Sunday 2012-04-29

Neal Stephenson wrote a short piece on the apparent dearth of innovation, which he believes exists and is caused by the current general lack of risk-taking and investment.

As evidence, he cites our lack of progress on the Guinness Book of World Records front: we don't have people colonizing the Moon or Mars, let alone cheap space flight, our computers don't yet think for themselves, and he's still waiting for his jet-pack.

This is the same kind of argument we hear from guys who have a "super important" project on github that everyone just ignores. So, where do we see innovation?

  1. Robots
    Currently most robots are big, stupid, and kept out of sight; quite similar to the computers of 40 years ago, Despite this, we have ever more robots, doing ever more complex tasks. Just like computers, we'll see robots miniaturize and eventually integrate with the human population:
  2. Space
    Getting into space is getting cheaper, and it's not just Elon Musk who's been pushing the boundaries and driving costs lower:
  3. Transactions
    We build universities and cities to bring people together in order to reduce the transaction costs of communicating / working together. While the Internet has helped reduce the costs of communication, so has the increasing urbanization of the planet:

To a physicist, technology equals a recipe for re-arranging items: we're not creating matter or energy, we just recombine stuff in a different way than before. As the costs of moving people, parts, and money change, so do the economically viable technologies.

If Stephenson sees unexploited economically viable opportunities, he should take advantage of them by investing some of the millions he's made from his books. Calling us all foolish cowards only works *after* he's made some leap into the future and advanced the state of the world.