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Guru says Europe unlikely to catch US

Europeans are too risk-averse, says Negroponte

Closing this year's European IT Forum, Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and founder and director of its famed Media Lab, offered some thoughts on Europe's chances at catching up to the U.S. in the "new economy."

Negroponte sounded decidedly less optimistic than some other speakers about European prospects. "In general, the fundamental differences (between Europe and the U.S.) are cultural, not technical, not infrastructure," he said.

Part of the problem, he said, is that Europe is deeply risk averse, "doesn't listen to its young," and often lacks the healthy disrespect for authority that is needed for innovation.

Europeans, he continued, think of work in a manner that is too "compartmentalised," with rigid attitudes about working hours, weekends, and vacations.

And Europeans, he said, "are doing everything possible to destroy" their advantage in wireless technology. In particular, said Negroponte, the recent multi-billion pound auctions of UMTS (universal mobile telecommunications system) licenses in the U.K. and Germany were "terrible."

Would-be providers paid an average of £714 per subscriber for the licences, he said, "with no infrastructure, no handsets, no research and no evidence whatsoever that the system will be so important that people will want to switch to it."

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