Locklin on science

Spotting vaporware: three follies of would-be technologists

Posted in Design, nanotech, non-standard computer architectures, Progress by Scott Locklin on October 4, 2010

When I was a little boy in the 70s and 80s,  I was pretty sure by the 21st century I’d drive around in a hovercraft, and take space vacations on the moons of Saturn. My idea of a future user interface for a computer was not the 1970s emacs interface that the cleverest people still use to develop software today, I’d just talk to the thing, Hal-9000 style. I suppose my disappointments with modern technological “advances” are the boyish me complaining I didn’t get my  hovercraft and talking artificial brain. What boggles me is the gaping credulity that intelligent people treat alleged developing future technologies now.

A vast industry of professional bullshit artists has risen up to promote and regulate technologies which will never actually exist. These nincompoops and poseurs are funded by your tax dollars; they fly all over the world  attempting to look important by promising to deliver the future. All they actually deliver is wind and public waste.  Preposterous snake oil salesmen launched an unopposed blitzkrieg strike on true science and technology during my lifetime. I suspect the scientific and technological community’s rich marbling with flâneurs is tolerated because they bring in government dollars from the credulous; better not upset anybody, or the gravy train might stop flowing!

While I have singled out Nano-stuff for scorn in an article I’d describe as “well received,” (aka, the squeals of the ninnies who propagate this nonsense were sweet music to my ears), there are many, many fields like this.

The granddaddy of them all is probably magnetic confinement nuclear fusion. This is a “technology” which has been “just 20 years in the future” for about 60 years now. It employs a small army of plasma physicists and technicians, most of whom are talented people who could be better put to use elsewhere. At some point, it must be admitted that these guys do not know what they are doing: they can’t do what they keep promising, and in fact, they have no idea how to figure out how to do it.

I think there is a general principle you can derive from the story of magnetic confinement fusion. I don’t yet have a snappy name for it, so I’ll call it, “the folly of plan by bureaucracy.” The sellers of such technology point out that it is not known to be impossible, so all you need do is shower them in gold, and they will surely eventually deliver. There are no intermediate steps given, and there is no real plan to even develop a plan to know if the “big idea” is any good. But they certainly have a gigantic bureaucratic organizational chart drawn up. The only time large bureaucracies can actually deliver specific technological breakthroughs (atom bombs, moon shots) is when there is a step by step plan on how to do it. Something that would fit in Microsoft project or some other kind of flow chart. The steps must be well thought out, they must be obviously possible using small improvements on current techniques, and have a strict timeline for their completion. If any important piece is missing, or there are gaping lacunae in the intermediate steps, the would-be technology is a fool’s mission. If there is no plan or intermediate steps given: this would-be technology is an outright fraud which must be scorned by serious investors, including the US government.

To illustrate this sort of thing in another way: imagine if someone shortly after the Bernouilli brothers asked the King for a grant to build a mighty aerostat which travels at 3 times the speed of sound. Sure, there is no physical law that says we can’t build an SR-71 … just the fact that 18th century technologists hadn’t invented heavier than air flight, the jet engine, aerodynamics, refined hydrocarbons, computers or titanium metallurgy yet. Of course, nobody in those days could have thought up the insane awesomeness of the SR-71; I’m guessing a science fiction charlatan from those days might imagine some kind of bird-thing with really big wings, powered by something which is thermodynamically impossible. Giving such a clown money to build such a thing, or steps towards such a thing would have been the sheerest madness. Yet, we do this all the time in the modern day.

A sort of hand wavey corollary  based again on fusion’s promises (or, say, the “war on cancer”), I like to call, “the folly of 20 year promises.” Bullshitters love to give estimates that allow them to retire before they’re discovered as frauds; 20 years is about long enough to collect a pension. Of course, a 20 year estimate may be an honest one, but I can’t really think of any planned, specific technological breakthrough developed by a bureaucracy over that kind of time scale, and I can think of dozens upon dozens which have failed miserably to the tune of billions of research dollars. What “20 years” means to me is,  “I don’t actually know how to do this, but I  wish you’d give me money for it anyway.”

A burgeoning quasi-technological field which is very likely to be vaporware is that of quantum computing. This pains me to say, as I think the science behind this vaporware technology is interesting. The problem is, building quantum gates (the technology needed to make this theoretical concept real) is perpetually always somehow 20 years off in the future. We even have a very dubious company founded, and in operation for 11 years. I don’t know where they get their money, and they manage to publish stuff at least as respectable as the rest of the QC field, but … they have no quantum computer. Granted, many in the academic community are attempting to keep them honest, but their continued existence demonstrates how easy it is to make radical claims without ever  being held to account for them.

