“Vague but exciting…” is what Tim Berners-Lee’s boss scribbled on his proposal to build the worldwide web before giving him the go-ahead to start work. If today’s research proposal rules had been in place, I’d argue it might never have happened because, in health services at least, the process has become one of regimented, formulaic stultification. One that squeezes the life out of innovative thinking and pins it to endless rigid forms that will only admit x-number-of-characters-including-spaces. By the time a project has been approved and funding granted, the thing that so excited and wired you up to the mains with creative energy is flapping feebly in a box covered in deadlines, imperatives, shoulds, don’ts and musts. Fiscally responsible, yes, but with about as much punch as a collapsed flan.
Furthermore, worthy and tight as a drum as the poor thing now is, it will be a one-off. There are no repeat grants and this, astonishingly, means that research goes out published with the legitimising tag of having been NIHR (for instance) supported, but it will never be replicated to further evaluate its findings and replication is fundamental to the principles of validation in research findings.
Yes, we have to be responsible and not cavalier with money, people, resources, and ethics, and there has certainly been good work done by good people via this process. But coming back to true innovation – some of the biggest submitted no bids because they were working out of their bedrooms: Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Google – who would have been courageous enough to fund those start-ups as research projects? I have no problem with thorough, painstaking, detailed research and the measures put in place to ensure nothing is wasted and nobody harmed. I do have a problem with the loss of a box for the ‘vague but exciting’ proposals that have the capacity to change worlds. Happy 25th birthday WWW, I think we are very lucky to have you.
Remember my post about Havok7 and things tumbling about in virtual worlds? Well this week, events in my real world have been tumbling about too! First up, I played football in Second Life with Dave Taylor (Our Man at Imperial College ) using an on-the-spot created ball by way of a demonstration of what the current version of Havok can do. We already have bump, jiggle, and dislodge, it seems so next time we can maybe incorporate it into our build. That’s the value of teams – Dave knew what could be done but not that it might be useful, and I knew what might be useful but not that it could be done. One short game of footie later and we’re both clued up although I doubt I’ll be troubling Fabio any time soon.
Then there was our meeting as a nascent research community with Dame Sally Davies, Director General of Research and Development and Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and NHS, who set up the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR). This was a huge compliment to the efforts of our director of research and to the Trust itself for having the foresight to place research at the heart of its activity. This meeting also gave us an oppportunity to discuss directly some of the glitches and anomalies that seem to beset applications and the positive response we received to those was extremely encouraging. I’ll say more about that when we have tangible results about which we can wave flags.
Well if all that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, I just participated in a seminar in Second Life, touring a group of post graduates and medical specialists from Imperial College around our Brighton simulation. It is quite a bizarre experience, knowing that there are unseen others ‘out there’ listening to me sitting here in Sussex (with the dogs safely stowed out of bark and holler range) but seeing ‘me’ in my SL representation. Dave was also in-world and so I was not alone although it’s an interesting notion that the presence of one bunch of pixels is reassuring to the driver of another bunch when neither is actually there. The authenticity of the engagement was illustrated for me when Dave said goodbye and took his audience off to another part of the simulation and I stood in our empty waiting room wondering whether to go home or not. What if there were stragglers?
The power of 3D experiences is likely to become increasingly apparent as this is introduced into film and TV with greater sophistication and ease of popular access. Interactive 3D will then be such a short step away as to be almost an essential in the process of information giving by services and organisations wanting people to understand their product. What the giant smurfs started…!