Neil deGrasse Tyson Attacks 'Startup Culture,' Demonstrates Lack Of Understanding About Innovation

from the too-bad dept

Let me say, first off, that I'm generally a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson. The guy is obviously super smart, tells very entertaining stories, and, in general, I really like the fact that our culture has turned an astrophysicist into something of a rock star. That's awesome. And I say that even after I read Sean Davis' rather epic takedown of Tyson's apparent penchant for fabricating quotes and stories (when it's not necessary) and bad math (that last one is less forgivable for someone supposedly so focused on scientific rigor -- I mean, Tyson famously bitched and bitched about the incorrect star patterns in Titanic, but can't be bothered with the difference between a "mean" and a "median"?). Still, he tends to do this in the interest of storytelling -- and, as I've said in the past, I have no issue with exaggerations for the sake of pure storytelling (though I have serious problems when they're used in journalism).

However, now he's wandered over into making broad statements about startup culture and innovation, and he seems to have fallen into the same ridiculous trap as all too many commentators, both in and outside the innovation fields: mocking it because lots of people are creating apps.
“Nobody’s talking about ‘tomorrowland’ anymore. We’re waiting for our next app,” Tyson exclaims. “Now I love me some apps, don’t get me wrong here.”

“But, society has bigger problems than what can be solved with your next app, in transportation, and energy and health. And these are huge sectors of society and they are solved by innovations in these fields,” Tyson continued. “Without it we might as well just proceed back into the cave, because that’s where we’re headed.”

“We’re a sleepy nation right now. I want us to be a nation of innovation,” Tyson stated later.
This sort of criticism comes up again and again. Every few years, we have to write a similar story because someone declares that there are so many "trivial" things happening in Silicon Valley or elsewhere. But this is the nature of innovation. Innovation happens when individuals scratch an itch and see where it leads. So many great innovations in history were somewhat accidental discoveries, not because someone set out to "change the world."

The nature of truly great disruptive innovation is that it starts out looking like a toy. It's easy for people to dismiss. Google was a toy -- slightly better search in a world that already had a bunch of dominating search engines? Why bother? Now it's part of the global brain (for better or worse). Twitter was a toy. Who wants to communicate in 140 characters or less? Yet, it's become (almost in spite of the company's own actions at times) a core piece of communications infrastructure, relied on to organize government-changing protests and to communicate during emergencies.

Furthermore, the idea that "nobody's talking about tomorrowland" anymore is flat out wrong. He should come out here to Silicon Valley, and I or plenty of other people can show him around some of the companies we've seen lately. The "app" company that is looking to make it orders of magnitude cheaper to do medical scanning? The "app" company that is building sub-$100 satellites that will change the world? The drone companies that recognize that they can change the way society interacts with stuff. Lots of people like to attack things like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar for disrupting the taxi industry, but have little vision for how those companies can evolve into ones that fundamentally change the way we travel. Lots of people are attacking Bitcoin because the price has been dropping, but fewer are looking at how the very nature of commerce and transactions can fundamentally shift when money is programmable. Lots of people are talking about Tesla, but I think many are underestimating what Elon Musk is really up to. He's not building a new kind of car company. He's rethinking transportation as a whole, and using a fancy electric car as a sneaky subversive way to get his ideas out there.

But part of the way that we get these innovations to happen is by vast experimentation in which many of the experiments fail. Anyone even remotely familiar with the true history of Silicon Valley knows that it's a trial and error process by which a lot of shit is thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Much of it fails, but that's a sign of good experimenting. Sure, it's easy to mock the "app" culture. It's easy to attack the success of Kim Kardashian's app in our cynical world. But there are lots of apps that are fundamentally changing how we interact, communicate, travel, share, learn and more. Much of it may be trivial, but the stuff that works can and does change the world and make it a better place.

There's a myth, which Tyson and others seem to have bought into (and which is often encouraged by the successful innovators from the previous round of innovations), that innovation is this top down thing, driven by a singular vision of brilliance. But that's rarely the case (though, Elon Musk may be an exception here, and even then, I think the public vision is a smokescreen for the real vision). Real innovation involves lots of experiments. Lots of toys. Lots of trivial "apps." And much of it fails. If it doesn't, there's not enough innovation and experimentation going on. Innovation is a process, and, to outside eyes, it almost always looks trivial. Until it's changed the world. And then people pretend it was the plan all along.

