Reporting from the OASIS6 Conference and Exhibition on Optics and Electro Optics in Tel Aviv, as part of the EPIC delegation to Israel, well-known professor, Alan Wilner, spoke at the opening session. His message was mainly about the US needing to be more strategic about investing in photonics (meaning government spending), and “transcending the individual.” He also pointed to Israel being a prominent of example of the way it supposedly should be accomplished in the States.
Yet, as the case with Singapore, Israel has derived a rather disproportionate amount of its technology from relatively large military expenditures. Certainly, there is nothing wrong in the private sector taking advantage of developments that have come about by a country exercising its legitimate role in protecting national security. Conversely, as we have noted in the past, government investment directly in optical technology development is usually counterproductive.
Last December, a Wall Street Journal article was titled, “The Economy’s Hidden Problem: We’re Out of Big Ideas”. The piece stated: “Economies grow by equipping an expanding workforce with more capital such as equipment, software and buildings, then combining capital and labor more creatively. This last element, called ‘total factor productivity,’ captures the contribution of innovation. Its growth peaked in the 1950s at 3.4% a year as prior breakthroughs such as electricity, aviation and antibiotics reached their maximum impact. It has steadily slowed since and averaged a pathetic 0.5% for the current decade.”
Regular followers of our daily blog were able to read our take on the piece: “[M]ost of the best scientists wind up working at universities and institutions that are funded by the US government. Before World War II, the amount of federal money going to scientific research was close to zero.”
This last point is particularly important because during that time the US became the largest economy by leading the industrial revolution. So, one should not want to take the best engineers away from the front lines of the private sector.
Interestingly, Wilner’s speech focused on the past regarding the long process of getting to the National Photonics Institute, the precursor to AIM Photonics. In all probability, there was not much to mention, other than PR spin.
During the week of OFC 2017, we look forward to asking some hard questions of executives at AIM Photonics. They will be appearing to provide an update at the OIDA Workshop on Manufacturing Trends for Integrated Photonics. One of our inquiries will involve getting an explanation as to why state and federal tax payers are funding something called, “AIM Photonics Academy.” This department has included keeping people working there busy by collecting survey data retrieved from the photonics industry with the main purpose of determining the education level of what seemed like an endless list of job skills.
Returning to Wilner, he indeed had a huge hand in the establishment of this institute. However, as with so many academics, he seems to be blind to the fact that despite all its significant imperfections, free market capitalism and the recognition of the fundamental rights of individuals has transformed the world in so many positive ways.
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[written by Mark Lutkowitz]