There are some comments in one of Mitchell’s recent posts about the European Commission that I think are worth discussing more in depth. In the post, there is a statement that ‘There’s no disagreement that technology is best developed by technologists and entrepreneurs rather than government.’ I actually disagree with this and it looks like at least one other person does too.
Governments have been a source of an enormous amount of innovation (for example, radar, nuclear energy, aviation, adaptive optics, computers…*). Very often the source of the innovation is from military applications that find their way into civilian uses over time. A brief history of the Global Positioning System provides a great example of why working with governments is a smart idea.
GPS was created by the military starting in the 1960s. Due to advocacy from civilian agencies and the public who saw the value of this technology for their own uses, the government was persuaded to change their policy in 2000 and make the full signal available to non-military users. Thanks to that we have cool iPhone apps and cool Firefox extensions. There’s also a separate issue with this example. Governments are often the only ones able to provide certain technologies. For GPS, no company would have been able to pay for a 40 year R&D cycle that involved developing and launching a series of satellites before the service could be in place.
The reason I want to highlight this is to make sure we remain open to bringing new members in to our community. If we accepted the assumption that governments are inept and are best avoided, then we’d be missing out on bringing in a new partner to help us with our community’s goals. I believe that governments, at their best, can make enormous changes for the better in people’s lives. Certainly governments don’t always play a positive role, but we’re less likely to have negative outcomes if a bunch of enthustiastic people who believe strongly in something get engaged in the process.
* I spent two years studying science and technology policy recently and I could go on and on about this topic but I’ll stop the list here.