It's been a bit over a month since Microsoft shuttered its Microsoft Research lab in Silicon Valley as part of the company's broader restructuring that will include 18,000 layoffs. This week, Harry Shum, Microsoft EVP of Technology & Research, posted what he termed an "open letter to the academic research community" on the company's research blog.
In the post, Shum is suitably contrite about the painful job cut decisions that were made in closing the lab, which opened in 2001 (although some of those commenting on the post say Microsoft continues to be vague about why the closing happened so suddenly). He also stresses that Microsoft will continue to invest in and value "fundamental research and its importance for the long-term viability of our company, our industry and our society." Microsoft Research still employs more than 1,000 people worldwide, he says.
But the move is yet another concern for those who feel that the United States is already skimping on such research compared to countries in other parts of the world, including Europe and Asia (particularly China). Among the real areas of worry is investment in security technologies, which were among those tackled by researchers at the Microsoft lab in Silicon Valley.
The recent awarding of Nobel Prizes, including a physics prize for the discovery/development of blue LED lights, is a reminder of the dividends that basic research can bring. (Or as a couple of former Nobel Prize winners in physics recently put it in the Wall Street Journal: "How to Stop Winning Nobel Prizes in Science".)