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Budget Cuts Threaten Cutting-Edge Technology

It should be obvious that government must play a critical role in developing new technologies. Government can promote ideas based solely on potential merit or benefit, while private investors must focus on profitability. By supporting pure research and nurturing innovative approaches to solving national needs, the government also provides an invaluable resource to commercial ventures, sometimes in the most unexpected ways, such as the internet.

But the right-wing of the Republican party has made government spending — or “investment,” as Democrats might put it — a purely a partisan issue. Per capita, our government lags behind many other countries when it comes to putting money into potential and emerging technologies. Yet Mitt Romney and his cohorts seem hell-bent — rhetorically at least — on drastic budget cuts no matter the short- or long-term costs. His Republican colleagues routinely deride “science” and the very idea of education. They seem willing to sacrifice our country’s infrastructure, health, environment, and technical prowess on the altar of free enterprise.

As the following article describes, many entrepreneurs and officers of our most prestigious companies disagree more with the Republican approach.

This isn’t really surprising. Enlightened businesspeople understand that we live and prosper in a community, that short-term profit is not always feasible or achievable, and that we must spend to continue to make progress and prosper as a nation. Investing in the future should be a common sense, not partisan, commitment, and it should, of course, include rebuilding infrastructure, improving education, and ensuring the health and well-being of our citizens. But some people — and one political party — seem willing to sacrifice our future on the altar of ignorance and ideological purity.

October 7, 2012
The Seeds That Federal Money Can Plant

LUIS VON AHN, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, sold one Internet start-up to Google in 2009, and is now on to another. With the new company, Duolingo, he hopes to tap the millions of people learning languages online to create a crowdsourced engine of translation. “We want to translate the whole Web into every major language,” Mr. von Ahn says.

Ambitious, sure, but Duolingo recently attracted $15 million of venture capital. The investors are betting on Mr. von Ahn, his idea and his growing team of 18 engineers, language experts and Web designers.

Mr. von Ahn, 33, personifies some of the essential ingredients of America’s innovation culture, when it works well. An immigrant from Guatemala, he has intelligence and entrepreneurial energy to spare. And he has received a helping hand from the federal government. Duolingo began as a university research project financed by the National Science Foundation.

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© 2012 ZD30

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