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Neal Stephenson Takes Blame For Innovation Failure 448

itwbennett writes "Neal Stephenson is shouldering some of the blame for discouraging budding scientists and engineers, saying in a interview that perhaps the dark turn science fiction has taken is 'discouraging budding scientists and engineers.' For his part, Stephenson has vowed to be more optimistic. From the article: 'Speaking before a packed lecture theater at MIT yesterday, Neal Stephenson worried that the gloomy outlook prevalent in modern science fiction may be undermining the genre's ability to inspire engineers and scientists. Describing himself as a "pessimist trying to turn himself into an optimist," and acknowledging that some of his own work has contributed to the dystopian trend, he added "if every depiction of the future is grim...then it doesn't create much of an incentive to building the future."'"
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Neal Stephenson Takes Blame For Innovation Failure

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  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:03PM (#39741299)
    Nevermind the fact that Snow Crash inspired Google Earth []
    It's not like that software is used by anyone.
  • by NiteShaed ( 315799 ) on Thursday April 19, 2012 @09:14PM (#39741379)

    same for the other rights that suffer when all of space is controlled by a military dictatorship, aka, 'the federation'

    You fail at Star Treks. The government is the United Federation of Planets, which has an elected President and representitves. It's not much different than today's democratic governments. Starfleet is the military/exploration arm of the Federation. Please turn in your geek card.

  • Re:Not necessiarly (Score:5, Informative)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <aussie_bob@[ ] ['hot' in gap]> on Thursday April 19, 2012 @10:08PM (#39741775) Journal

    To me the real tipping point seems to be as the "corporate dystopia" of which William Gibson and Cyberpunk was part.

    Earlier than that.

    Try Philip K Dick or Harlan Ellison for size.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 19, 2012 @10:48PM (#39741971)

    And what innovation failure? I and the people around me have been innovating our asses off. I'm not going to self promote, but anyone in the world can go to [] and see all the incredible research that is going on if they want to.

    Message to Neal: You ain't that influential.

    At the talk, he was very clear in saying there is a LOT of innovation right now. He wasn't criticizing the rate of innovation, so I'm not too sure where you came up with this.

    If you want to know the details, the moderator asked him why people were pessimistic about technology, and whether science fiction authors had any role to play in shaping this viewpoint. Naturally, he said that science fiction (as a whole) could write optimistic futures to help inspire scientists and engineers.

    This is not completely off-base. If you've read any science fiction, you'll definitely notice the trend towards dystopias with pandemics, genetic engineering, energy crises, and overpopulation, especially in comparison to earlier sci-fi

  • by Shihar ( 153932 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @01:34AM (#39742789)

    I was actually at his talk. He didn't discount the tech boom. His point is that the tech boom wasn't "big" science. If anything, it might have sucked some of the air out of the room for science. He was arguing that the Intertubes landed out our feet, everyone was like "wow, WTF is this and how can we use!?" and stopped doing a lot of other things. That is almost certainly true. We diverted a huge number of people who might otherwise have been "hard" scientist into working in and around the 'tubes. He was talking more about striving for grand science, not just what we call "tech".

    I have friends smart technical friends writing apps for cell phones. My most technically brilliant friends work for Google (an ad company) and Facebook (also an ad company). These people are near Savants with how scary smart they are, and their efforts are their brilliance is being funneled into figuring out ways to make you click on ads. For better or for worse, we have turned a huge portion of our most technical minds to working on shit that, in the grand scheme of things, doesn't mean a whole a lot.

    Now, how much of that is a lack of optimism for the future and how much of it is that Google makes a fuck-ton of money? Eh, I think the money probably has more to do with it. That said, I wouldn't totally discount the subtle effect of sci-fi. I know sci-fi influenced me into going into engineering. I wanted carbon nanotube space elevators. The (delusional) dream of working on something like that is the only thing that lured me away from programming and into engineering. If not for sci-fi, there is a non-trivial chance that my path would have sent me down the road of making apps for people's cell phones instead of making the chips that go inside of them.

  • by Noren ( 605012 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @01:39AM (#39742811)
    Yeah, because science fiction in the sixties certainly didn't have any of that. The future would be a bright place, [] and they certainly never wrote back then about pandemics [], genetic engineering [], or overpopulation. [] And certainly no science fiction of the 60s had some elements of all of that. [] (I admit that I couldn't think of good examples of 'pure' energy crisis memes in 60's SF, though it was an element in the above works that dealt with overpopulation.)
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @05:48AM (#39743917)

    seriously america, you need to get rid of voting for your judges

    Well America is here to please!

    As it turns out we DO NOT vote for judges.

    The judges on ballots are there only to say if we should retain the judges or not, so the very worst can be removed. And that's at a local, not federal, level.

    Judges are appointed at all levels.

    Unless you meant to stop the trend that some people are trying to argue we should start voting for judges?

    I think however, SCI-FI authors *should* write about distopias

    Of course but there needs to be balance. In the real world not everything is bad, even large corporations. Someone needs to show the other side of that coin so people can work towards building large entities that work, by knowing both dangers and potential benefits.

  • Re:Really? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nordee ( 104555 ) on Friday April 20, 2012 @08:17AM (#39744499)

    Bullshit article title.

    I was there. He prefixed most comments with "I don't want to be prescriptive to future authors" or "It's dangerous to make predictions because they were often wrong." He certainly never claimed, or even insinuated, that he was partly or even mostly responsible.

All science is either physics or stamp collecting. -- Ernest Rutherford