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« Seeing at the Nano Level | Main | Greatest Achievements in Engineering »

January 04, 2006


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michael e vassar

I seriously question the assertion that "the larger the value, the more likely that it is to be built sooner". In actuality, it seems to me that extremely powerful technologies are likely to recieve less funding than equally difficult to attain but less powerful technologies. My reason for thinking this is empiricism and recent history, but I can support it with the hypothesis that people use value as a predictor of cost, and predict that highly valuable things will be too expensive for them to attain on their budgets.

One parallel is the Kitty Genovese case. Everyone saw that no-one was doing an appearently high value action, calling the police, so no-one took it upon themselves to do it.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

You're essentially restating the joke about the economist who fails to pick up a $5 bill lying on the sidewalk because he believes it's impossible for the bill to be there. That's not to say you're wrong--but it is to point out how flawed the reasoning is, and also to suggest that people who don't think like economists may have a different reaction.

Another possible reason for not developing high-payoff stuff is that it would mess up the business model. A company might fear developing a product that would make 200% returns per year but force it to reinvent itself. Similarly, during the Cold War, there were some weapon systems that were not developed because they would have been destabilizing.

This might delay development somewhat, until the cost becomes low enough that a less-conventional actor decides to develop. But as the cost decreases exponentially, the number of candidate actors will increase exponentially-times-power-law.

My assumption in the Kitty Genovese case was that everyone assumed that someone else *must* have called the cops by now. Likewise, many people assume that the US *must* have an MM program. That may have some deterrent effect on development. But eventually, someone will develop it for convenience: the cost of development will fall to less than the cost of, say, manufacturing a line of orbital rockets or building a new fab. CAD software cost and delay could mitigate this.

So, I think you're partially right--we can't just say that simple cost/benefit will guarantee development as soon as it makes economic sense. But there are enough reasons for development and enough actors who could develop that I'm not sure how necessary the cost/benefit argument is anyway.


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