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What's new at the crossroads of culture, technology and science
Curated by Artur Alves
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Basic Science, Innovation by design and other myths of science and technology

Basic Science, Innovation by design and other myths of science and technology | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Does scientific research drive innovation? Not very often, argues Matt Ridley: Technological evolution has a momentum of its own, and it has little to do with the abstractions of the lab.
Artur Alves's insight:

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The implications of this new way of seeing technology—as an autonomous, evolving entity that continues to progress whoever is in charge—are startling. People are pawns in a process. We ride rather than drive the innovation wave. Technology will find its inventors, rather than vice versa. Short of bumping off half the population, there is little that we can do to stop it from happening, and even that might not work.


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Politicians believe that innovation can be turned on and off like a tap: You start with pure scientific insights, which then get translated into applied science, which in turn become useful technology. So what you must do, as a patriotic legislator, is to ensure that there is a ready supply of money to scientists on the top floor of their ivory towers, and lo and behold, technology will come clanking out of the pipe at the bottom of the tower.

This linear model of how science drives innovation and prosperity goes right back to Francis Bacon, the early 17th-century philosopher and statesman who urged England to catch up with the Portuguese in their use of science to drive discovery and commercial gain. Supposedly Prince Henry the Navigator in the 15th century had invested heavily in mapmaking, nautical skills and navigation, which resulted in the exploration of Africa and great gains from trade. That is what Bacon wanted to copy.

Yet recent scholarship has exposed this tale as a myth, or rather a piece of Prince Henry’s propaganda. Like most innovation, Portugal’s navigational advances came about by trial and error among sailors, not by speculation among astronomers and cartographers. If anything, the scientists were driven by the needs of the explorers rather than the other way around.


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Irresistibly biased? The blind spots of social innovation

Irresistibly biased? The blind spots of social innovation | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Social
innovation has an irresistible global appeal, but is it biased towards protecting
the status quo? 
Artur Alves's insight:

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Challenging dominant ideas and debating alternatives in the public sphere is a key source of creative tension. “Having a good fight before getting to yes” is essential to building compromises and constituencies, as the sociologist Xavier de Souza Briggs concludes in his book ‘Democracy as Problem Solving.” Protecting spaces for ‘unruly politics’and the exercise of strong countervailing power is vital for societal renewal.

So it’s highly problematic to hear Brooks Newmark, Britain’s “Minister for Civil Society,” say that social organizations should “stick to their knitting and keep out of politics” at a meeting that announced the dawn of a “people-helping-people age.” Just get on with your work, pay your taxes (so that government can bail out more banks), and don’t expect the state to bail out ordinary people.

Instead, here’s some money and the odd award for you to ‘innovate’ your way to helping people deal with a collapsing economy and a social safety net that’s disappearing. And so the social innovation community gets busy devising ingenious volunteering schemes in hospitals and facilitating communities to re-organize their depleted assets. Is this collaboration or co-optation?

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Debunking Myths About Private and Public Innovation

Debunking Myths About Private and Public Innovation | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

"Recognizing the state as a lead risk-taker, and enabling it to reap a reward, will not only make the innovation system stronger, it will also spread the profits of growth more fairly. This will ensure that education, health, and transportation can benefit from state investments in innovation, instead of just the small number of people who see themselves as wealth creators, while relying increasingly on the courageous, entrepreneurial state."

Artur Alves's insight:

The case for the State as an innovator and driver for tech and science. Just as there are no self-made men, there also are nopure individual innovators. Think social!

 

«Whether an innovation will be a success is uncertain, and it can take longer than traditional banks or venture capitalists are willing to wait. In countries such as the United States, China, Singapore, and Denmark, the state has provided the kind of patient and long-term finance new technologies need to get off the ground. Investments of this kind have often been driven by big missions, from putting a human on the moon to solving climate change. This has required not only funding basic research—the typical "public good" that most economists admit needs state help—but applied research and seed funding too.

