Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sea-faring Micro-bots. Again.

Some time ago I wrote about the possibility of micro-bots playing a big role in drastically mitigating climate change (what we call here "Changing Climate Back".)

Now there is news that Sea-faring bots are not only out there, they may have been overlooked. The context is different, but the message is the same. Check it out:

"Launched at the start of the millennium, ARGO (Array for Real-time Geostrophic Oceanography) is an ongoing and developing program aimed at keeping a regular check on the temperature and salinity of the Seven Seas with satellite-tracked, automated floats.

The robots, which have a lifespan of four years and dive to 2,000 m for 10 days to take crucial measurements, help scientists to better predict changes or trends in the ocean's climate, explained Xu Jianping, a researcher at the second institute of oceanography under the State Oceanic Administration and chief scientist for the China ARGO program."

It is important to note that the ARGO program is ubiquitous, transparent, highly popular overseas. YET, in China it may be royally overlooked. Why? Because it is too low cost or even free...

"But while experts in Great Britain, Australia, Japan and the United States have embraced the "revolutionary" research, Xu warned his nation is lagging far behind.

"In most participating countries, scientists from various fields have shown great interest in the ARGO program, with climatologists the most enthusiastic," he explained. "But in China, ARGO is still little known among scientists, except oceanographers.

"Everyone has access to the same data. Even a high school student who wants to be an oceanographer or climatologist can access it on his desktop. He or she could also catch up with the international research and climate change studies using the ARGO data. It would be a great pity if China's scientists miss such a good opportunity."

He said researchers in China were failing to exploit the valuable data from more than 3,000 floats across the globe not because of a "lack of interest", but because of restrictions over project funding or background expertise.

The country's climatologists had got too used to expensive information access systems and had no idea the ARGO research could be obtained for free, he said. "Few have shown an interest in the data because they are not used to things being free of charge"."

This is an interesting question. Big funding need usually signifies the value of the research. And, between the lines it says, that research institutions are not interested in saving government money if they can spend it.

In fact, the situation may uncover some important problems:

1. HOW TO VALUE THE SOCIAL CAPITAL? This would be the benefit to societies wealth and welfare - present and future - of a program or research, if the costs of carrying it out can be kept very low. The market value would seem to dictate a fractionally low amount, clearly not the real value of such a research.

2. HOW TO FUND SUCH A LOW COST PROJECT? It would still require a multitude of highly priced brains and people-years.

3. HOW TO PASS ON THE BENEFITS? Regardless how we may calculate it, and what is the exact amount, there are clear and massive cost savings to made here. A research team may only be incentives to go low cost in a market value environment IF THEY GET BONUSES IN LINE WITH THE MASSIVE SAVINGS they make. But some of the monetary savings may also need to be passed on to Society,--- perhaps in a form of less related taxes.

So here is a thought: If big research is funded by taxpayers' money, wouldn't it make sense to pass on the savings back to the taxpayer at the end of the financial year when big savings WERE made that did not deter from value adding, but added even bigger value to society? ...Perhaps splitting the benefits as a percentage bonus to researchers and tax cut to the tax payer...

Question is: savings compared to what?

If each year, a certain percentage of the GDP - but not below a certain absolute minimum amount - would be designated to research, and scientists would propose cheaper ways of carrying it out while adding MORE value to society, this could work quite nicely.

Each project could have a long 3-year account and a short half-year account. Savings would be calculated every six month, and realized savings passed on IMMEDIATELY to tax payer and scientists, who could then use it to pay it as bonus or re-invest for more future social capital savings.

You may say this is a little presumptuous when financial years are whole length periods and calculating mid-way makes little sense. However, I suggest that with the climate change crisis unfolding and requiring more emergency response type techniques, such an accounting will be a matter of when not if.

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