It's a facile statement to say that, because there are lots of apps out there that are popular, we're not focused on innovation any more. It's an easy sort of statement that sounds good and doesn't require much thought. It's also wrong.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    antidirt (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 8:58am

    I have no issue with exaggerations for the sake of pure storytelling (though I have serious problems when they're used in journalism).

    Really?!?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:17am

      Re:

      I've got to admit that the holier than thou attitude around here is getting pretty hard to bear. I've been visiting this site for a couple of years now and while they do do a great job shining a spotlight on many of the problems plaguing the world, their positions are quite often undermined by their arrogance - especially when they don't fully understand the topic they're railing against.

      I've seen their arguments dismantled and tossed to the wind so many times on other sites a healthy dose of modesty could go a long way to ensuring they don't lose their audience completely. Or rather, ensuring they keep the intelligent ones coming back and discussing the topics. (Their unending stream of clickbait headlines pretty much guarantees that they will always have an audience, but perhaps not the audience they want.)

      Again, great topics here, just dial down the petulance a bit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        icon
        antidirt (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:56am

        Re: Re:

        I've got to admit that the holier than thou attitude around here is getting pretty hard to bear. I've been visiting this site for a couple of years now and while they do do a great job shining a spotlight on many of the problems plaguing the world, their positions are quite often undermined by their arrogance - especially when they don't fully understand the topic they're railing against.

        I've seen their arguments dismantled and tossed to the wind so many times on other sites a healthy dose of modesty could go a long way to ensuring they don't lose their audience completely. Or rather, ensuring they keep the intelligent ones coming back and discussing the topics. (Their unending stream of clickbait headlines pretty much guarantees that they will always have an audience, but perhaps not the audience they want.)

        Again, great topics here, just dial down the petulance a bit.


        The arrogance is all the more ridiculous because the grasp of the subject matter is often so weak. I agree. Drop the "holier than thou" attitude, and this place would be a lot more pleasant--and productive. If anything, though, it's moving in the other direction. Form trumps substance here in a sad way.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:12pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Of course it's moving in the other direction. 3 years ago I decided to destroy whatever credibility this site had left. I succeeded.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
            icon
            antidirt (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:22pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Of course it's moving in the other direction. 3 years ago I decided to destroy whatever credibility this site had left. I succeeded.

            I think the destruction here comes from within--and it all falls on Mike.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 8:33pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              OOOH, look at AJ and anti-dirt with their hands up each others skirts.

              The only ones without a clue that brings the quality of this site down are you .

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:41pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            And then you woke up, and were left with no hint of that dream ever existing - save for a damp spot on your panties where you wet yourself like a giddy little schoolgirl.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        CK20XX (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 3:12pm

        Re: Re:

        It's pretty telling that of all the dissenters in this chunks of comments, you're the only one worth responding to.

        For better or for worse, I think any attitude problems are a side effect of the admin refusing to ban anyone. That means when trolls appear and prove irritating to deal with, that irritation eventually and inevitably starts leaking into the staffers' posts in various ways, diluting their quality. I've noticed that going on off and on for some time. I do appreciate the idealism behind never banning or censoring commentators, but after a certain point it becomes naive and you wonder why the blog's owners don't exercise their right to clean house by just giving people the boot.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JMT (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 4:34pm

        Re: Re:

        "I've got to admit that the holier than thou attitude around here is getting pretty hard to bear."

        Did you even read your own comment?!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          CK20XX (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 4:38pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Eh, it's not so bad. A bit overblown and emotional, perhaps, but I've seen hints of the phenomenon he's trying to communicate.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2014 @ 6:14am

          Re: Re: Re:

          I did. Have you read your own? Here are a few from the first 13 results of your profile link:


          This stupid phrase becomes even stupider when you're commenting on a story about activity that is ostensibly not breaking copyright law.

          It's hilariously ignorant of you to think...

          Well at least from this comment we know you don't actually understand the law. Not a surprise.

