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New Russian Science City Modeled On Silicon Valley 213

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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  • Five Year Plan (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PeterBrett ( 780946 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @01:49AM (#31842194) Homepage

    Well, I hope that this centrally-dictated economic activity works better than the 20th century ones did.

  • biggest challenge (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ridgecritter ( 934252 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:02AM (#31842254)
    They have intelligence and creativity. Their biggest challenge will be isolation from the corruption that seems endemic to Russia in this time. Corruption is pure poison to economic systems intended to be based on merit in markets. Like adding >300% to your company's do you compete, even with fantastic ideas/tech?
  • Silicon Valley (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rapsey ( 241302 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:06AM (#31842270)

    Was never built. It grew.

  • Re:Five Year Plan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:08AM (#31842276)

    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.

  • by EEPROMS ( 889169 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:11AM (#31842298)
    putting a group if geeks in one spot and throwing money at it wont work, the Japanese did the same and it failed miserable. You have to have not only bright scientists but people who know how to manage and sell the ideas that are created by these people. Im an ideas man in my company but I will be the first to admit without good assistance from those around me I would have given up on many of my concepts within the first hour.
  • Achilles heel (Score:2, Insightful)

    by copponex ( 13876 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:15AM (#31842314) Homepage

    A major defect of capitalism is that it will tend to cater to the lowest common denominator. If everyone invests in the idea that science (evolutionary bioengineering, alternative energy development, vaccines, space exploration) is bad, then the whole economy and culture is going to go south pretty quickly. When China owns the factories and the intellectual property, things won't be looking so good.

    And if Palin and Huckabee end up bickering over which day should be Jesus Day, all I can say is, good game America. It was fun while it lasted.

  • by Trepidity ( 597 ) <delirium-slashdot.hackish@org> on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:41AM (#31842392)

    Has anyone written about why agriculture was so different from other areas? It seems like an interesting thing to investigate. Was it just because Lysenko was personally powerful? Or because it didn't lend itself to solid, hard-to-fudge experimentation as easily? Or did similar things happen in other areas? My impression is that in physics, math, astronomy, and chemistry, Soviet research was considered top-notch, even by the west.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @02:42AM (#31842400)

    No true scotsmialism.

  • Re:I ask you... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:05AM (#31842470)
    Troll? What kind of a sad boring idiot are you to have never played bioshock? How can you not see the hilarious similarity?
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:16AM (#31842516) Homepage

    It's not a silly idea. Russia is positioning itself as an "energy power", and energy projects need heavy industrial infrastructure. The USSR was good at that.

    Fusion would be a good goal. Or thorium reactors. That's a problem that may yield to organized, determined effort and money. The USSR still has a big nuclear program, and resources to draw upon.

  • by S3D ( 745318 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @03:21AM (#31842542)
    or place to sit. It's hindered by widespread corruption and still quite criminalized economy. Tax breaks will be used for tax evasion by unrelated businesses and grants will be stolen by corrupted officials. Right now high-tech, which is by its nature quite transparent and vulnerable for extortion can not compete with different shady and semi-shady businesses. The way to grow hi-tech in Russia is not to pour money into it, but clean corruption from the government, especially local authorities. Do it and high-tech will flourish without any outside interventions.
  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:06AM (#31842686) Homepage Journal

    This will be another manner, in which government money will be pumped into the pockets of the government officials.

    It has been proposed by the government there that in order to 'promote' innovation, the firms, who will be allowed to enter the zone will be selected by government officials. In the zone they will not have to pay taxes I think but the most important aspect of this is that whoever is in the zone will be getting government contracts WITHOUT any competition. So that tells you everything you need to know about what will happen. The firms selected will be the ones close to the government officials selecting them and they will get the contracts for any 'innovations', which in reality will not promote any innovation, except one type of innovation: an easier way to siphon money for the politicians and their friends/relatives/people with the right attitude towards doing business, if you know what I mean.

  • Re:Five Year Plan (Score:3, Insightful)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @05:04AM (#31842876)

    The whole country needs some sort of breakthrough,' says Viktor F. Vekselberg, the Russian business oligarch appointed co-director of the project.

    The new boss, same as the old boss.

    Silicon valley was not a government project. And starting a state run program to create what happened spontaneously elsewhere in an environment where competition and markets prevailed is doomed to failure.

    Great way to build a moon rocket or a hydroelectric Dam, and to copy other technology, but hardly the way to spark creativity and new inventions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @05:27AM (#31842972)

    I have an IT background and a decade of experience working with/for Russian government IT-related agencies.

    There're several cities in Russia with strong academic traditions which were the analogue of Silicon Valley during Soviet times (Novosibirsk is the best known of all).
    There're cities near Moscow which even have high-tech-production infrastructure (Zelenograd, a "microchip city" of Soviet times) - they are not being used.

    What government does is building "Silicon Valley" in a empty field near Moscow - easier to launder money this way.

