Pulled from the comments: IT technology timeline

In the comments to my post on federally funded research, Peter Harsha writes:
The National Academies' Computer Science and Telecommunications Board: (CSTB) put together a nifty (if complex) chart tracing the development of 19 billion-dollar segments of the IT industry -- from the emergence of the first research, to the introduction of the first product, to the time that product became a billion-dollar industry. You can find a copy of the chart (called the "tire tracks" chart, for reasons that should be apparent when you see it) here. It's a little dense, but worth some time to figure out.

Listed on the left are the various technologies (Timesharing, Client/server computing, Graphics, etc). Each technology has three separate lines plotted on a timeline -- a red line showing when work was taking place in universities (almost all supported by federal research dollars), a blue line showing work in industrial labs, a black dotted line showing when the first product appeared, and a green line noting when that technology became a billion dollar industry. The arrows between the lines and between the various technologies show the flow of people and ideas. So, the chart shows, for example, that work in universities on timesharing prior to 1970 in helped lead to developments in the early 1970's in research that would lead to the Internet.

The chart makes a lot of the points that those of us who advocate for more federal research for basic research try to emphasize in our arguments:

  • There's a complex and rich interplay between federally supported research in universities and industrial R&D. In some cases (RISC and RAID, for example) the initial ideas came from industry, but gov't sponsored research in universities was needed to advance the technology. In other cases (the Internet, GUIs, timesharing), the ideas originated in universities long before they matured to a point where subsequent research by industry moved the tech towards commercialization. University and industrial research is complementary -- with different goals (university = long term, fundamental questions; industry = short term, development-oriented), one doesn't supplant the other.
  • The IT R&D ecosystem is very interdependent.
  • There's often a long incubation period between the the time a technology was first conceived and the time it arrived in the market as a commercial product.
  • University research produces people -- researchers and practitioners -- as well as ideas.
Essentially every aspect of information technology we rely upon today bears the stamp of federally supported research.

Extremely cool.