Posts Tagged ‘Research and Development’

David Graeber on the space race

September 23, 2014

It’s often said the Apollo moon landing was the greatest historical achievement of Soviet communism.  Surely, the United States would never have contemplated such a feat had it not been for the cosmic ambitions of the Soviet Politburo.  [snip]

The American victory in the space race meant that, after 1968, U.S. planners no longer took the competition seriously.  As a result, the mythology of the final frontier was maintained, even as the direction of research and development shifted away from anything that might lead to the creation of Mars bases and robot factories.

The standard line is that all this was a result of the triumph of the market.  The Apollo program was a Big Government project, Soviet-inspired in the sense that it required a national effort coordinated by government bureaucracies. 

As soon as the Soviet threat drew safely out of the picture, though, capitalism [supposedly] was free to revert to lines of technological development more in accord with its normal, decentralized, free-market imperatives—such as privately funded research into marketable products like personal computers.  [snip]

In fact, the United States never did abandon gigantic, government-controlled schemes of technological development.  Mainly, they just shifted to military research—and not just to Soviet-scale schemes like Star Wars, but to weapons projects, research in communications and surveillance technologies, and similar security-related concerns.

To some degree this had always been true: the billions poured into missile research had always dwarfed the sums allocated to the space program.  Yet by the seventies, even basic research came to be conducted following military priorities.

One reason we don’t have robot factories is because roughly 95 percent of robotics research funding has been channeled through the Pentagon, which is more interested in developing unmanned drones than in automating paper mills.

via Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit – The Baffler.

The Pentagon and American R&D

April 26, 2012

The U.S. Department of Defense designated the STC Center at Canandaigua, a branch of New York State University at Albany, as a “trusted foundry” for nanotechnology, the Democrat and Chronicle reported this morning.

Nanotechnology creates devices that operate at the molecular and cellular level.  It is a crucially important technology of the future, and has applications for medicine, electronics and much else.  It is good that the Pentagon sees the importance of supporting this domestic industry, and it is good that it has the freedom to invest in U.S. technology.

A great many important technologies have come out of U.S. military research and development, including nuclear energy, the Internet and robotics technology.  Still, I have misgivings about the military orientation of American R&D.   What happens to our R&D if the United States no longer finds itself engaged in perpetual warfare, and we cut out military down to the size of other great powers?