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The Challenge Prizes
Published on September 21, 2010 By Phil Osborn In US Domestic

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.

or

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:

http://challenge.gov/faq#a1

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
real results.

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
the U.S.?

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
Crash."


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...

 


Comments
on Sep 22, 2010

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.

What???!!!! Are you totally out of your mind? This is humor, right?

on Sep 22, 2010

MasonM

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.
What???!!!! Are you totally out of your mind? This is humor, right?

I think he means Internet Explorer. And I would not go so far as to say 10 years, but when they killed Netscape, browser innovation came to a halt for a few years.  Before firefox and others started to race past IE and show us what good competition is made of.

I use IE8 at home, IE7 at work.  But my browser of choice is Firefox.  It is just so much better (and even when it crashes, it restores your tabs).  I think Microsoft has a lot of work to do to catch up.  They still have the annoying bug of when it gets "tired" it "blows" your screen up so that you cannot even see any other program (if you can blindly kill the process, you do not have to cold boot the machine - not always doable).

on Sep 22, 2010

There is much positive to be said about the open-source freeware market, and FireFox is certainly a good example.  However, the browser capabilities of today are puny compared to the Xanadu model.  I had worked out my own version of hypermedia by about 1979, and when I discussed it with a friend who was a top-notch AI programmer, he sent me the IEEE 17 pg. summary of hypermedia as well as mentioning that I might want to look up Xanadu.

That IEEE summary of hypermedia, its nature and projected capabilities, from the late '70's surpassed anything we have for a browser today.  The only software I've seen (and I'm sure that there must be other examples) that came close to matching that model was the OpCode music software for the Mac.  Basically, you built programs out of plugging together function objects, drawing a line to indicate output and input to the next filter or processor object, or opening up an object to reveal the subobjects that you could manipulate and alter.  When you had a little object machine working, you collapsed it into an icon and treated it as a blackbox processor for the next step. 

I watched a guy at the 1990 CyberArts Conference in Los Angeles built little music generating machines that way in literally minutes.  And the music for the movie "Kafka" was created by the software entirely in OpCode on a Mac.  I watched the guys who did it add the music to a music-deleted version of the movie on the fly at the '91 or '92 CyberArts.

A browser should offer you the capability of writing functions within the browser that call various information services - like your broker, for example - download the information you want, filter it against whatever criteria you set, alert you at your cellphone on the basis of trigger points that you have set, and meanwhile automatically search the web for stories or info matching your needs.  That's just one example that I assumed would be coming with a universal worldwide information system back in the '70's. 

And, yes, I know that there is dedicated software that does these things, but, like the browsers - even FireFox - for the general public, these are black boxes that they only use within the constraints and options that the programmers provide.

The problem is the philosophy that the corrupt intellectual property market has engendered.  Like the pre-revolution France that Francis Fukayama discusses in "Trust," we are approaching a situation in which the players gaming the intellectual property market will create a disaster that makes the current recession (which that federal panel assures us is OVER, in case you somehow missed that news) look like a dropped ice cream cone. 

When no company can move forward without first paying off five dozen intellectual property claims, bogus or real, progress will stop, except in China, where lip service will be given to intellectual property, but only those out of political favor will be busted, while those "aristocrats of pull" - as Ayn Rand put it - will gleefully steal every proprietary idea out there.  While the U.S. is tied in knots over intellectual property suits, they will grab it all.  But, being inherently reckless and overreaching, those same players will take China itself right over the cliff.

On a side note, but related: How is it that only today are we finding out why the Titanic sank?  How is it that we only found out why the Hindenburg burned a few years ago?  Why is it that the iToy on the PlayStation does not allow the user to write their own programs, as was available on the Mandala or CyberScape projective VR systems of the '80's?  

Control of information.  It rots the spirit.  Once you go down that path, it seeps into everything you and your organization or business does.  The Titanic sank because two persons were not properly trained and the fault was covered up to avoid liability suits.  The Hindenburg burned because the NAZIs owned the company and their own endemic corruption led to a coverup of the fact that they had basically coated the envelope fabric with rocket fuel.  Nobody wanted to take responsibility - knowing what would happen to them, so the critical information was buried.

And Sony should OWN the gaming market with the tech base they have, but they apparently never thought that users might want to create their own games or utilities, such as a pet training feedback loop using the iToy.  Why did this not occur to them as a natural, instead of locking up the development market to only select registered developers?