          You're judged on the quality of your comments, just like every other commenter. Plenty of people reply to your comments trying (probably futilely) to educate you. In fact there are over a dozen comments preceding mine that are doing just that.

          Now stop whining like a little baby, you're sure as hell being judged on that.


          So you can't read, and you think this is a pretty good TV show. I suspect these two facts are linked...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ltlw0lf (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:14am

    "Tomorrowland" has always missed the mark...

    Having been to Disneyland recently, and having fond childhood memories of the place, it is amazing how dated and wrong most of the predictions "Tomorrowland" has made. We don't have flying cars, we don't have scheduled trips to the moon or Mars bases, and even a lot of their household "upgrades" have failed to materialize or become viable (though some have come true in ways that the futurists didn't even predict: robotic vacuum cleaners that are the shape and size of a small stack of plates versus the monstrosities they had on display.)

    But our world has advanced in many ways they didn't dream of, such as fast and highly versatile computers that can fit into a Altoids tin, personal handheld communicators and/or ear-fitted communicators, safer highways, etc.

    Looking for Tomorrowland for our future will never give us a good idea of what technology will exist, but it will (as sci-fi books and futurists have shown,) give us some indication of the cultural struggles and ethical implementations of that future technology being implemented. I am sure there were just as many people who went to Tomorrowland with the sense of dread of what the future may bring as those with the sense of awe and wonderment.

    I guarantee, Mr. deGrasse-Tyson, that in the future, someone looking back fondly to today's predictions of the future will have the same view as we have looking back at the 50's when Tomorrowland first appeared. None of the technology we live by today appeared instantly...it grew in small steps. I remember when people complained about cell phones being too big and unwieldy just as much as they complain about them being too small now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:34am

      Re: "Tomorrowland" has always missed the mark...

      Tomorrowland has to sell, therefore its ideas have to look spectacular. A humanoid robot will draw the crowds, while a cake-tin sized vacuum cleaner is meh. Flying cars seem like a good idea, until the debris from collisions, and the car whose pilot forgot to fuel, start raining down on people. As for trips to the moon and beyond Gene Cernan is disappointed that he is known as the last man to walk on the Moon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ltlw0lf (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:58am

        Re: Re: "Tomorrowland" has always missed the mark...

        As for trips to the moon and beyond Gene Cernan is disappointed that he is known as the last man to walk on the Moon.

        Me too. I really wanted to set up a homestead up there.

        But seriously. Our radio and visual telescopes are having a real problem with noise right now. We generate way too much of it, and even efforts to reduce and eliminate noise haven't been as effective. There are still tons of people out there with Sodium Vapor and Halogen lamps, brightening the night sky with light and radio noise pollution. Establishing a scientific base on the moon would allow for us to build huge radio telescopes and great regular telescopes, without the need of providing fuel and sending astronauts into LEO in order to fix them.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:17am

          Re: Re: Re: "Tomorrowland" has always missed the mark...

          First they need to build a fiber-optic cable from the far-side to the near side, as there are no long tern stable orbits around the Moon.
          What is even more interesting, is that it is possible to build a really long rail gun on the moon, and deliver larger, and fueled vehicles to any planet in the solar system. This would give an ability to deliver large payloads to Mars orbit, and Mars surface, to support an expedition, and then a base there.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            RonKaminsky (profile), 19 Oct 2014 @ 11:34am

            Not 100% necessary

            It might be cheaper to build such a cable, but one could just as easily use satellites in the L4, and L5 points supplemented by a periodically refueled satellite orbiting around L2.

            Latency would suck compared to a cable, though. But for most imaging research, it would be perfectly OK.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    hij (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:29am

    irony or sad?

    What I find sad about this is that there is no shortage of people who look at what physicists and mathematicians do and use this same argument. I can easily go to the local uni, pick out a random physicist and make fun of his work saying it has no bearing on the things that matter to me.

    Dr. Tyson has been tireless in trying to combat this argument, and now here he is using it on someone else. He should be celebrating everybody who creates new ideas no matter how small or shallow. The problems start when we start pointing at "the other" and denigrating their work.