David Deutsch more or less invented the idea of the quantum computer in 1985. It is now 25 years later, and there is still no quantum computer to be seen. I think Deutsch is an honest man, and a good scientist; his idea was more quantum  epistemology than an attempt to build a practical machine that humans might use for something. The beast only took on a bureaucratic life of its own after Peter Shor came up with an interesting algorithm for Deutsch’s theoretical quantum computers.

Now, let us compare to the invention of modern computers by John von Neumann and company in 1945.  Von Neumann’s paper can be considered a manual for building a modern computer. His paper described a certain computer architecture: one which had already been built,  in ways that made its mathematical understanding and reproduction relatively simple. Most computers in use today are the direct result of this paper.  I’d argue that it was engineering types like Hermann Goldstine and John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert who actually built digital electronic computers before von Neumann’s paper, who made the computer possible. In turn, their ideas were based on those of analog computers, which have a long and venerable history dating back to the ancient Greeks. The important thing to notice here is the theory of binary digital computers came after the invention; not the other way around.

Now, it is possible for theory to have a stimulating effect on technology: von Neumann’s paper certainly did, but it is rare to nonexistent to derive all the properties of a non-existent technology using nothing but abstract thought. The way real technology is developed: the technology or some sort of precursor gizmo or physical phenomenon comes first. Later on, some theory is added to the technology as a supplement to understanding, and the technology may be improved.  Sort of like, in real science, the unexplained phenomenon generally comes first; the theory comes later.  In developing a new technology, I posit that this sort of “theory first” ideology is intellectual suicide. I call this, “the folly of premature theory.” Theory don’t build technologies: technologies build theories.

Technology is what allows us our prosperity, and it must be funded and nurtured, but we must also avoid funding and nurturing parasites. Cargo-cult science and technologists are not only wasteful of money, they waste human capital. It makes me sad to see so many young people dedicating their lives to snake oil like “nanotechnology.”  They’d be better off starting a business or learning a trade. “Vaporware technologist” would be a horrible epitaph to a misspent life. I have already said I think technological progress is slowing down. While I think this is an over all symptom of a decline in civilization, I think the three follies above are some of the proximate causes of this failing. Bruce Charlton has documented many other such follies, and if you’re interested in this sort of thing, I recommend reading his thoughts on the matter.

47 Responses

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  1. Lloyd said, on October 4, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Good essay. It’s always been interesting to me how quickly scientists can be offended by bringing up mundane concepts like ROI — and how many subscribe to the sunk cost fallacy: We’re getting closer to the day that we might almost break even with photovoltaic cells, ethanol, etc. Can’t stop now.

    • Scott Locklin said, on October 4, 2010 at 2:22 pm

      I’m sure I’ll be accused of being some kind of anti-progress type for suggesting we cut off some of the spigots of R&D funding on stupid but popular things, but in fact, I want more progress. I think spending your brainpower on something some bureaucratic ninny thinks is important has retarded progress.

      • Lloyd said, on October 4, 2010 at 5:51 pm

        Yep. And the people who decide how resources are used – politicians – don’t know anything about technology or science, and don’t care how money is spent. The ‘gee-whiz-ain’t-it-cool?!’ tone of most science reportage doesn’t help the public’s comprehension of these things.

    • Mark Plus said, on October 14, 2010 at 3:57 am

      I find it interesting how someone could have a productive career as an engineer and inventor early in life, but then spend the rest of his life chasing after, or predicting, vaporware. Nikola Tesla and Ray Kurzweil both come to mind.

      • Scott Locklin said, on October 14, 2010 at 4:05 am

        Probably there is an ancient Greek play or two about the tragedy of Hubris.
        Something like, “Hey man, I invented electricity or OCR; why can’t I command the thunderbolts of Jupiter or create a digital Golem?”

  2. Andreas Yankopolus said, on October 4, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    Quoting from the article: “Cargo-cult science and technologists are not only wasteful of money, they waste human capital.”

    There are sadly numerous wastes of human capital in our society, with anything relating to taxes at the top of the heap. Vast armies of bright minds spend their day staying on top of byzantine tax codes, shuffling around numbers on spreadsheets, and guiding corporate operations in a massive optimization problem to reduce tax liability.

