close this bookVolume 1: No. 11
View the documentOpportunities -- NSF position; research jobs
View the documentConference -- AI applications
View the documentDiscussion -- Japanese labs
View the documentDiscussion -- corporate cultures
View the documentDiscussion -- computer-industry layoffs

Ron Gershon (gershon@vis.toronto.edu) tells me that Matsushita owns Panasonic Technologies (a U.S. company), and that Richard Lipton is the contact person in both sets of ads. It seems that there is only one lab, ITL in Princeton, NJ.

Mark Weiser (mark_weiser.parc@xerox.com) forwarded a message from Hector Garcia-Molina. Hector, Rafael Alonso, Kai Li, and Richard Lipton have taken leave from Princeton University to start the computer-science research lab. It will eventually have about 40 people, half with doctorates. The university and CS department are supportive, and ITL hopes to initiate joint projects. Early plans were to have one initial project in hardware architecture, another in databases and distributed computing. Open publication is planned.

Mark sees a strong parallel with the Xerox PARC labs. Lab managers ("area managers") are autonomous and can shift direction radically, spend money, get grants, hire, etc., without prior approval. A lab is 30-70 people (Mark's is about 50). The new Japanese-funded labs are all smaller, around 20-30 final size, so perhaps autonomy and lack of defined projects is not unusual.

The Japanese have always mined information and technology whenever they could, and they have paid for research by U.S. consulting firms such as SRI. (Often they have the same research done at multiple sites, here and in Japan, to increase the chance of success.) They've now discovered that top scientists are cheaper as employees than as consultants, and have found a way (other than enrolling students) to link with our universities. If they get some patents from this, it is their legitimate due for supporting U.S. researchers.

If there is a problem, it seems to be entirely with the failure of U.S. industry to support similar labs. Our government can't force U.S. industry to be competitive, and industry sees research as a cost rather than a profit center. Why should they support basic research if they can get a better return from investments, then license basic technology from the Japanese?

I'm afraid that much of our problem is optimism. Each company believes that its industry will survive (through protective legislation if necessary), and each believes that it can do as well as its U.S. competitors. Most of our high-tech companies are not aggressive in foreign markets -- partly because of U.S. bans on technology export -- and most are not sufficiently wary of foreign companies taking over the U.S. market.

There is also a personal optimism. Executives from finance and marketing (or from MBA programs) are trained to run any company. If one high-tech company were to fail, or even an industry, the executives would find work elsewhere. There is little personal incentive to ensure the long-term future of a company, whereas there is great pressure to build a good resume (and personal fortune) through short-term maximization.

The good news is that small business is alive and well. Most entrepreneurs have a long-term outlook, identifying strongly with their businesses. The bad news is that entrepreneurs seldom have the capital to hire scientists or to compete in high-tech markets. Perhaps the lesson is that we must work for the Japanese or work for ourselves.