March 02, 2008

Science, its not part of economics

The Australia 2020 summit is a great idea, but at the same time it goes to show why Australia isn't a great country for developing revolutionary technologies or making breakthroughs in science. There are 10 special interest groups in australia2020, and not one of them dedicated to Science/Technology. Sure it is within the scope of the Economics interest group, but only in the context of keeping and attracting highly skilled people - and throwing more money at them, the economics solution, isn't going to cut it.

This illustrates a fundamental problem within Australia - the economics driven agenda. We are not willing to do science for science's sake, nor develop technology which don't yield economic returns. Our universities are ran like businesses, responding to what business of today want, not what the world of tomorrow demands. As a result, most of what we do is refine current methods and ideas to increase the bottom line. Short term economic gain rules our thinking, blinding us to the shining prospects in the future.

No one body can be blamed for this. It is a fundamental attitude that needs to be changed from the bottom-up. Our government and universities needs to fund projects and courses that are revolutionary, support educators who are willing to explore new ideas and directions, and not merely respond to economics developments around the world, but act decisively to anticipate future trends.

An example of anticipating the future is MIT's Centre for Bits and Atoms. They are not reacting to the digital divide, but anticipating that it will heal itself and acting to anticipate a future where everyone has access to the internet and what it means for personal fabrication. To this end they have facilitated the development of fab-labs where one can make almost anything by manufacturing custom parts in one-off quantities. This is the kind of revolutionary technology Australia needs to nurture and develop in order to become a country to scientists flock.

Until then, we can only hope that those chosen for the economics specialty group realise this also, and push for an Australia whose science and technology centres are places where the future is built, not just places to making better mouse traps.