    • Scott Locklin said, on October 4, 2010 at 2:20 pm

      I certainly agree with this sentiment. I read a Conrad Black essay the other day that pointed out that we spend a trillion a year in America on lawyers, which is obscene in the extreme. Of course, lots of people can become lawyers (which is probably why lots of people do) and only a limited number of people can do plasma physics or quantum computing. It’s vanity of a sort, but I’d like to see such people put to work on something less wasteful of their human potential.

      • Maynard Handley said, on October 5, 2010 at 3:52 am

        A complaint like this is exactly like the sort of stupidity we see in the papers everyday that “$xxx is being wasted on …”. Without context, a number is meaningless. And what is the context here? What IS a reasonable amount of money to spend on the day-to-day smooth functioning of society? What are the alternatives? To simply bitch about lawyers is like saying “how come we can put a man on the moon but we can’t solve poverty/cure cancer/whatever?” Well, maybe solving poverty or curing cancer are HARDER PROBLEMS than putting a man on the moon.

        What REALISTIC alternatives do we have? A serious analysis of the problem would investigate what the legal money is spent on, and how other societies solve those equivalent problems. And I suspect that what this analysis would uncover is that, in many many cases, either other societies still pay for the same services, just they pay differently, OR other societies have chosen to do things differently from the way Americans have chosen to do them. For example, it is a fine thing to bemoan America’s obsession with doing things in an uncoordinated haphazard fashion (because god forbid “the government tell me what to do”) and then require lawyers to perform cleanup; but that is a DIFFERENT argument from claiming that the lawyers are simply sponges, wasting social resources.

        As for the larger argument here. I agree wrt both magnetic confinement fusion and quantum computing. I’m not so sure about “war on cancer”. By the metric of years of life averted or whatever, success may seem scant; but if you view the problem in the larger context (like you said re flying — establishing technology, learning principles, etc) it seems to me pretty successful. We know vastly more about basic biology (including of course, cancer related biology) than we did in 1970. Is forty years a long time? Compared to what? That’s longer than it took to get from X-rays to Schrodinger — but, like I said, maybe it’s a much harder problem.
        One could argue that, even so, the money could have been spent more efficiently in a context different from “war on cancer”, but now you’re in the Bjorn Lomborg world of assuming that there’s a single pre-existing pool of money that would be spent regardless. It strikes me as just as likely that the alternative, sans war on cancer, is that the money would have been spent on invading Antigua or whatever, rather than being given to the NSF or NIH for basic biological research.

        • Scott Locklin said, on October 5, 2010 at 4:34 am

          X-rays to Schrodinger didn’t cost hundreds of billions. Would we have discovered all that stuff without the hundreds of billions? I don’t know, but it’s worth asking the question. It’s even more worth asking the question as an individual who might spend their lives working on such problems: is it worth it? Or is it just a multi-level marketing scheme for your self esteem?

      • GK said, on November 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm

        That’s an odd position for you to hold, considering that your profession is to use your physicist mathematical training to gamble in the stock market.

        I also have a scientific background and practice patent litigation. Neither us directly does scientific research, but we both, to varying degrees, support the market system which makes innovation possible.

        Conrad Black’s dislike of lawyers is surprising considering it is lawyers who convinced the US Supreme Court to strike the unconstitutionally vague “honest services” provisions of federal criminal law under which Black was convicted, and allowed Black to get out of prison.

        I doubt that a trillion dollars a year is paid IN LEGAL FEES. It is most likely the sum total of all money that is paid in judgments and settlements. If people crash and injury others, commit malpractice, or infringe on others’ patents, the victims will be compensated from the culprits’ funds. How could it be any other way?

        • Scott Locklin said, on November 2, 2010 at 6:25 pm

          It was sleasey lawyerin’ which got Mr. Black in trouble in the first place, so I don’t blame him. I think his number is something akin to calculating 20% of American GDP is caught up in Financial activity -also too high, whatever the real number.
          Google turns up the following articles on how much lawyers suck up from GDP:

          FWIIW, I do real research. Not the kind that gets published, but I might some day when I retire.

          • GK said, on November 5, 2010 at 10:25 pm

            how did sleazy lawyering get him in trouble?

  3. jmount said, on October 4, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Good article. And: “The greatest tragedy in art is when theory outstrips performance” Leonardo da Vinci.