    Dr. Tyson of all people show understand this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:31am

    This is not unlike the old communist-era thinking, that competition wastes valuable resources, and the most efficient system is having a central decision-maker who decides how technology needs to progress, and a top-down appointment of the people needed to make it happen.

    That way, there are no dead-end inventions and no duplication of effort that wastes both time and money. It's a very efficient system (near 100% efficiency, in fact) and anyone who wants to see for themselves what a 100% efficient economy looks like should visit North Korea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Rob McMillin (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:40am

      Good lord, yes, THIS. There is the germ of a good argument in his beef -- we need some good advances in energy, like, yesterday -- but his complaint is the complaint of the central planner, of the man who sees others engaged in pursuits in which he does not approve and declares them wasteful, without any further analysis (or input from others). In that, he rides exactly the same moral plane as the religious scold decrying homosexuality, or the Bloombergian anti-large-soda crusader.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:33am

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is simply a wannabe scientist who confuses storytelling with actual fact and refuses to accept alternative ideas. He rode toe coattails of Dr. Carl Sagan for such a long time that he finally decided to take advantage of his passing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      JEDIDIAH, 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:58am

      Not your dad's media talking head...

      I too am less than impressed with Tyson and always have been. He seems to fail to grasp all of the things that made Sagan so good at bridging the gap between geeks and everyone else.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2014 @ 12:19am

      Re:

      Tyson is what happens when The Discovery Channel asks its marketing department to build a Sagan.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:40am

    I have to admit

    Although have have a great deal of respect for him, much of what he says (outside of astrophysics, which I'm not qualified to gauge) is ill-informed or not fully thought out. I had to stop listening to his podcast because of this. It is frustrating having someone of his caliber disappoint so much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:48am

      Re: I have to admit

      But in this case, he is right on.

      “But, society has bigger problems than what can be solved with your next app, in transportation, and energy and health. And these are huge sectors of society and they are solved by innovations in these fields,” Tyson continued. “Without it we might as well just proceed back into the cave, because that’s where we’re headed.”

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:05am

        Re: Re: I have to admit

        Except that he's not right, really. At least the point he's apparently trying to make is based on a false premise. He seems to be claiming that nobody is working on the more important stuff because everyone is working on frivolous apps.

        That's just incorrect.

        The truth is that there are brilliant people working on all of these things.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:39am

          Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

          He is not saying 'nobody is working on important stuff,' he is saying that nobody is talking about important stuff. Basically, the average person is currently distracted.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:57am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

            Ok, but even with your interpretation, he's not right. Lots of people talk about the important stuff all the time -- even average people.

            To the extent that the "average person" is distracted, that is nothing new at all. It has been that way for as long as civilization has existed, and the thing that distracts the "average person" the most isn't even apps to begin with, it's television.

            His comments reflect a specific thing that irritates him personally (which is fair), but he's presenting his irritation as if apps were some kind of special societal problem that deserves attention. That's just wildly off base.

            If his point is that popular culture should pay more attention to the important things, well, I don't take issue with that. But he's not really making that general point. He's specifically calling out apps, which is just weird.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:05am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

              I think apps are just an easy example, he could have used celebrity gossip, apple hardware, or any other unimportant development.

              I know lots of people do recognize and follow important stuff, it just doesn't make the news.

              No doubt, he is exagerating.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:19am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                Well, I think apps are actually a pretty bad example. And yes, he's obviously exaggerating. Those two things are examples of why he disappoints me when he's speaking outside his field.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            JEDIDIAH, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:01am

            Re: I have to admit

            When I was a kid I insisted on doing a book report on Cosmos. It was out of scope because we were supposed to be doing book reports on works of fiction. Although my English teacher grudgingly allowed it. I was then only member of my class to ever attempt this.

            I was also aware of research into fusion reactors at that age.

            Most people don't "talk about important stuff". They don't now and the didn't 40 years ago.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:20am

        Re: Re: I have to admit

        But, society has bigger problems than what can be solved with your next app, in transportation, and energy and health.

