Thomas Hughes, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania and chair of the National Research Council’s study on the funding of the computer revolution, is afraid that the influx of corporate dollars and the trend toward applied research will prevent the monumental breakthroughs that characterized the computer revolution. “It is extremely important that universities have freedom to choose what projects to pursue and are not tied down to work on product-line improvements,” he says. “But I’m afraid that’s not the way a company would look at it.”
In private conversation, university heads complain about the constraints industry funding places on the school and that corporate dollars compromise academia’s ability to find the next big breakthrough. “I see this as a problem, a serious problem,” says Hughes. “Industry should look for talented researchers and have faith.”
Unfortunately, as Hughes accepts, that probably won’t happen. DARPA’s (Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency) budget is staying right around $2 billion for the foreseeable future, and the struggling economy forces industry to show a return for their buck. And the surest way to do that is with applied research.