    • Scott Locklin said, on October 4, 2010 at 8:26 pm

      Great quote!

  4. ronald said, on October 5, 2010 at 2:46 am

    the plot of Wall Street 2 involves funding fusion power. i won’t spoil the ending, but the movie shows no sign of getting the joke on fusion. it could have been a much more interesting subplot.

    • Scott Locklin said, on October 5, 2010 at 4:35 am

      I’m a vague fan of Bussard/Farnsworth fusion … and, oddly, I just saw WS-1 the other night. Might be worth checking out the sequel some time…

  5. tosh icavenger said, on October 7, 2010 at 4:45 am

    Will it keep eels out of my hovercraft.

  6. wburzyns said, on October 8, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Dunno whether you visit ‘The Big Picture’ but you may found these photos interesting: http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/10/the_national_ignition_facility.html

    • Scott Locklin said, on October 8, 2010 at 8:21 pm

      Thanks for posting that. Amusingly, one of the technicians in the photos works for a pal of mine. NIF is a super neat project. It’s probably a waste of money, but it employs pals of mine, so I won’t say anything bad about it. The giant KDP crystals they grew are an engineering marvel. I believe the woman pictured with the crystal is the one largely responsible for their manufacture. I don’t remember her name, but she should be given a lot of credit for it from what I heard of things.

      • Andreas Yankopolus said, on December 18, 2010 at 3:35 pm

        The NIF seems like a fine big science project to study the fusion processes occurring inside stars, but it’s likely a waste of money as a search for an alternative source of energy. Alternative fission designs seem a much better bet.

  7. […] Spotting vaporware: three follies of would-be technologists (scottlocklin.wordpress.com) […]

  8. Mark Plus said, on October 18, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Scott, do you think Drexler published his books as trolls? He might not have intended them a such, but he has identified himself so closely with a set of bad ideas that he resists extrication.

  9. Mark Plus said, on October 30, 2010 at 1:33 am

    Another example of the nanotech rent-seeking scam, this time in my state:

    ASU faculty receive federal nanotech renewal grant


  10. GK said, on November 2, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Hi Scott:

    I liked this article. It feels like at extended response to the posts that I made in your nanotechnology article: (the war on cancer, Bernouli’s principle, fusion; the only thing missing was Bose Einstein condendsate). As you wrote, there are a large number of possible technologies that are 1. Desirable and 2. Apparently not forbidden by physical law. This does not mean that achieving this technology is guaranteed. I agree with your assesment that a detailed multi-step program is needed for a bureaucratic effort to succeed. I would go further and say that there should be multiple redundant parallel steps if possible. The NASA motto during Apollo was “waste everything but time”.

    Our disagreement comes when we look at the details. Building an atomic bomb was contingent on finding a way to separate U235 from U238. The US government did not know if it was possible to find a way to do this when the Manhattan project was started. Uranium hexaflouride gas diffusion was not part of the plan from the inception. It’s value was discovered/invented after the Manhattan Project had gotten started. The example that I’ve given is not trivial. The Japanese and German efforts failed at uranium separation: and the German effort was led by the brilliant Werner Heisenberg. The US barely succeeded with uranium hexaflouride gas diffusion. If the war ended a few years earlier, you would be pointing to nuclear fission as an example of a vaporware technology.

    • Scott Locklin said, on November 2, 2010 at 6:39 pm

      Well, that is an interesting piece of history I hadn’t considered, though Calutrons were a more significant source of U-235 by my recollection than gas diffusion in the actual early bombs deployed. It’s also worth noting that they had 3-4 parallel routes; two of which were successful, i.e. plutonium worked also.

      Heisenberg’s failure is an interesting case with an obvious reason behind it: Heisenberg never did experimental physics. Lawrence, Oppenheimer and Fermi, in addition to being good scientists with experimental background (Oppie less then the others) had tremendous organizational powers. It was never obvious Heisenberg was a good manager.

  11. GK said, on November 2, 2010 at 5:20 pm

    You raise a very interesting and important point about ways to organize applied science. There are generally two methods. First is the Manhattan-Apollo method of a top down bureacracy that organizes research around achieving a particular technological goal. Second is the NSF/NIH method of giving small grants to individual scientists in a field. The scientists follow the research in what they consider to be interesting directions without higher level direction.

    I think that the NSF/NIH method works best when the scientific open questions are large and that the Manhattan-Apollo method is best for when the scientific open questions that are in the way of the technological goal are rather small.

