May 5, 2006

Some VC and Research Lab links

Innovation, The Now Economy By: ams

It’s a Friday afternoon, and I’d like to clean up my desktop with a list o’ links I’ve found interesting over the past few weeks:

The Personal Bee aggregator for VC & Startup news. Feels a bit like some of the concepts behind Newroo/Fox. Here are several stories I got to from there:

  • the MIT/Lemelson Prize for inventors goes to an LCD pioneer from Menlo Park.
  • Sequoia, via Kedrosky:

    E&Y: Why is it crazy that LPs are willing to invest so much in venture capital?

    Leone: The returns have been miserable. If you take away a couple of exits, such as Google and MySpace, there haven’t been meaningful returns generated. There are [venture] firms that have never generated a positive return or have not even returned capital in 10 years that are raising money successfully. And that surprises the heck out of me. People talk about the top quartile — its not about the top quartile, it’s barely about the top decile, or even a smaller subset than that.

  • Khosla Ventures actually does still invest in computer-related stuff, not just the cool new life- and green- sciences, from this BusinessWeek blogpost by Justin Hibbard:

    one of his inaugural portfolio companies was SkyBlue Technologies, Inc. The Redwood City (Calif.) startup was founded a year ago by Stanford U. computer science professor Monica S. Lam and her fellow researchers, who are developing open-source virtualization software that lets systems administrators remotely manage PCs. Traditionally, companies have used programs like CA’s Unicenter or HP OpenView for this task. Virtualization sacrifices some performance to keep the management program running independently from the PC operating system, which can become unstable. It’s a clever use of an under-exploited technology that has had a recent resurgence on server computers and has produced at least one recent hit startup, VMWare. SkyBlue calls its class of software ready-to-run (R2R) and has launched a portal site, itCasting, to promote collaboration on R2R software. William J. Raduchel, CEO of Ruckus Network and former CTO at AOL Time Warner, is on SkyBlue’s board. The company raised $1 million last August and $2.26 million from Khosla and others in March.

    [In other recent manageability news, Intel announced vPro, a desktop featureset hopefully-analgous to Centrino, raising the possibility of yet-more feature wars such as XML processing smarts on the server side. ]

The New York Times recently had a piece on academics investigating the IBM-sponsored “services science” field

ComputerWorld’s Gary Anthes, a dedicated reporter on the research-and-innovation beat, wrote a piece on the looming anniversaries of the oldest CS departments.:

  • John Canny, chairman of the electrical engineering and computer science department, University of California, Berkeley: “Computers aren’t very valuable yet, because the applications they perform are still elementary and routine. It’s actually remarkable how much we spend on IT, considering how little it does. The most widespread applications are still e-mail and Microsoft Office. That should tell us something.

    What we really need to be thinking about is what people are doing with computers and how we could help them to do those things much better. Since most people are doing knowledge tasks, that means machines understanding their owners’ work processes much more deeply, finding semantically appropriate resources with or without being asked, critiquing choices and suggesting better ones, and tracking synergies with other groups within a large organization. Computers will leverage the human resources in the company more at a knowledge level. They will directly tie what they do to the creative processes of employees. The economic impact of that would be much bigger than anything we have seen so far. ”

  • Jaime Carbonell, director of the Language Technologies Institute, Carnegie Mellon University: “Artificial intelligence. Although those words may be somewhat out of fashion these days, much of the deep excitement and universally useful apps descend therefrom. For example: speech understanding and synthesis in handheld devices, in cars, in laptops; machine translation of text and spoken language; new search engines that find what you want, not just Web pages that contain query words; self-healing software, including adaptive networks that reconfigure for reliability; robotics for mine safety, planetary exploration; prosthetics for medical/nursing care and manufacturing; game theory for electronic commerce, auctions and their design to ensure fairness and market liquidity and maximize aggregate social wealth.”
  • Bernard Chazelle, professor of computer science, Princeton University: I roll my eyes when I hear students say, “CS is boring, so I’ll go into finance.” Do they know how dull it is to spend all-nighters running the numbers for a merger-and-acquisition deal? No.
  • Canny: We’re losing in quality — principally to bioengineering, which is now the best students’ top choice — and diversity. It’s a problem of social relevance. Minorities and women moved fastest into areas such as law and medicine that have obvious and compelling social impact. We’ve never cared much about social impact in CS.
  • Chazelle: Much of the curriculum is antiquated. Why are we still demanding fluency in assembly language today for our CS majors? Some curricula seem built almost entirely around the mastery of Java. This is criminal.

    The curriculum is changing to fulfill the true promise of CS, which is to provide a conceptual framework for other fields. Students need to understand there’s more, vastly more, to CS than writing the next version of Windows. For example, at Princeton, we have people who major in CS because they want to do life sciences or policy work related to security, or even high-tech music. In all three cases, we offer tracks that allow them to acquire the technical background to make them intellectually equipped to pursue these cross-disciplinary activities at the highest level.

  • Carbonell: CS needs a great communicator who lives the excitement, is deeply respected by his or her peers, and can reach out and communicate clearly with any educated person via his books. We have no such person in CS. Perhaps Raj Reddy [a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor] has the right kind of talents.

Finally, please don’t miss Bill Burnham’s excellent survey of opportunites to push ‘persistent search’ forward.

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