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In addition, "big science" projects tend to have engineering specs just outside what is possible when they are designed. LHC (and, before, LEP) have required faster electronics than existed at the time they were designed, efficient cryogenics, superconducting magnets, and so on. In that way, CERN drives technology development just like, say, the specs for the next generation of high-speed trains or the Shinkansen do. The same is true of NASA's plans for the next generation of space telescopes (including gravitational wave detectors).

So, big science drives technological developments in established fields, as well as occasionally resulting in new technology. [I distinguish two basic modes of technological progress: secular improvements in technology and new technologies - only the latter qualifies as "innovation" IMHO, and that is not predictable in the way that one can use, say, Moore's law when designing the specs of a computer system to be deployes 5 years in the future.]

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 06:03:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A bit off-topic, but the improvement/innovation distinction is another view I am rather sceptical about. If you zoom in on the 'improvements', you usually see the same picture again: Some of the improvements are seen as radical changes in the field itself, some still look as gradual improvements. Zoom in on the gradual improvements, same picture: what looks as gradual improvement from the outside, is unexpected innovation closer up.

I would argue it's innovation all the way through. Some improvements change a subfield, and from the outside it looks as gradual, expected improvement. Some change a field, and the outside world can notice it and say it's something fundamentally different.  

by GreatZamfir on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 07:07:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, actually, from the point of view of I/O models of the economy there's a distinction between whether an advance just changes the productivity/cost coefficients of the model, or changes its dimensionality by adding a new process or a new product.

The difference between the dynamical systems we are used to considering in physics and biological or economic evolution is the possibility of the system of differential/difference equations changing dimensionality in response to processes within the system itself.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 07:30:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would consider this more an artifact of the modelling than a fundamental point about reality. After all, how do you determine when a new product adds a dimension, or changes existing coefficients? As long as a product is perfect replacement of some existing product, only better along an existing axis, that's easy.

But in reality, new products/inventions, even improvements on existing ones, are usually not that simple. They add an extra dimension, more freedom to find better solutions to problems. But in a high-level, low dimensional description, this freedom can be collapsed into a change in parameters, or really added as extra dimension, if the effects are important enough.

Funny thing is, I am currently working on shape optimization, where it is completely natural to change the number of parameters used to describe the shape, and thus the dimension of the problem.

A related field is order reduction, where you try to (locally) approximate a physical phenomenon by its most important modes. If there is a change in the physics, you can either modify the modes, but keep the same number of them, or you might find that for the new situation more modes are required to describe it well enough.

I would suggest this is a good analogy for your innovation/improvement distinction

by GreatZamfir on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 08:07:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, a new dimension corresponds to a new manufacturing process, with different inputs. As long as there is substitutability you don't have "true" innovation.

I am familiar with dimension reduction (proper orthogonal modes, principal componets, factor analysis...) and you're right, at some level the number of variables is a matter of choice. But you still have to be able to close the system of equations. You can always ascribe the effect of all the neglected modes to "noise", though.

We have met the enemy, and he is us — Pogo

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Feb 22nd, 2008 at 03:10:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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