During my recent stay in Moscow I was told several different variations on the following anecdote. Japanese experts were invited to assess the state of Soviet electronics and computer technology, and to tell their hosts how long it would take for the Soviet Union to catch up to Japan. “We thought you were behind us 15 or 20 years,” the Japanese experts responded, “But now we have come to the conclusion that it is forever.”

A professor in Moscow told me that in the 1940s an All-Union competition was held to produce the best lighter for comrade Stalin’s pipe. “At that time, several hundred factories participated in the competition,” he said. “A similar competition to produce a personal computer for comrade Gorbachev today could not even be announced. It would be difficult to find one single factory which would be able to produce a modern and reliable one.”

The professor...

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