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Letters and Comments

October 27, 2010

Why 35?
Each year that Technology Review releases the TR35 (September/October 2010), I find myself reacting very negatively to the criterion that the inventors be under the age of 35. Perhaps it is because my age is now the transposition of these digits, but to me there is something offensive about putting so much value in featuring young innovators. I would prefer that you just list the top innovators of the year regardless of their ages.
Jonathan Simon
Pleasant Valley, Connecticut

The editor in chief responds: When we select 35 innovators under 35, we don’t mean to imply that 65-year-olds aren’t capable of innovation. Of course they are. We search for innovators under 35 because stories about them and their work will be new to our readers.

Gates and Energy
As a senior fellow at the Tellus Institute, I thought some of the points raised by Bill Gates in your September/October 2010 Q&A were problematic. I agree with Gates that getting the United States to zero carbon emissions will be very hard, but I was disappointed in the stress that he put on funding research and development in new technologies in order to develop energy “miracles.” The physics and engineering of most energy technologies have been fairly well known for 50 to 150 years, so we know that miracles or major new breakthroughs are not likely to occur. And we know that the efficiencies of both new energy supplies and end-use technologies will improve only very slowly from this point forward. Furthermore, new zero-carbon-emitting energy technologies are not ever likely to cost less than current coal-fired electricity, which Gates thinks is possible and necessary for their success. We need energy policies that mandate the installation of the most efficient end-use technologies we have today, and we need a national investment plan to eliminate almost all fossil fuels from the energy supply over the next 40 years. These investments might easily total $500 billion to $1 trillion per year, but they would create millions of jobs. By ignoring the need to invest hundreds of billions of dollars per year immediately, and by primarily stressing R&D, Gates is doing a disservice to our country.
Richard A. Rosen
Brookline, Massachusetts

The best way to stem the tide of global climate change is with a revenue-neutral carbon tax. If the American electorate were properly educated about a carbon tax–the solution the world’s leading economists and scientists agree is best–they would support it wholeheartedly. And it’s long past time that we demand that the people who represent us in Washington put good public policy ahead of political expediency.
ClimateTF, 8/25/2010

The Business of Porn
The porn industry is struggling to make money online (“Down the Tubes,” September/October 2010) because it takes talent and hard work to achieve anything meaningful in most activities, but porn has no such barriers. Anyone who is willing can have sex on a tape and upload it to the Web, resulting in an oversupply of porn, with diminishing returns. The huge irony is that the porn industry did this to itself. In the old days, porn was difficult to produce due to restrictive moral standards. The limited supply made for good business and fat profits, but nowadays porn is ubiquitous and taken for granted.
(Gabriel Gaidos, Hanover, New Hampshire)

Value of Anonymity
Sites like 4chan (“Radical Opacity,” September/October 2010) allow people to be their worst selves without the need to face the consequences of their words and actions. Posting to an online forum is not necessarily harmless. Those who seek to do harm should not be allowed the anonymity to get away with it.
nhabrams06, 8/23/2010

“A place to be wrong” is important–I think you need to understand that. I have used 4chan for bouncing around ideas that I could never anywhere else. I’ve shared things with people I never would consider. It’s therapeutic, and only a small number of anonymous users lash out.
(Karl Schneider, Cleveland, Ohio)

Energy Stimulus
I think that the U.S. government should get out of the stimulus business and into the regulation business (“Cash for Infrastructure,” September/October 2010). I don’t trust any government to make the best decision on which energy technologies to develop. I think that the government should figure out what is the cost to pollute (health-care costs for asthma, costs of sea-level rises, costs of acid rain, etc.), and then should tax the pollution source based on the amount of pollution emitted. If the company wants to avoid the tax then they will invest in technology that emits less pollution.
Devere, 8/31/2010

Correction: The algorithm created by TR35 winner Philip Low (September/October 2010) can classify sleep stages using data from a single EEG lead (not LED).

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