    I don’t know enough about the war on cancer, but I think that it just refers to NSF/NIH type funding for lots of individual projects in molecular and cell biology and in oncology.

    You are right about the hypocrisy of conventional “nanoscientists” like in the flier that you posted. People studying “ethics and policy” surrounding nanoscience are even worse. If they think Drexlerian nanotech is impossible, they should say so. But then the excitement and funding for their science is threatened.

  12. GK said, on November 2, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    You might find this interesting:


    BTW, what are your thoughts on inertial confinement fusion?

  13. Ilya K said, on December 17, 2010 at 3:40 am

    While I mostly agree with your article, I would like to focus on your point about the SR-71. Yes, in the 19th century, when we had not yet invented heavier than air flight (that was the Wright Brothers), the SR-71 would have been inconceivable. That said, I’m not quite sure if the laws of physics stated that heavier than air flight was impossible back then. I’d imagine not, due to Bernoulli’s discoveries (well, one of them anyway), and the presence of birds.

    Anyhow, my point is that in the 1800s, if someone would have dreamed of inventing a fantastic flying machine and you lived in the 1800s, you might have been saying the same thing about inventing a flying machine as you are saying about nanotechnology and nuclear fusion.

    In my opinion, a great deal of invention comes from a bunch of people figuratively throwing shit against the wall and seeing what sticks. Eventually, one of them will succeed and look like an out of this world genius (never mind we never hear about the vast majority of failures), even though he was probably more lucky than good (law of large numbers and the fact that physics says it’s not impossible are far more at work here than any one person in my opinion). However, at the end of the day, the shit-throwers need to eat, and to have a roof over their head, too.

    Another way to look at it is the fact that I’m not exactly sure how people can tell you how they can get from point A to point Z, point A being the money and point Z being the invention, when they don’t know what’ll happen at points B through Y. At Renaissance Technologies, I believe Jim Simons pays his quants to be professional shit-throwers. Most ideas will fail when backtested, and probably most ideas don’t work as well as they do in backtesting once they get turned online due to real world things not accounted for. I think it’d be fantastic if we could say “well this happens then that happens then things work”, but we have to take it one step at a time, and hope that by physics not saying something is an impossibility that we can eventually accomplish something, even if it does take a trillion dollars.

    Of course…who’s to say that our physics are absolutely correct? If you’d go back in time 2000 years and tell some of the “scientists” in the Roman empire or wherever about the things we’d have today, they’d look at you like you were nuts.

    Imagine what we might have in 2000 more years that you pooh-pooh today.

    Though I do agree with the main thrust that there’s gotta be a more efficient way to do it than to throw our tax dollars at it.

  14. Abelard Lindsey said, on January 23, 2011 at 12:58 am

    I agree with much of what Charlton has to say about the domination of science by bureaucracy and rent-seeking parasites. However, I fail to understand why he thinks a return to organized religion will be able to solve this problem. Given that organized religion is also a form of bureaucracy and rent-seeking parasitism, it seems to me that a return to religion will only make things worse.

  15. Abelard Lindsey said, on January 23, 2011 at 1:13 am

    Bruce Charlton’s thinking is logically self-contradictory.

    His “Cancer of Bureaucracy” posting that you link to make clear his believe that bureaucracy and the rent-seeking parasitism that it is based on is the root of not only the decline in science and technological innovation, but of all social problems in general. He also states in an earlier post in the same blog (in 2007) that creative destruction is the root of innovation and accomplishment. I agree with both of these positions.

    Yet, at the same time in another blog that organized religion, specifically orthodox Christianity, is the solution to all of these problems. Since religion itself is, definitionally speaking, also a form of bureaucracy with all of the attendant problems thereof (inhibition of the creative distructive process that results in innovation and hence dynamism), he is suggesting that the problems of one bureaucracy can be solved by creating another bureaucracy. This illustrates a cognitive disconnect in his thinking. Either his brain is broken, or there are actually two bloggers calling themselves “Bruce Charlton”.

  16. Abelard Lindsey said, on January 24, 2011 at 9:37 pm

    Like Bruce Charlton, Peter Thiel has also noted the slowdown in technological innovation in recent decades.


    Also like Bruce Charlton, Peter also attributes the decline to bureaucracy and a aversion to risk taking. However, unlike Bruce Charlton, Peter Thiel has more plausible ideas for increasing the innovation and dynamism of our society.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm

      That’s some insightful commentary. Damn shame his fund has been sucking so badly.

