biped hardware design. One article we
posted last year described a single city in Japan that had over 150
for-profit companies doing specifically robotics research, not including
the many research facilities of schools and government. I can't think of
in the US with that level of research going on. Robotics research in
Japan is at the level of the Apollo moon program in US in 1960s.
So, I guess this article just doesn't seem that controversial. Sadly,
conscenus of many researchers in many countries right now is that the US
is losing it's edge and falling behind in many fields, not just robotics.
Maybe they're wrong. I don't want it to be true. I'd like the US to
be the leader
science. But I think I'd be doing a disservice if we only posted
articles I agree with or only articles that support what I wished were
true. And, if you disagree, that's why we can post discussions
under the articles and write blogs here - so you can tell us we've
posted a stupid article. ;-)