        Uber, Nest, and Nike Fuel Bands are possible because of apps.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:22am

        Re: Re: I have to admit

        Have you ever though that someone who gets rich off of a trivial app can then spend time and money in high risk (of failure) research? Both Elon Musk, and Richard Branson, having made their fortunes, have indulged in high risk ventures to chase their dream.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:41am

          Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

          High risk ventures don't equate to innovation. Could you give examples of innovation introduced by your examples?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:01am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

            For Musk? SpaceX. Commercial space travel is a big deal.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:08am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

              No, its not really. Space travel is a big thing, but that been done already.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                JMT (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 4:39pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                Commercial space travel has not been "done already" on anything close to a meaningful scale.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Niall (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 2:05am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                It's so done that it's been practically abandoned.

                "Oh look, we made a steam motor drive this wheeled carriage from Liverpool to Manchester, now we can go back to using horse and carts..."

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            JEDIDIAH, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:04am

            Re: I have to admit

            Both of them are seeking to improve our LEO rocket tech. Since the US government has decided to give up on this entirely, the work of both of them is very important from a basic strategic standpoint.

            Then there is that whole "viable electric car" thing.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:08am

              Re: Re: I have to admit

              So nothing really new or innovative? just making it look good on paper and packaging?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:13am

                Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                I will give him kudos for challenging the dealership laws in the US. If he can abolish these laws, that would stimulate innovation (and remove a bunch of deadwood from our economy)

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:25am

                Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                Obviously your mileage varies, but as someone mentioned, at least from a USA point of view, NASA doesn't even have the means to be ambitious. Commercial space travel will be able to take the risks and pick up that slack.

                I think that working to make consistent space travel more economical is important and innovative not just in technology, but in implementation too. From there, bigger risks that would involve more innovation becomes possible. For example, asteroid mining, which is starting to sound like something that may be a sooner rather than later thing, is being looked into by private companies.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  jack, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:32pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                  Next, you'll be saying that apple is innovative. Maybe you should stick to celebrity gossip.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:46pm

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                    So when you mean innovative, are you sticking solely to science and tech?

                    Because I think that changes to technique and organization while not necessarily innovative in the STEM realm, are still innovations, and are often the engine of greater invention.

                    Or is everything that isn't FTL travel or the Singularity not worth talking about?

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                    • identicon
                      jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:54pm

                      Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                      yep, not every improvement is innovative. some are just obvious. For instance, the buggy lamp was invented the night after the buggy was invented. the buggy lamp is just a lamp.

                      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 2:00pm

                Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                Space ship two has the innovation of feathering wings that to make it stable during re-entry.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:06am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

            Almost every bit of technology is underlain by tinkerers, with time and resources on hand, trying and not quite succeeding. Look up the history of steam road vehicles, aircraft, cars and rockets and you will find that many of the problems were solved by those who failed to build practical devices. Their failures as well as their successes informed those that followed, and who succeeded where they had failed.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:33pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

              but in this case, the pratical devices have already been created. These guys are just working on the supply chain.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2014 @ 3:32am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: I have to admit

                So, to take an example, there has been no innovation in cars since the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. I think you are confusing invention of completely new technologies with the innovativion of refinements to existing technology.
                Innovative solution by Virgin Galactic include the feathering wing design of SpacsShipTwo. Spacex is solving the problem of landing and re-using a the first stage rocket.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thrudd, 16 Oct 2014 @ 9:47am

    The Future et al

    I never got to go to a Disney World as a kid. My first exposure to Sci Fi was Star Trek. Looking at the tech portrayed there was a lot more on the mark than any official visions of the future.
    Earpiece com - check. Communicators - check. Tricorders - check. Well we kinda surpassed that in a lot of ways already.
    Computer AI - check aka expert system with voice recognition et al.
    Transporters - working on it.
    Phasers - classified.
    Warp drive - Theoretical.
    Plus there was a lot of then theoretical pieces of tech that was written into the stories as just background because in the story it was just part of everyday life.