      • coast2coast said, on August 4, 2012 at 4:56 am

        The hedge fund has imploded on one or two bad bets (after many good ones and over a decade of 30% growth), but the venture capital fund is still doing well and his wealth has still been going up on balance.

  17. Rick said, on January 25, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Never try to teach a pig to sing.

    It’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.

    • Scott Locklin said, on January 25, 2011 at 11:45 pm

      Does it hurt to be that self righteous, retard?
      I’m sorry you don’t like how the English language works. Maybe you should exercise your right to not make a fool of yourself by checking a dictionary before gasbagging next time.

  18. […] a little while ago, and I’ve been trolling through his archives. Found several gems – Spotting Vaporware, Nano Nonsense, The Airship: An Aesthetic Appreciation, The Atlantic: Tool of the Oligarchy, To […]

  19. […] in the end. If you prefer grand visions and things which get done on multi-year timescales (or, never), stick to […]

  20. […] you have a wish. What are the manageable pieces needed to make “nanotech” or controlled nuclear fusion a reality? What are the manageable pieces needed to make quantum computing or deriving all […]

  21. The Great Paradigm Shift. | Tangvald said, on September 26, 2013 at 1:13 am

    […] Nuclear fusion I think can be safely relegated to the aptly named “vaporware” closet, after the better part of a century spent investing enormous resources into researching nuclear fusion, the solving of the immense technical difficulties remain perpetually over the horizon.. […]

  22. brucecharlton said, on December 6, 2013 at 10:26 am

    @Scott: “I’m guessing a science fiction charlatan from those days might imagine some kind of bird-thing with really big wings, powered by something which is thermodynamically impossible. Giving such a clown money to build such a thing, or steps towards such a thing would have been the sheerest madness. Yet, we do this all the time in the modern day.”

    Yes, because that is precisely successful science. For instance, the most expensive science project ever: The Human Genome Project, which either achieved none of the medical goals that were used to justfy its existence and indirectly, but substantially, reduced the sum of human knowledge and capability.

    The outcome of which was perfectly obvious from its beginnings:


    Yet, the HGP is (if remembered at all – since it seems already to have gone down the memory hole) regarded as a huge scientific success because… it mapped ‘the’ (or ‘a’) human genome, and that *must be* a good thing, right?

    When scientists are dishonest, and are not really trying to understand or fix things, what they want is just funding, that’s all – plus status – if possible, which luckily comes from funding.

    the mass media are now reduced to reporting the award of large research grants, and the hop-es/ plans for what they will achieve, and pretending that this is science – they have to do this because there are no real breakthoughs. Or, work done in one laboratory on a so-called animal ‘model’ of a human disease, gets reported as a ‘cure’ for that disease (expected, in a few years…) – hence there have been multiple cures of ‘Alzheimer’s disease’ (itself, not at all a well-defined entity).

    And it is that by which scientists are evaluated – given that – for disohonest people – it is facile to generate retroactive hype and spin plausible enough to be able to claim that whatever it is you have done is exactly what you were trying to do, and what most needed doing. Most high profile medical research is now written by hired professional ghost-writers/ agencies – in fact these may select what to reprot and also do the analysis:


    (The above article – in the premier British Psychiatric Journal – was only allowed to be published after multiple redraftings by lawyers – presumably because the journal was so afraid of Big Pharma libel actions.)

  23. […] on non falsifiable noodle theory, cosmology and writing software for computer architectures which will probably never exist. I think it was Kelvin who said, “in science there is only physics, all the rest is stamp […]

  24. bobbybobbob said, on May 19, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    The one I see most often in the popular press is bioinformatics and genetic engineering. 30 years of research and massive amounts of money: pretty much zero real human medical application. Yet we’re constantly being told designer babies are five years out.

    • Scott Locklin said, on May 19, 2016 at 5:36 pm

      There’s been a little progress there; personal SNP gene testing exists at least. But as usual, this is a technology democratization (now regular people can play genetic researcher on their own genome), rather than anything out of the ordinary.

  25. Ivan said, on August 19, 2020 at 10:07 am

    We just platoed, the aeon of rapid technological advances has ended, there are fewer and fewer long-hanging fruits. New technologies are to take hundreds and thousands years to develop (if they are).

  26. Siv Jensen said, on March 3, 2022 at 5:29 am

    This aged very badly.

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