The patent and copyright system that we have is fueling the very corruption of the mind and spirit that leads to that kind of blindness.  At some point in this scenario, knowledge becomes a liability, and then we are truly doomed. 

Thank our lucky stars that we have at least a few players on our side, such as Google.  Google's App developer products are aimed right at the heart of the evil.  You go, Google!

 

 

on Sep 23, 2010

A browser should offer you the capability of writing functions within the browser that call various information services -

I understand your point and disappointment.  But I think we have a "failure to communicate" here (not your failure, but a failure of technocrats).  "Browsers" should be "read only" - build a good one to read the web, not run programs.  But then there should be a second class of web utilities that do exactly what you say.

The reason is not technical, but people.  Too many just do not know enough to practice safe surfing, and too many also know how to get those who do not know.  With a read only browser, that would be eliminated for some (some would figure it out and bypass it thus infecting themselves repeatedly).

I have a screwdriver AND a hammer.  I fail to see why we cannot have multiple tools on the web as well.

on Sep 29, 2010

It is just so much better (and even when it crashes, it restores your tabs).

IE 8 does that as well.

on Sep 29, 2010

Nitro Cruiser

It is just so much better (and even when it crashes, it restores your tabs).
IE 8 does that as well.

Once bitten and twice shy.  I found my thrill on Firefox hill......

I may use IE8, but MS is going to have to prove their love to me.

on Oct 05, 2010

may use IE8, but MS is going to have to prove their love to me.

So waiting for one open-mouthed kiss from MS. Hopefully Windows 8 won't just feel you up!

on Oct 05, 2010

Nitro...

How often do you go to the dentist?

No, really, NPR ran an interview with a guy who headed some medical analysis group that looked at dentistry.  They gave dental xrays to different dentists - and - guess what?

The different dentists found different cavities.  Only about a 50% overlap...

It gets better.  It turns out that dentists who both charge extra and cause the most pain, regardless of actual outcome have the longest and - by the patient's evaluation - most positive relationships with their patients.  People apparently retrospectively assign a value in accordance with the cost in dollars and pain, and thus stick with the worst of the worst.  And the dentists who "find" the most problems naturally make the most money.

So, don't you just LOVE Vista, or what?  For Windows 8, BTW, you have to cut off one of your fingers.  It's THAT GOOD!

on Oct 06, 2010

Oh, I'm not advocating for MS products, not by a long shot, just some friendly banter with DG. Vista, I have to say, never gave me any problems. I wasn't an early adopter (It came installed on two laptops in the house) so missed out on that fun. I did however have some things I could of lived without, but I wouldn't go as far to classifying it as "painful".

I did however adopt Win 7 early (couldn't pass on the price) and both those Vista laptops are now using that OS. I like Win 7 a lot, so Win 8 will really have to WOW me (or come pre-installed on a new PC) to do an upgrade. Browsers... I'm just not that big of a Internet geek where a few milli seconds of load time matters. I put a lot more faith in a good clean connection, the app that gets one there is probably more of a personal taste issue

on Oct 06, 2010

but I wouldn't go as far to classifying it as "painful".

I would. But then I have to support it.

 

on Oct 06, 2010

I would. But then I have to support it

LOL

I don't... military passed on that one, still using XP (some 2000 as well, Win 7 is a possibility). I my personal playground I'm the only one playing with the toys, so few things get broken, but I feel for you DG.

on Oct 06, 2010

"For Windows 8, BTW, you have to cut off one of your fingers.  It's THAT GOOD!"

Nobody jumped for it.  Darn.

OK, here it is:

The slogan that you've already heard for years; the sales meme that you will never be able to forget.

"LETS EVERYBODY GIVE MICROSOFT THE FINGER!"

See? 

on Oct 07, 2010

Phil Osborn
"For Windows 8, BTW, you have to cut off one of your fingers.  It's THAT GOOD!"

Nobody jumped for it.  Darn.

OK, here it is:

The slogan that you've already heard for years; the sales meme that you will never be able to forget.

"LETS EVERYBODY GIVE MICROSOFT THE FINGER!"

See? 

I actually had not heard of the sales meme, so that is why your finger reference earlier went right over my head.  I am in tech, not sales.

on Oct 07, 2010

I am in tech, not sales.

Ditto

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