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New Russian Science City Modeled On Silicon Valley 213

Posted by kdawson
from the innograd-has-a-certain-ring-to-it dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Russia's rich scientific traditions and poor record of converting ideas into marketable products are both undisputed, cited as causes for the Soviet collapse and crippling dependence on mining and petroleum. Now the NY Times reports that the Russian government, hoping to diversify its economy away from oil, is building the first new scientific city since the collapse of the Soviet Union modeled, improbably, on Silicon Valley and jokingly referred to as Cupertino-2. 'The whole country needs some sort of breakthrough,' says Viktor F. Vekselberg, the Russian business oligarch appointed co-director of the project. 'The founding of the innovation city, in form and substance, could be a launching pad for the country as a whole.' The new town is intended to advance five scientific priorities — communications, biomedicine, space, nuclear power, and energy conservation — and to encourage cross-fertilization among disciplines. Property will not be owned, but rented, and the government will offer grants for scientists who struggle to find private financing. Once developed, the city is intended to incubate scientific ideas using generous tax holidays and government grants until the start-ups can become profitable companies. Its backers in government and the private sector describe it as an effort to blend the Soviet tradition of forming scientific towns with Western models of encouraging technology ventures around universities. 'In California, the climate is beautiful and they don't have the ridiculous problems of Russia,' says Andrey Shtorkh, publicist for the new venture, adding that to compete, Russia will form a place apart for scientists. 'They should be isolated from our reality.'"
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New Russian Science City Modeled On Silicon Valley

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  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:57AM (#31842232) Homepage
    Though I couldn't link to it now, several weeks ago I read an analysis of this plan that was rather pessimistic. Earlier Russian scientific communities were, for all the lip service paid to science, really dedicated to furthering atomic weaponry. There was never a great diversity of scientific exploration going on within them, and Russia thus has no experience with establishing communities that can actually create profitable technologies that will boost the country's economy.
  • Re:Five Year Plan (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cryacin (657549) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:57AM (#31842236)
    Science is one thing that if done right under socialism works best. I definitely do not promote a Socialist or Communist political environment as being overall good/bad/otherwise, merely that science does not have definite returns, and if it does, the timeframe is very rarely visible/correct on prediction.

    This means that generally there is too much risk for a commercial enterprise to indefinitely fund research into something that may or may not provide payoffs, and if it does, perhaps not into their current vehicles. I.e. fusion power may be discovered by a deep sea mining company, meaning that they would need to form a completely new company and structure.

    If science is a socialist thing, then it is about the research and the ability to do something, rather than the added complexity of having what you find to be applicable to your sponsor. This will definitely be an interesting space.
  • by rsborg (111459) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:27AM (#31842348) Homepage
    This article [paulgraham.com] says:

    I think you only need two kinds of people to create a technology hub: rich people and nerds. They're the limiting reagents in the reaction that produces startups, because they're the only ones present when startups get started. Everyone else will move.

    Personally, I think there need to realistically be three things, in proper order

    1. A place people like to live
    2. Universities
    3. Military and research installations

    These three conspire to attract rich people and nerds as the article states. That SUN (Stanford University Network), HP and Google are directly from Stanford, and that Oracle got it's start as a government project are quite good examples.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:38AM (#31842378)

    You are conflating the flaws of the early USSR (Stalin mania) with socialism. Socialism is not what that time in the USSR was, and even the Communist Party of the SU acknowledged that the time of Stalin left a lot to be desired.

    "Anti-Communism" and McCarthy's idea of being a patriotic citizen of the USA is the other example of ideological hysteria dressed up as keeping society afloat.

  • by AHuxley (892839) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:41AM (#31842398) Homepage Journal
    The Charm School was a 1988 thriller novel by Nelson DeMille.
    A training facility was set up in Russian so spies could be trained to infiltrate American society by living in a fake US town.
    Could copying/dreaming about/improving US communications, US biomedicine, Russian space hardware, Russian nuclear power, and EU/Asian energy conservation really geek up young Russians?
    Surly a picture of Putin with Alexander Lebed above the communal lab and the hint that Moscow U/city papers could be
    canceled if grades drop would be enough to motivate any young Russian.
    If your really really good, no Obama style City Year near Mayak for you :)
    Geeks and nerds like the free range freedoms of the USA not gilded gulags.
    Learn from China and send them to the USA and get them educated for free, then as they get homesick debrief them.
  • Re:Five Year Plan (Score:2, Interesting)

    by fpitech (1559147) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:17AM (#31842522)
    I think it's more about the death of basic research than private versus public funding. Companies nowadays don't want to invest in basic research because they are risky and long term investments. In my opinion, companies in general are rather investing in marketing and short-term projects that only rarely result in radical innovations, but are marketed as "innovative" despite not offering significant benefits compared to old products.
  • Re:Five Year Plan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mjwx (966435) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:35AM (#31842594)

    Yeah, it's interesting how much that's true even in the mainly capitalist US. The most significant private-sector research was at quasi-governmental regulated monopolies, like the heydey of Bell Labs. Most research these days ends up being funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, or similar government body. Certainly most fundamental research is: I don't know of any significant physics research that's come out of the private sector since the Bell Labs days.

