I attended an alumni event, Berkeley in Silicon Valley, earlier this week. It was at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, which is definitely worth a visit for the audience of this blog. Ah, the memories! They have all the early PCs, and really old mechanical or analog computers, slide rules, etc.
The featured speaker was Professor Richard Newton, Dean of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering (my alma mater). I was going to post a write-up of his talk, but Mike Langberg from the San Jose Mercury News already did a very professional job at MercuryNews.com | 04/13/2006 | Langberg: Building up a `bump' in the new flat world. So go read that!
- Synthetic Biology is "the next big thing". Remember "Plastics" from the movie The Graduate? Well, this is like that for the next century.
- The questions from the audience were surprisingly pragmatic:
- How can we invest in Synthetic Biology? Prof. Newton didn't have specific opportunities. It's an extremely new and risky field, more "research" than "development" at this point. I wonder if Biotech mutual funds would cover this space? It seems like they would.
- What about the problem of H1B visas and how that will devalue US engineering careers? I don't think a university professor can really appreciate the anxiety that some engineers in industry feel. Professors see the newest, sexiest technologies and get to work with really interesting emerging companies. Personally, I've become less concerned with H1B than with "offshoring". At least the visa-holders bring their high skill levels and tax-paying ability into the US!
- With demographic changes in California, the questioner suggested that the future majority ethnic groups (i.e., Latinos)do not value education as highly, and does this pose a challenge to Prof. Newton's call to make the Bay Area a "bump in the flat world"? Wow, this seemed like a politically incorrect question, and the questioner must have had guts (or been oblivious) to ask it. Prof. Newton didn't cut him any slack, saying that he found the Latinos that he encounters in his work to be just as passionate about education as anyone else.