 

Apple is a perfect example. In its early stages, the company received government cash support via a $500,000 small-business investment company grant. And every technology that makes the iPhone a smartphone owes its vision and funding to the state: the Internet, GPS, touch-screen displays, and even the voice-activated smartphone assistant Siri all received state cash. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency bankrolled the Internet, and the CIA and the military funded GPS. So, although the United States is sold to us as the model example of progress through private enterprise, innovation there has benefited from a very interventionist state.«

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Putting Elon Musk and Steve Jobs on a Pedestal Misrepresents How Innovation Happens | MIT Technology Review

Putting Elon Musk and Steve Jobs on a Pedestal Misrepresents How Innovation Happens | MIT Technology Review | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
The idea that particular individuals drive history has long been discredited. Yet it persists in the tech industry, obscuring some of the fundamental factors in innovation.
Artur Alves's insight:

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 technology hero worship tends to distort our visions of the future. Why should governments do the hard work of fixing and expanding California’s mass transit system when Musk says we could zip people across the state at 760 miles per hour in a “hyperloop”? Is trying to colonize Mars, at a cost in the billions of dollars, actually the right direction for future space exploration and scientific research? We should be able to determine long-term technology priorities without giving excessive weight to the particular visions of a few tech celebrities.

Rather than placing tech leaders on a pedestal, we should put their successes in context, acknowledging the role of government not only as a supporter of basic science but as a partner for new ventures. Otherwise, it is all too easy to denigrate public-sector investment, eroding support for government agencies and training programs and ultimately putting future innovation at risk. As Mazzucato puts it, “It’s precisely because we admire Musk and think his contributions are important that we need to get real about where his success actually comes from.”

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Joseph E. Stiglitz argues that the impact of technological change on living standards has become increasingly unclear

Joseph E. Stiglitz argues that the impact of technological change on living standards has become increasingly unclear | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it
Around the world, there is enormous enthusiasm for the type of technological innovation symbolized by Silicon Valley, with many attempting to replicate the ingenuity that they regard as America’s true comparative advantage. But there is a puzzle: it is difficult to detect the benefits of this innovation in GDP statistics.

Via Willy De Backer
Artur Alves's insight:

"Still, one cannot avoid the uneasy feeling that, when all is said and done, the contribution of recent technological innovations to long-term growth in living standards may be substantially less than the enthusiasts claim. A lot of intellectual effort has been devoted to devising better ways of maximizing advertising and marketing budgets – targeting customers, especially the affluent, who might actually buy the product. But standards of living might have been raised even more if all of this innovative talent had been allocated to more fundamental research – or even to more applied research that could have led to new products."

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Willy De Backer's curator insight, March 9, 2014 8:22 AM

Excellent article by Joe Stiglitz in Project Syndicate.

rafaeldiazarias's curator insight, March 10, 2014 4:32 AM

A menudo se ignoran los costes sociales de las innovaciones, tanto en términos económicos como de progreso social

Eli Levine's curator insight, March 11, 2014 9:34 AM

The valueless economy at work.  At least, the way that we measure it is valueless.

What good is monetary gain if it does not produce a better quality of life for everyone?

How does it help the elite if they destroy everything for the sake of personal monetary "gain"? 

 

Why do we sacrifice so much of our actual well being for the sake of GDP "growth" (if that "growth" manifests itself in the first place

 

Think about it.

 

Because, apparently, some very important people, are not.

 

Think about it.

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There is no Such Thing as Invention

There is no Such Thing as Invention | Gentlemachines | Scoop.it

"Calculus was invented twice, Natural Selection discovered twice and the telephone was patented twice.

There’s a pattern of simultaneous invention throughout history that’s either an unbelievable co-incidence or evidence that something different from what we usually think of as inspiration is going on."

Artur Alves's insight:

"The same is true in technology, even from its inception. Alan Turing and Claude Shannon shared the same cafeteria (even if they were not allowed to talk about their secret work), and Silicon Valley pioneers comprise a relatively small group of people who quite often, personally knew each other before they were successful. This is neither incredible co-incidence nor voodoo attraction between geniuses but a product of special environments.

We like to think special places are to do with people but you could probably swap out the individuals for different ones of equal intelligence at the Solvay Conference or in Silicon Valley, and there would be a different Heisenberg and a different Zuckerberg."

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