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Soft Machines

Some personal views on nanotechnology, science and science policy from Richard Jones

Last Build Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2018 15:33:15 +0000


Technological innovation in the linear age

Sun, 14 Jan 2018 17:40:00 +0000

We’re living in an age where technology is accelerating exponentially, but people’s habits of thought are stuck in an age where progress was only linear. This is the conventional wisdom of the futurists and the Davos-going classes – but it’s wrong. It may have been useful to say this 30 years ago: then we were … Continue reading "Technological innovation in the linear age"

An intangible economy in a material world

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:46:13 +0000

Thirty years ago, Kodak dominated the business of making photographs. It made cameras, sold film, and employed 140,000 people. Now Instagram handles many more images than Kodak ever did, but when it was sold to Facebook in 2012, it employed 13 people. This striking comparison was made by Jaron Lanier in his book “You are … Continue reading "An intangible economy in a material world"

Industrial strategy roundup

Sat, 04 Nov 2017 18:15:30 +0000

Last week saw the launch of the final report of the Industrial Strategy Commission, of which I’m a member. The full report (running to more than 100 pages) can be found here: Industrial Strategy Commission: Final report and executive summary. For a briefer, personal perspective, I wrote a piece for the Guardian website, concentrating on … Continue reading "Industrial strategy roundup"

Should economists have seen the productivity crisis coming?

Sun, 22 Oct 2017 07:55:10 +0000

The UK’s post-financial crisis stagnation in productivity finally hit the headlines this month. Before the financial crisis, productivity grew at a steady 2.2% a year, but since 2009 growth has averaged only 0.3%. The Office of Budgetary Responsibility, in common with other economic forecasters, have confidently predicted the return of 2.2% growth every year since … Continue reading "Should economists have seen the productivity crisis coming?"

The second coming of industrial strategy

Thu, 05 Oct 2017 06:43:05 +0000

A month or so ago I was asked to do the after-dinner speech at the annual plenary meeting of the advisory bodies for the EPSRC (the UK’s government funding body for engineering and the physical sciences). My brief was to discuss what opportunities and pitfalls there might be for the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences … Continue reading "The second coming of industrial strategy"

The Life Sciences should not have an Industrial Strategy

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 09:30:22 +0000

The UK government has published the first outcome of the Industrial Strategy “sector deals” announced in the spring’s Industrial Strategy Green Paper. The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy was headed by Sir John Bell; the area is of undoubted importance for the UK, and the document has some very sensible recommendations. But there’s a bigger problem … Continue reading "The Life Sciences should not have an Industrial Strategy"

Climbing stories, climbing fictions

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 20:46:01 +0000

I call myself a rock climber, and sometimes I manage to do some climbing too. This summer I’ve been out a few times with a new climbing partner, Mike. Mike’s a writer – M. John Harrison – whose most famous work is the science fiction trilogy Light, Nova Swing and Empty Space. I’ve written about … Continue reading "Climbing stories, climbing fictions"

Economics after Moore’s Law

Fri, 21 Jul 2017 13:50:37 +0000

One of the dominating features of the economy over the last fifty years has been Moore’s law, which has led to exponential growth in computing power and exponential drops in its costs. This period is now coming to an end. This doesn’t mean that technological progress in computing will stop dead, nor that innovation in … Continue reading "Economics after Moore’s Law"

Towards a coherent industrial strategy for the UK

Thu, 13 Jul 2017 10:17:45 +0000

What should a modern industrial strategy for the UK look like? This week the Industrial Strategy Commission, of which I’m a member, published its interim report – Laying the Foundations – which sets out some positive principles which we suggest could form the basis for an Industrial Strategy. This follows the government’s own Green Paper, … Continue reading "Towards a coherent industrial strategy for the UK"

It’s the economy, stupid

Tue, 20 Jun 2017 19:05:12 +0000

There’s a piece of folk political science (attributed to Bill Clinton’s campaign manager) that says the only thing that matters in electoral politics is the state of the economy. Forget about leadership, ideology, manifestos containing a doorstep-friendly “retail offer”; what solely matters, in this view, is whether people feel that their own financial position is … Continue reading "It’s the economy, stupid"