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Dreaming Electric Sheep

Jason Hiner's blog on IT, emerging technologies, and the expanding sweep of the information age (the title of the blog is a nod to Philip K. Dick's classic sci-fi novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep")

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Remember when the US was the king of high-tech?
Last week I read a story on News.com that can best be summed up by this quote from the article: " The University of Illinois tied for 17th place in the world finals of the Association for Computing Machinery International Collegiate Programming Contest, which concluded Thursday. That's the lowest ranking for the top-performing US school in the 29-year history of the competition."

Let me start by saying that I think it is absolutely terrific that the rest of the world is engaging in high tech pursuits. The competition for honors in the high tech field is more fierce than ever before and that will only serve to bolster advances in the field.

Still, I am quite unsettled - though not completely surprised - by the declining fortunes of the technology prowess of the US, if we can generalize that from the University of Illinois' subpar showing in the international programming contest. I think the generalization is a fair one because it is a natural symptom of the US falling farther and farther behind the rest of the "developed" world in science and mathematics.

This disturbing trend is also being fueled by the general lackluster regard for science, scientists, and scientific research in the US since the late 1980s. Remember when Americans used to gather around TV to watch space shuttle launches? Remember when science was considered the harbinger of progess? While Americans use high-tech gadgets more than any other country in the world, they seem far less interested in the scientific pursuits that lead to the development of those gadgets, as well as the far more important fields such as biotech and communications.

Part of the lackluster regard for science can obviously be traced to the education system. It seems like many US educators have almost had to apologize for teaching science in the past decade because of the whole creation vs. evolution battle in the public school systems (take a peek at these stats for an interesting look at what Americans believe on this subject).

The bottom line is that I hope the US education system can find a way to improve and energize its approach toward science, and that Americans will place greater value on the pursuit of science and the development of scientists (even if their world view sometimes challenges some of the prevailing notions of many Americans). If we don't find a compelling way to do that in the next decade, then other nations will blow by us in developing the great technological advances of the next generation. 

I love Philip K. Dick.
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