Home' Technology Review : October 2005 Contents 18
A reader poring over the pro les of this year's TR35 (p. 41),
Technology Review's annual pick of the world's top innovators
under the age of 35, might be forgiven for humming a few bars of
"The Star-Spangled Banner." We pushed hard for nominations
from all over the world, but in the end, the best judgment of the
editors and our team of esteemed judges produced a list of 35
people that includes 33 working at U.S. companies or universi-
ties. But this seeming American hegemony is illusory. Well over
a third of this year's TR35 are originally from other countries, in-
cluding China, India, and Singapore.
A pattern emerges from the dossiers of these extraordinary
people: a brilliant young scientist or engineer receives a degree in
his or her native country and then emigrates to take advantage of
the superior graduate schools and richer entrepreneurial oppor-
tunities in the United States. But that situation will not necessarily
persist. In its latest survey, the Council of Graduate Schools---a
Washington, DC--based consortium of more than 450 institu-
tions---reports that in 2005, international graduate applications to
U.S. schools are down 5 percent from the previous year, with a
particular drop-o in students from China (down 13 percent)
and India (down 9 percent). This follows similar declines in re-
cent years. The reasons behind these numbers are not totally
clear. But surely one factor is that the growing economies of
China and India are increasingly providing ample opportunities,
both in academia and business, for those who stay home.
In the long run, this inevitable outcome of globalization might
spur more innovation worldwide. But it is not good news for the
United States. As this year's TR35 remind us, the United States'
ability to draw extraordinary talent from around the world feeds
a rich climate of innovation and scienti c advancement that
everyone in this country bene ts from.
As Charles Fishman reports in our "One Decision" Briefcase (see
"Cleaning Up," p. 38), Corning is investing heavily in diesel-
ltration technology. In the teeth of the most recent recession,
Corning dedicated itself to spending half a billion dollars on this
technology---even as it cut its overall R&D budget by half.
Regulations being implemented around the world spurred
Corning's decision. In the United States, the Environmental Pro-
tection Agency will require that heavy-duty diesel trucks and
buses made for model year 2007 use fuels that contain 97 percent
less sulfur than is currently found in diesel fuel. The kind of l-
tration that Corning is developing will also be mandated for
tr ucks and buses beginning in 2007 and for nonroad engines be-
ginning in 2011. Three decades ago, in response to the Clean Air
Act of 1970, the company invented the ceramic material used in
catalytic converters. It has led that business ever since. Corning
sees an opportunity to do for diesel engines what it did for gaso-
line engines: it expects that, beginning in 2008, diesel emissions
mitigation will be a billion-dollar-a-year market.
There's a basic economics lesson in this. Free markets gener-
ate "externalities"---costs that neither the buyer nor the seller in a
transaction will bear, and bene ts that neither will enjoy. Air pol-
lution is a textbook example of a negative externality: the bicyclist
bears the cost of a driver's exhaust.
Some negative externalities have no easy remedy. But in cases
where the private sector can, given enough incentive, develop a
technological x, the solution is clear: the government must
mandate the removal or reduction of the exter nality. Companies
like Corning will take it from there.
Conversations among energy wonks can remind listeners of the
adage about the half-full glass. Pessimists think that oil produc-
tion will peak sometime in this decade; optimists believe that
new technologies could extract untapped oil reserves for at least
a few decades more. But there is one thing no one disputes: we
will soon run out of cheap oil.
A growing, in uential body of writers believes that the ex-
haustion of cheap oil will be disastrous. On page 72 of this issue,
we take a look at The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging
Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, by James Howard
Kunstler. The author, a novelist and jour nalist who has written
for the Atlantic and Rolling Stone, writes that we will fall into "an
abyss of economic and social disorder on a scale that no one has
seen before." Are he and his fellow doomsayers right?
Hardly. To agree with Kunstler is to believe that alternative
sources of energy cannot replace oil. This means dismissing the
combined powers of natural gas, solar power, wind, coal, hydro-
electric, biomass, and nuclear power. Doomsayers argue that
these alternatives are a "mirage," as Kunstler puts it, because they
will never produce as much energy as cheaply as oil. But that as-
sumes we will not devise ways to use energy more e ciently. It
also ignores the rapid progress in improving energy technolo-
gies, particularly in solar, wind, and nuclear power.
We have faith in human ingenuity: as oil prices increase, tech-
nologists will nd new ways to generate energy.
And must, if we want
things like clean air.
Give Us Your
The TR35 points to the
globalization of talent.
The exhaustion of cheap oil
will not be catastrophic.
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