I was invited to a the Google EMEA faculty summit in February, which I have to decline (for reasons beyond the scope of this entry) with some regret. This meeting is in Zurich in mid-February, and they seem to have invited quite a lot of academics to find out about opportunities to get involved with Google's work in Europe. (EMEA is short for Europe, Middle East and Africa.) Mike W is going so I can find out about the meeting from him. It seems relevant to mention that they offered to pay travel expenses.
I think it is commendable that Google is trying to reach out to the academic community in this way. A question I find vexing is: Why aren't more companies doing likewise? In particular, in Europe. In Computer Science we are often told that we ought to develop industrial collaborations, and quite frankly, for me the missing ingredient is any kind of expression of interest from industry itself. I suspect the problem is especially acute in the UK, and that in this country there is, in industry, a dismissive attitude towards academics' research. By contrast, the USA seems to be the best country to academics to find industrial collaborators. It is no coincidence, I suggest, that the USA is home to all the really major companies related to computing and the internet. And now it would appear, while we sit around waiting for a British company to show some interest, we have to wait until an American one crosses the pond and tries to reach out to us.
Sure, there exists industrial collaboration over here. At a meeting at my own department I was talking to someone from BT who was somehow involved with a research project in which Liverpool takes part. What I could glean from him, before our conversation was interrupted, is that at BT they don't get paid for time spent on academic partnerships, and I got the impression there is little or no organisational infrastructure that supports academic liaison. I don't think they have mechanisms for financing academic research either, and I don't know of any British or European companies that are noticeably better.
I really wish I knew how to improve this situation and move towards the American success story. I don't claim that we academics are entirely blameless, but I also think that our skills are too frequently overlooked.