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Sci-fi writer wonders, are we running out of steam for innovation?

Neal Stephenson, “Innovation Starvation” (World Policy Institute, Fall 2011):

I worry that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done. My parents and grandparents witnessed the creation of the airplane, the automobile, nuclear energy, and the computer to name only a few. Scientists and engineers who came of age during the first half of the 20th century could look forward to building things that would solve age-old problems, transform the landscape, build the economy, and provide jobs for the burgeoning middle class that was the basis for our stable democracy.

More. Thoughts?

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3 Responses to Sci-fi writer wonders, are we running out of steam for innovation?

  1. OT: Unbelievable Christian Radio: On this week’s show: We look ahead to the Bethinking National Apologetics Day Conference “Countering the New Atheism” on Sat 22 Oct in London. It will form part of the Reasonable Faith Tour. Speakers include William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Gary Habermas & Peter J Williams. Justin features all four apologists on the show speaking to them about their hopes for the Tour and the Conference, hearing about their personal faith journeys and how they respond to atheists in their field of expertise.
    http://www.premier.org.uk/unbelievable

  2. Actually, starting in the late 1800′s, we hit a wave of innovation that lasted until our generation. But a number of things have happened to change the landscape:

    1) We hit a point of diminishing returns, for example in space travel. Getting to the moon was possible. The next milestones (Mars, another star, and so on) involve one or more orders of magnitude more distance, fuel, time, etc. In other words, the next goals aren’t just an incremental leap from where we are today. We’ve picked all the low-hanging fruit for the time being.

    2) We may be hitting a soft upper limit on what we can achieve intellectually and economically. Building something as large and complex as the space shuttle takes enormous concentrations of capital and intellect. No single person understood the entire shuttle and all its components. When complexity gets above certain limits, as with large software projects, failure becomes more common, and the cost of upkeep grows rapidly. Perhaps we’re coming to grips with our species’ finiteness, and approaching its limits.

    3) Western civilization has reached some sort of plateau where we just want to kick back and relax. Enjoy life! Have fun! Very few people today have any vision greater than that for their life. Our comfort level has sapped our drive to achieve.

    4) We are beginning to realize that technological progress has brought good and bad, cures for diseases, but also power for incredible destruction. We sense correctly that our technological progress has far outstripped our moral progress, and that this might not go well for us.

    5) Technological achievements we can’t see don’t inspire us as much as those we can. The light bulb, radio, television, moon shots, automobile, etc., were visible and had big impacts on us. Advances in microelectronics, nanotechnology, genomics, pharmacology, etc., are amazing if you can understand them, but not as glamorous to the masses.

  3. There is no limit to what neds and can be done by intelligent and so innovative mankind.
    I see everything advancing and better then ever before and don’t smell a slowdown relative to the past.
    There are people, more money, and more ambition then ever.
    tHese formerly backward peoples and nations are coming on strong and presumly will contribute greatly. not just the western (read Christian ) world,
    There are now women involved and this should be a gain as long as it is not a interference to men. A issue in education and the workworld.

    In fact as long there is no interference to people then it can be calulated the greatest discoveries are yet too come and soon.
    Creationism(s) surely have the ambition to kill Darwinian evolution in our time. yEC guys like me do.
    therefore it will demand greater ideas on biological diversity and mechanisms.
    once discovered surely this could lead to better healing of people.

    There are major oppositions today to achievement/innovation that were not there in the past in North America largely about identity issues.
    Yet there is good progress and a universe of potential.
    All man does is copy what is in nature or slightly a twist on it.
    Nature in biology alone is fantastic.
    Lots of room to grow,

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