It sounded so very hopeful, and I heard it on KPFK's "Digital Village," a good source in general for what's hot in the digital memesphere. Perhaps in response to the Progressive X-Prise for the first production car to excede 100mpg, the feds have launched a whole slew of challenges in all kinds of areas, with prizes and publicity to entice people to think of new solutions.
One of these challenges immediately attracted my attention: the Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize http://challenge.gov/DOE/43-bright-tomorrow-lighting-prize
The problems, however, that are perhaps unavoidable within the GovCo mindset, were almost immediately apparent. It took me severl minutes to ferrit out where to find the actual specs for the prize. From that point on, the further I explored, the more depressing it became. Right from the beginning of the manual for applying:
"A1) A majority A majority (≥75% by count) of the LED die or chip, defined as the solid-state semiconductor material that converts electrical energy directly into light, must be manufactured in the United States. or
A2) The LED must be packaged in the United States. Packaged LED (also known as an LED device) refers to an assembly of one or more LED dies possibly including the mounting substrate, encapsulant, phosphor if applicable, electrical connections, and optical components along with thermal and mechanical interfaces.
A3) A majority (
≥75% by subsystem and assembly cost) of the final product assembly/integration must be carried out within the United States. This includes all of the applicable: final assembly of the LED die or chip, packaged LED, optics, heat sink or cooling components, and driver and electronics.
≥75% by count) of the LED die or chip, defined as the solid-state semiconductor material that converts electrical energy directly into light, must be manufactured in the United States."
How utterly ridiculous. Are we now back in the mercantilist era? (More properly, maybe, did we ever really leave?) I suspect, in addition, that this requirement flies in the face of fair trade treaties that the U.S. is signatory to. When goods don't cross borders, guns do...
Sigh.... Only the feds could generate such nonsense...
Sadly they aren't even addressing the real issue from the start. The issue is not providing x lumens per watt - it's allowing people to see. In Vinge's "Rainbows End," people of the future (about 25 years hence) are almost all "wearing," meaning typically having interactive smart contacts that mediate and overlay natural vision, so that drop down displays, virtual presence (via patching into someone else's wearables or a local "node"), expert advise and searching matched to your own requirements, and completely altering the perceived reality are the norm.
Now, where I work, the company sells CCTVs that can amplify existing light, even mere starlight, to the point that it looks like a daylit scene, and AI processing controls the amplification so that everything - dark or light - is properly lit. This is not new tech, as you probably know, but it keeps getting better at an unbelieveable pace, probably double Moore's law for the past several years. In Vinge's world, the wearables can do the same thing.
So, if the challenge really addressed the fundamental issues, then I can describe a system that is very nearly off the shelf that would solve the problem on the human end. Vinge's tech is still a couple decades off, but knowing that the endpoint exists is actually sufficient to plot critical paths and see what the intervening tech will look like - that is, before MS or other corporate vultures buy it up before we ever see it.
For example, one obvious product that I've been waiting for for several years now is a lightweight HMD for cellphones. Originally, back in the '80's, I was thinking in terms of a HMD for computers, both stationary and laptop, and I still have a pair of the original "I-Glasse" that are unfortunately too low res for serious computing, altho they would actually match the output screen specs for many of the existing smartphones.
A reasonably priced, lightweight HMD for the smartphones would be an obvious instant success. Imagine overlays like the little dogs, etc., or drop-downs, that you could see in 3D, mapped right onto the visual scene. That's doable today and only really lacks the interface to dump the screen video, etc., to the HMD. So, here's a thought...
How about a WiFi HMD that could read and interpret the Cell output, likely with some handshaking from the Cell side? The coupling of a smartphone, able to interpret what it "sees" via the onboard camera and an HMD jumps us much closer to Vinge's future.
Now, as to lighting, I'm not going to give away my own critical ideas on it, but consider that in Vinge's Rainbows End, people rarely needed any additional lighting at home or anywhere else. Forget the flashlight when your contacts amplify the existing light to make a dark room bright as day. That's still years or decades off, but there is related tech that would easilly beat the specs for the Light prize.
Here's some more of my so-far unedited ranting in an email to a friend:
Interesting site. I've long thought that one part of the solution to the intellectual property issue would be a private contract between developers and the general public. If you signed up, then you would agree to only buy products that came under the private pattent, either from the original manufacturer or from a licensed alternate. Patent holders would be required to allow alternate manufacturers but at a rate of say 10% per unit manufactured. So, anyone could step in and produce or sell the product, but they would have to pay 10% of the selling price to the patent holder.
