The internet is catalysing a revolution in the world of knowledge and information. As a result, the book printing industry is undergoing an extraordinary decline. The biggest reason for the decline is that the book publishing industry has failed to innovate with technology. As for the internet and the changes it is bringing, most experts think that the internet is still very much in its infancy, and much bigger changes are yet to come. We are going through a transition period right now which will be considered a dividing line. We will begin to see and discuss the world in terms of pre-internet and post-internet.
The internet has already transformed the way we do business. The global economy is increasingly moving online now. Global trade has increased as a direct result of the internet and associated technologies. In my view, the biggest power unleashed by the internet is that of competition – global competition. But another equally big change that is yet to come will be in the domains of science and research and development (R&D). Traditionally, new knowledge and science have been associated with universities. But these institutes served as gate-keepers holding “monopolies” on sciences, argues Terence Kealey in his book Sex, Science and Profits (William Heinemann Ltd, 2008). He is sceptical about the return on investment (ROI) regarding publicly funded science.
Governments pay for science because the sciences are considered a public good. The taxpayers are burdened with the bill. But Dr. Kealey, who is Vice-Chancellor of the only privately funded university in the UK, the University of Buckingham, argues that “science as a ‘public good’ is a bad policy and has done little benefit.” The point he raises is that most of the inventions and innovations have come from the private sector and not from the publicly funded institutes, i.e. universities. Publicly funded R&D has rendered little benefit, he strenuously and passionately argues.
Kealey’s book, Sex, Science and Profits, reminded me of those few books which try to open up a debate on an important topic that is never really discussed and debated. I must applaud Dr. Kealey’s courage as he has done a great service by opening up the debate. The truth is that you cannot have science unless you first have wealth. Kealey implicitly accepts that science is part and parcel of the Empire. Truth be told, science is a result of wealth, and wealth more often than not comes by plundering, therefore wealth is a result of the war. Kealey accepts that “universities grew out of national wealth, and not the other way round.”
It is not difficult to see then which is the more lucrative, science or war. Government funding for science is decreasing each year while funding for wars is increasing. However, we should expect a huge increase in new knowledge as the wars bring us the associated science and lavishly funded R&D. New ideas and new R&D visions will arise after the coming global upheaval is over and done with. There is no doubt that most human progress – innovation and invention – has occurred as a direct result of the war. One possible way to explain this is that war destroys the monopolies (which prevent our advance) and allows competition to take place.
Competition and challenges create the conditions in which innovation and inventions thrive. But creativity and inventiveness is only the first step. The newly created idea has to be sold. If you cannot sell the idea or if there are no buyers then the idea has no chance at all. It is the marketplace that decides whether the idea is as good as it is claimed to be. And having access to the marketplace is very important. One reason we do not see inventions and innovations coming from poor nations is that they do not have access to the Western markets. Inventors and innovators from the poorer nations find it impossible to globalise their ideas. The downside of publicly funded R&D in the Western nations is that it runs like an exclusive club and non-members are of course excluded. But the internet and associated technologies have begun demolishing the barriers and opened up competition.
In the post-internet world, we will see national borders virtually disappear. The economy thrives when there is mobility. We will, therefore, race ahead. I have written on this important topic in another article.
The title: THE LOGIC OF THE COMING GLOBAL UPHEAVAL
The URL: http://restoringthemind.com/the-logic-of-the-coming-global-upheaval/
In the post-internet world, we will see a new breed of entrepreneurs who will take R&D to an even higher level. Science will excel in the post-internet world. This will be due to the lowering of barriers and borders that will spur growth in the economy, which in turn will help the growth of science. As Kealey says, “where there is trade there will be entrepreneurs, and where entrepreneurs compete they will invest in the invention of better products, the better to undercut the competition.”
In the post-internet world, we will see a decline in the number of universities. Students will be studying from home and listening to the lectures online. The universities in the West are struggling to meet running costs and this trend is on the rise. So, I expect that many universities will disappear soon, sooner that one might think. The main task of universities always has been to mass-produce an educated workforce for the industry. But now education itself, like any other business, will move online. It’s simply more cost-effective. As for science, there is no question that R&D is critical to human progress and to our survival so it will flourish both in the remaining universities and in the private sector too. Government funding for education is essential and it will continue, including for higher education.
The book is highly valuable, accessible, well-structured and easy to read. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of funding of R&D and the history of inventions. Knowledge and the pursuit of knowledge are what defines the human condition, and this is the core of Kealey’s argument. I publish a few paragraphs from the book.