    I think the operative words in the GP's post was "science done right under communism". A socialist agenda may be more conducive to this but I believe the operative term is still "done right".

    We need only look at the advances to come out of organisations like CSIRO in Australia or NASA in the US to see that government backed research yields good results in the long term. I'm certain there are dozens of other organisations we could name and this is before we look at the contributions of universities, which at least in Australia receive significant backing from the government.

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:40AM (#31842612) Journal

    Earlier Russian scientific communities were, for all the lip service paid to science, really dedicated to furthering atomic weaponry. There was never a great diversity of scientific exploration going on within them, and Russia thus has no experience with establishing communities that can actually create profitable technologies that will boost the country's economy.

    Another way of saying is just that they missed the IT train. But to dismiss their level in aeronautics, space, physics (tokamaks anyone ?) is a bit exaggerated. I think that through this plan they will try to come back on the IT scene and that they have good opportunities for that. We all know about the Russian hackers, it means that they have a wealth of capable and educated people there.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @05:36AM (#31843018) Homepage Journal

    Agricultural research != farming. GPP was talking about the former, and you jumped in with a rant about the latter ... or rather, used the latter as an excuse for an ideological threadjack. Nice move. It's too bad in a way that the Soviet Union isn't around any more, because people like you were highly employable there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @06:00AM (#31843144)

    You must also be extremely closed-minded as well as short on time...

    Oxford, Kingston, Cambridge, London Metropolitan University, University Of Greenwich, King's College London, Glasgow University, St Andrews and the Imperial College to name a few, are all famous Universities across the UK with thriving communities surrounding them. They are some of the best schools and universities in the world and Cambridge and Oxford are ranked 1 & 2 respectively for physics research here in the UK with a lot of interesting work being done at both.

    In what universe does the EU (or at least the UK) need to compete with Yale and Harvard?

    P.S. At least we do get ideas, instead of trying to make existing ones pay out for a few centuries... (Cheap shot, but who cares?)

  • by SolitaryMan (538416) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @08:03AM (#31843548) Homepage Journal

    As a programmer living in Russia I can tell you that nobody here believes in this plan. Forget the plan, nobody believes that intentions of this project are other than getting budget funds and sharing them among fellow "companies".

    Besides, this is not the first time (4rth, IIRC) the "Silicon Valley" is being built here, so nobody seems to give a crap anymore.

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @08:53AM (#31843836) Homepage

    The problem, however with government-funded basic research is the lack of useful applications. A centrally-funded scientist has no reason -at all- to convert his discovery into an actual invention, so this will generally not happen.

    Perhaps an example : in the 20th century cars were invented. The basic principle of the explosive engine, however, had long been demonstrated by "patronized" scientists (scientists working for royalty), and was generally well-known. Actual test explosion-based engines had rotated (a few times) 150 years before the invention of the car (granted, due to lack of useable fuel they weren't practical, but still. One such engine was built into some of the first machine guns).

    So it seems to me the answer is somewhere in the middle, on the one hand provide generous subsidies, on the other hand forcing scientists to go into the private sector. Perhaps a time limit on employment at universities would provide the right incentives ? Make it generous, say 16 years. But after 16 years, every cent of subsidy stops, and they have to find a private investor.

    The same problem poses itself in general problem solving. The time horizon that is a property of rational thought. What is rationally optimal for the next 3 seconds will generally be a very different beast from what is rationally optimal for the next 10 years. And, while perhaps only relevant for the catholic church and evolution, is radically different from rationally optimal stuff with a 500 year time horizon.

    Let's take global warming and having children, and compare the optimal actions depending on time horizons :
    3 seconds : optimal course is to ignore global warming, children are not even theoretically possible
    10 years : optimal course is to ignore global warming (except that it might relieve social pressures, or gain one power, but you cannot scientifically defend it), children are not advisable
    50 years : moderate actions to prevent global warming would seem to be rational. Children might be nice to have.
    100 years : large costs to prevent global warming seem justified, although one should also take into account that oil will be gone long before this time passes. In this time period, obviously it is absolutely essential to have sufficient children to carry on after you're dead. The more, the better.
    500 years : ignore global warming (after all, wel WILL run out of oil in less than 50 years, so what's the big hubhub all about ?). Instead, focus on lots of children, but keep in mind that the ideology must survive : so limit the amount of children high enough to expand, but low enough so that each can get a good education.

  • by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedy AT tpno-co DOT org> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @09:36AM (#31844140) Homepage

    'In California, the climate is beautiful and they don't have the ridiculous problems of Russia,' says Andrey Shtorkh, publicist for the new venture, adding that to compete, Russia will form a place apart for scientists. 'They should be isolated from our reality.'"

    While I certainly won't disagree that California seems to be isolated from everyone else's reality, I think he has it backwards in that scientists should be isolated. The hell they should! Scientists need to be in society to see what problems it faces and be inspired to find solutions for them. By isolating them, you are effectively removing some of the best stimulus available for them.

    Not only that, but the economy is the best way to determine the feasibility of a product. So what they've done here is to guarantee every crack pot scheme ( and face it, fellow scientists, we have a lot of them. Even if they seem AWESOME to us at the time, we do come up with some doosies ) gets an equal shake with a genuine idea.

    I don't see this ending well for them, but I hope I'm wrong.

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