One obvious problem would be that then someone could step in and offer the product for free, as MicroSoft did with Explorer, thus reducing the incentive to improve beyond that point, which is exactly the impact that Explorer had on the browser market, and the reason that all the browsers are ten years behind where they should be in terms of what they can do. 10% of $zero is what?
On the other end, if you made the competition sell on the basis of a 10% fee of the OEM market price, then that would allow the OEM or patent holder to jack up the price. Normally the supply/demand curve crossover point that Rothbard describes in "Power and Market" would apply, as it naturally maximizes the profit, but then you could get people like Jeremy Rifkin who would take out patents purely in order to ensure that a particular kind of product would never be made. Or, possibly manufacturers who had a large vested interest in a particular technology, such as Apple or MicroSoft regarding their respective OS's, would buy up any patents that threatened their hegemony. I wonder how many software patents have simply disappeared down the memory hole that way already.
A case in point was a system - "Firefly" - that I beleive was originally prototyped at MIT and then a private group purchased the rights to it and produced an actual product that for a year or two was extremely popular, allowing people to match up with similar people on a very wide spectra of characteristics. Like the Amazon - "If you like this..." - which I think is probably based on the Firefly pattent, meaning that they are paying MicroSoft, which bought up Firefly and then shut it down for the purpose of doing just that - selling bits and pieces to various venders, giving them the leverage to halt any real competition in its tracks, like when they were requireing their vendors to toe the line or lose access to MS products.
I'm still thinking about how to deal with this problem, which applies particularly to pure intellectual goods, such as music, novels, etc., but would also involve hardware or combined products, such as cars with smart operating systems on board. A pirate manufacturer could step in - as demonstrated by the automotive knock-offs produced in China - and claim that they owed nothing for the software that ran everything and constituted 90% of the actual value, because they were providing it for free and only charging for the hardware.
In theory, one could use a guild model, in which all entries were vetted by a crew of "experts" who would have final say as to what a pattent holder could legitimately charge or what kind of shenanigans on the other end would be allowed. However, that would likely run head-on into the anti-trust laws today. However, such a model would allow for people who were not signatories to buy competitive products which lacked the Guild stamp of approval - like buying appliances without the UL seal of approval. (end of first email)
(Start of 2nd email)
Actually, I never got to what I intended to say - many people think that of me
in general, but they're WRONG - and the price of radishes in Tajikistan proves
it, damn it! Oh, wait...
The idea of the challenge prizes, regardless of how brain-damaged the feds
attempt actually turns out to be (like it appears that they have coached the
serious prizes in a way that only a major corporate entity could even make an
entry that passed all their tests - and of course no corporate entity would EVER
stoop to pre-setting the tests to match their capabilities, now would they?) is
an interesting one. Suppose people bid on solutions to problems? The
bids might somehow give them a discount on the final solution. The other
participants might agree as a condition of competing for the prize that they
would not compete with the winner - or only under specified terms - for some
period of time, allowing the capital to concentrate where most likely to produce
Yesterday I heard an extended series of interviews with Chinese industrial
leaders on NPR. Seems that the Chinese made a deal with Mitsubishi (I think) to
acquire the technology to do their own bullet train, which runs about 300+mhr,
making it the fastest bullet on the globe. They aren't stopping there, however,
with a 500+kph train in the works. The two interesting points were not the
train itself, but the fact that they started virtually from scratch - a
knock-off motorcycle manufacturer - to having a running prototype, completely
re-engineered from the Japanese specs, and an unbelievably enormous assembly
line up and running in 3 years, and apparently they stole the technology somehow
from the Japanese, in some way reneging on their contractual obligations to them
in the tech purchase.
In part this reflects the huge surplus of young engineers in China today. Many
of them cannot get jobs at all, so they jump at the opportunity to work 80-hour
weeks for a pittance. What caused pause, of course, is that such a project
could never get off the ground in the U.S. of today - and that means anywhere
else, except China. When was it that the Chinese were supposed to catch up with
That started me thinking about something else. Retirement as a national
liability. With every nation playing mercantilist games with their currencies,
etc., those countries, regardless of economic track record, that have huge
unfunded liabilities, such as Social Security and crippling public pension
funds, are going to find themselves priced right out of the market, as in "Snow
Buying a product with the Guild stamp would mean that you had a standing in court if the product failed disasterously that might not apply or be enforceable against a non-guild producer.
to be continued...