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Opportunity knocks

Glimpses of a forward path in electronics. By John Roulston.

The 40 year span of New Electronics has witnessed such change that no projection made in 1968 could ever have come near the reality we are experiencing.
In 1948, advances in vacuum electronics from radio aids, radar and decryption were still fresh after World War II, the ENIAC calculator was operating at the Moore School in Philadelphia and Ferranti, with Manchester University and British genius Alan Turing, was poised to establish modern computer architecture with the Pegasus machine.
Against this backdrop, Britain published a study underpinning a national electronics strategy. That strategy, emerging on the very moment of the invention of the transistor, pivoted on vacuum electronics. It was the wrong path and cost the country dearly. Moreover, it shows the limitation of strategy, even though we must engage it.
Today, the UK is engaging strategy consciously, through the efforts of the Electronics Leadership Council, the Electronics KTN, EPSRC and the Technology Strategy Board. Yet if history speaks to us regarding electronics strategy, it says it is the unexpected event that makes the future. We need strategy, but need to ensure that, within any strategy, there should be adequate mechanisms to foster opportunism.
The strength of UK industry lies in its myriad small companies in diverse fields. Such an assembly benefits from the law of numbers in terms of its overall economic mass and exhibits an economic intelligence that is naturally adaptive to opportunity.
On the other hand, the dilemma of the aggregate of small contributors is the ‘half life’ of any one is too short for it to grow into a national ‘mammoth’ of the size we see in more interventionist economies.
Whilst predictions will miss the mark, there is some reason to consider the value of emerging technologies and their significance.

John Roulston

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