BlackBerry Maker Wants More 'Blue Sky' Science
CREDIT: DreamWorks Pictures
VANCOUVER — Mike Lazaridis earned fame and wealth with his BlackBerry devices that first hooked the world on smartphones. But he never forgot to reinvest some of his good fortune in the wild, crazy ideas of "blue sky" science that can lead to disruptive technologies decades later.
The world must never stop betting on such big ideas in science that can seem impractical at first glance, Lazaridis told a crowd at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver on Feb. 17. His own passion for physics drove him to found the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Institute for Quantum Computing in Waterloo, Canada.
"Times are hard, and in such times it's tempting to cut back," Lazaridis said. "But we can't afford to cut back. We have to have the courage, and think big, and be bold."
The speech comes barely a month after Lazaridis stepped down as CEO of Research in Motion (RIM) — the company he founded on the way to making the BlackBerry. Once the world's dominant smartphone maker, RIM has seen its market share drop below 10 percent as Apple's iPhone and Google Android phones surge in popularity.
But such worldly concerns didn't make an appearance at all in the speech by Lazaridis. Instead, the Canadian entrepreneur pointed to history as a guide for how scientific breakthroughs can lead to new technologies and economic benefits.
Take the case of quantum entanglement — the spooky idea of two particles "entangled" so that they can affect one another instantly even when separated by huge distances. What once represented a bizarre physics theory has now become the foundation for someday creating ultrafast quantum supercomputers.
Lazaridis recalled first learning about quantum entanglement as a college student who attended evening seminars to discuss the latest physics breakthroughs with fellow engineers. He eventually recruited the professor who taught the evening seminars to help found his Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics.
"It was easy to think that something as esoteric as quantum entanglement could never be useful to the real-world stuff we engineers wanted to build and do," Lazaridis said. "But maybe, just maybe, reading about quantum entanglement was like a reading a manual that had fallen through from the future."