Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Where are the British giants of cyberspace?

George OsborneShadow Chancellor George Osborne has a confused opinion piece in the Times lamenting the lack of a UK Silicon Valley. (Starting the article with the mistaken claim that the Internet was invented by a Briton does not add credibility. I assume he is referring to Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, which came almost 30 years after Polish-American Paul Baran thought up the distributed packet-switching network that eventually became the Internet.)

Osborne claims that the US university funding and intellectual property systems are better-focussed on innovation. I see little difference between how NSF and EPSRC, for example, choose and fund areas of Internet research. UK universities were allowed to exploit IP from government-funded research long before the 1994 US Bayh-Dole Act. Osborne praises Stanford University for setting aside the land that houses many IT giants, but UK universities such as Cambridge have done the same. The Shadow Chancellor also praises the US venture capital industry, but I'm not sure there's much he could do to recreate that industry here.

Let's hope Osborne's ideas become a bit more sophisticated during the remainder of his visit to California.


Anonymous said...

I thought that Briton Donald Davies was as much responsible for packet switching as Baran was. Brit involvement in the beginnings of computing is sadly always underplayed.

Ian Brown said...

Davies also came up with the idea of packet switching, but Baran's concept of a distributed network was also crucial. And I believe it was Baran's work that directly influenced the design of ARPAnet.

Obviously this doesn't take away from the achievements of Charles Babbage, Alan Turing and others in the creation of computing :)