Canadian NEW MEDIA sat down with Bill Buxton, the chief scientist at Alias/Wavefront, during the New Media Conference in Victoria earlier this month to discuss how Canada's new economy and digital media industries are evolving. His message in short: investing time and money to create inevitable technologies is wasteful; the social sciences and arts need more money; and, Canada's strength in the new economy is its potential to marry culture and technology. An abridged version of the interview appears below: The only way to move ahead of your competitors is to do something different. If you look at what's going on in terms of policy and investment in Canada at the provincial, local or federal levels, there's nothing new or innovative happening.They'll come back to me and cite examples like, we're putting an Internet into every classroom. But guess what, so is everybody else. And you know what, you're slower than Germany and you're slower than Ireland. We're just maintaining a middle of the road kind of Canadian position. The fundamental systemic changes that are required to be successful, simply aren't being taken because nobody has the guts or the leadership.The fundamental thing for anybody that sits back and actually looks at this, will agree that where computers are finding themselves in Canada and who's working at them has changed. The change with computing is primarily a sociological one in terms of who in society and where in society these technologies are finding themselves. The rubber hits the road at the people.Since that's the case, how much funding and structural systemic initiatives have been taken to ensure that those people who most understand how people work, think, (and) learn are involved in the development of the technologies. If you look at the funding that has gone into the social science and humanities research in Canada, SSHRC, you will find that their budget has been virtually unaffected by this initiative to push forward the new economy. When in fact, they are the people who understand the most important technology in the equation - people. It's not the hardware, it's not the software, it's the wetwear, the 90 per cent of the brain that has water. That is where the key to success or failure lies.I've been involved in this industry since the beginning. It grew in Canada because of work at the National Research Council and their studies of human-machine interaction, coupled with the National Film Board, the University of Montreal, the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo. All of those computer graphics departments (at the universities) were considered wasteful. They had no industrial or commercial relevance. But they were tolerated. And because of that, Canada created a winner.If the current polices that are in place today were around when the computer graphics industry was in its infancy in the late 1960s, then we would have no computer graphics industry in Canada. I wouldn't have a job. Alias Wavefront wouldn't exist. Soft Image wouldn't exist. Discreet Logic or Sheridan College wouldn't exist. Corel Draw probably wouldn't exist.Research for curiosity's sakeThe government should say, 'let us stop the insanity of trying to pass the responsibility of funding university research off to the private sector. Let us let the universities do curiosity-driven research. Let us have fewer universities and let us distinguish between vocational schools and universities. In short, we should have fewer and better funded universities.Our best researchers shouldn't be trying to make products at universities. That simply turns our universities into advanced development labs for industry. That would have prevented the computer graphics industry from happening in Canada.We're at a place right now where there is not one university in Canada or even the world, where in order to graduate with a degree in computer science, you must ever have written a computer program that was used by another human being. If you simply changed just that, and said that the fundamental literacy in humans and how humans work with technology is a prerequisite for being able to call yourself a computer scientist. That would give Canada an incredible leg up over other jurisdictions.We (also) have to stop having this mistaken faith in engineering, science and technology. I am probably one of the top five in the world at what I do, but I'm not that because I'm the smartest computer scientist. It's because of what I know from the arts and the social sciences that makes me a good scientist. If you want to trigger creativity and innovation, you trigger people in the arts. And you start funding the arts properly. It is precisely in the human aspects of technology and on the culture side where Canada leads the world. And rather than even maintaining our status quo as a leader, we're destroying it. We're discouraging creativity.Once these (broadband) networks up are up and running, what are we going to use them for? It's not just in developing the technology itself where the arts and the humanities are important, but once they're in place, what do we use them for? If we recognize that that is the asset we have, and if we recognize that there's a different way and we don't act like a bunch of Canadian sheep we could absolutely dominate the new economy. It's common sense.Bill Buxton is also the chief scientist at Alias/Wavefront's parent company, SGI Inc, and an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Univ. of Toronto. His first degree was in music and his co-owns an art gallery in Toronto with his wife.