    I'm willing to bet a thousand bucks that there are only three possible outcomes:

    1) 90% of funding laundered to offshore banks, 10% is spent on administrative expenses (shiny sport cars for management), project is silently closed and written off;

    2) 90% of funding laundered to offshore banks, 10% is spent on administrative expenses (shiny sport cars for management), scape goat it found and publicly spanked (but not too hard), project is closed and written off;

    3) 90% of funding laundered to offshore banks, 5% is spent on administrative expenses (shiny sport cars for management), 5% is spent to build a couple of buildings and hire 10 scientific-looking guys. They are made into media stars to show how great new "Silicon Valley" is. Project is declared a huge success. After a year the funding is cut, project is silently closed and written off.

    There's no other possible outcome given the amount of corruption in Russia and this government track record.

  • by rhakka ( 224319 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @07:07AM (#31843362)

    ability to coerce is *not* the only difference between a private and a public organization.

    First, you disregard any ability by the people to decide anything through socialism, that is.. democracy. so while you may consider the participation of the minority "coercion", such as your paying taxes for a road system, it's not coercion without any feedback loop. so in fact to call it coercion is a bit disingenuous. You could just as easily call it "group decisionmaking". especially under a more ideal democratic system, since we're dreaming up a theoretical situation here.

    Secondly, efficiency is not the key element that is important in research. research is, almost by definition, inefficient. it requires an organization to blindly spend money to achieve an unnamed benefit. that will never happen for long under a private enterprise specifically because it is inefficient, and there will always be more efficient and sure ways to generate a return on investment than a capital-holding entity can capitalize on. examples abound in this very discussion.

    note that's research, not development. but even development is constrained by apparent market value instead of public good. So, for example, drugs to treat elective illnesses experienced by the rich receive preferential attention from for-profit drug manufacturers (Viagra, hair loss) instead of actual cures for illnesses that may be much more severe but either less widespread or primarily among poor populations. "Inefficient" development could and does still yield better outcomes for public good.

    The free market caters to money, not people. "Efficiency" is simply code for "best financial return". But those two concepts are not truly synonymous, and in research, it's not a core value. It's not even a particularly important one. If you want to figure out how to make the Widget X that everyone needs, the free market is good for that IF there is a return on investment in financial terms.

    what's good for capital is not always what is best for people. especially when fewer and fewer people hold more and more of the capital, as has been the progression here in america, at least, for the last 50 years.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @08:01AM (#31843540) Homepage Journal

    If the next Google is founded there and their yearly income is measured in billions, do you think Russian regulators will still extol the virtues of tax holidays?

    They'd most likely change the tax laws retroactively, send you a huge bill (plus penalties, plus interest, plus interest on the penalties) totalling ten times the entire world's GNP[1], seize the company and then sell it in an open auction with only one bidder who happens to be one of Putin's puppets.

    If you're lucky.

    [1] GGP?

  • Russian Tradition? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Poodleboy ( 226682 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @08:58AM (#31843864)

    The "Russian tradition of building secret towns?" Towns like Oak Ridge, TN, or Los Alamos, NM, or Hanford, WA, maybe? Explain again how this project is doomed to fail as a government effort to make a technological leap. On the contrary, our own experience is great success doing this sort of thing. Nor is this an American peculiarity--the Germans very successfully built an entire town at Peenemunde to develop and construct V-2 rockets. In fact, here in America we capitalized on this success by moving its authors, notably Werner von Braun, to Huntsville, AL where we created yet another failed government experiment to land men on the moon...

    I'm thinking that people should read a bit less Ayn Rand science fiction and a bit more actual history.

  • by ( 1284676 ) on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @09:25AM (#31844056)

    Relax, they do not hope to create a new Silicon Valley. They are not that dumb. Putin, for one, is pretty smart guy and he knows it's not going to work. It's not the first time, you know. There were a host of other so called 'national projects' before this. (Nanotechnology, anyone?) What this really is a way to siphon government money into private pockets of government officials, create some impression of work they do, and boost morale and pride of the general populace as a bonus side effect. It's much easier, you know, than address and fix the real problem -- total corruption of every government institute, starting from traffic patrol and all the way up the president himself.
    We've been there, seen that. Nothing new, really... Move along, people -- just another day in Russia....

  • Wait 30 years... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @09:47AM (#31844246)

    If Russia gets a Silicon Valley, it will be one of those previous science cities or failed attempts. The real genesis of Silicon Valley was government funded folks getting trained and introduced to things like radio communications and radar during and after the two world wars, then having the apron strings cut and finding their own work in the civilian world. A few of those folks nucleated new groups that tinkered on consumer product ideas, and the valley was born.

    The part the government played was in educating a wider range of people in technical topics, and in triggering development on cheap land near military bases and port cities that had already filled with more traditional business and industry.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 14, 2010 @04:55PM (#31849790)

    The 1 key ingredient in Silicon Valley's success that I haven't seen mentioned is the Universities. Part of the reason Silicon Valley happened where it did was the proximity to Stanford, UC Berkeley and, to a lesser extent, UC Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and a few other local universities. Many of the big companies in the area either started as research projects at the various schools or were started by graduates of those schools who stayed in the area after college. And the companies in the area benefit from a constant supply of new graduates who are intelligent, well-trained and able to put in long hours for lower pay.

    Without designing in multiple world-class universities, you won't be able to replicate what happened in Silicon Valley.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.