    This is why I classify modern Trek as future fantasy with Wars since no real science or logic is involved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shufflepants, 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:22am

    As for the criticism levied against NDGT for use of of "average" when he should have used "median", from wikipedia:
    "In colloquial language average usually refers to the sum of a list of numbers divided by the size of the list, in other words the arithmetic mean. However, the word "average" can be used to refer to the median, the mode, or some other central or typical value." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average

    "Average" can mean "meadian" rather than "mean".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ben C., 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:26am

    As someone who is trying to innovate in the touchless (gesture) space, I find the American developers and projects to be very weak along with a lack of community, open source, knowledge-sharing etc. Most of the experimentation is done at colleges as opposed to startups. Big agencies (along with poor Microsoft) are being somewhat forced into projects and they are either Too Big To Fail (healthcare money, government money) or for some reason not attracting the talent that is all going towards more profitable and less "hard."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Jim, 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:49pm

      Re:

      Yes, I think Tyson is on to something, and your comment crystallizes a big issue, science is driven excessively by money, and not developing the foundational knowledge necessary for future advancement.

      For all of the supposed advancement made in science and tech in recent years, where are any results? Facebook, Google, and lots of lost privacy is what we have, not viable, inexpensive electric cars, new antibiotics, or true energy alternatives. It's about results, and the "innovators" haven't accomplished much recently.

      Fortunately, Tyson has a bigger platform than a Valley blog, beholden to the app startup culture.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:51pm

      Re:

      I find the American developers and projects to be very weak along with a lack of community, open source, knowledge-sharing etc.

      That has a lot to do with the rise of the MBA, and intellectual property. To an MBA the first question for every little advance is can we get a patent, rather than If we share with X, we will both have better products. This result in everything being top-down controlled, and use of licensing agreements and contracts, which stifle both innovation and co-operation.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matthew A. Sawtell, 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:42am

    He has a point, in the context of tangible vs. the intangible

    Love or hate the guy, (Lord knows there are more than a few on either side in the world), he does bring up a point from the context of the tangible vs. the intangible. As much as we make strides in the 'virtual world', it seems we (as a planet full of people) are regressing on more than a few key areas. Then again, it is an arguement that has been around for a while:

    http://www.thecomicstrips.com/store/add.php?iid=85669

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    HollandoF (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:15am

    Been here, done that

    Mr. Tyson is also several years late to this particular party, with a weak-sauce retread of older ideas.

    Neal Stephenson lamented that the "best minds of his generation writing spam filters" in 2011, and launched a project and companion anthology


    Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=TE0n_5qPmRM


    Original essay: http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal/fall2011/innovation-starvation

    Site: http://hieroglyph.asu.edu/

    Book: ( excellent so far!) http://hieroglyph.asu.edu/book/hieroglyph/

    Book:

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      illuminaut (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:59am

      Re: Been here, done that

      And both Tyson and Stephenson have a point, though Tyson's flippant and confrontational tone does not help bringing it across.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    CK20XX (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:22am

    What bothers me about this is that this sounds similar to criticism of NASA and space exploration. What good has it done us? Why are we even bothering? People like Neil overlook the practical benefits those programs have brought us because they don't mesh with their fantasy about how the future should be.

    What kind of scientist doesn't realize that tinkering is what science is all about, anyway? Even the most seemingly insignificant factors need to be poked and prodded until we've learned everything about how they factor into the work, because until we do that, we have no way of knowing whether they really are insignificant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bt Garner (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:25am

    Any of today's problems can be solved with enough money, and therein is the problem. We can make wind and solar power affordable, but no one (person or corporation) is willing to invest the amount of money needed to get us there, because it is almost assured that the investor will never get back any significant part of their investment. That guy building the app in his spare time? His outlay cost is minimal to make that app.

    That's the difference. I would love to join up with an alternative energy firm and put to use my knowledge of solar and wind power systems, but there just isn't the demand yet because no one is making the major investments into such things.

    We are a monetary driven society, and the more money that can be made for the least amount of investment, the better off everyone is. Maybe not, but that's the reality of life today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:51am

      Re:

      "Any of today's problems can be solved with enough money"

      Oh, how I wish that were true, but I don't see how it is. Lots of problems can't be solved with money. The reason that affordable alternative energy sources remain elusive, for example, isn't because of economics. It's because of politics.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        illuminaut (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:55am

        Re: Re:

        true, but even politics change with enough money involved, or how else do you explain special interest groups and our peculiar campaign financing methods?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:19pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well, kinda. Money can change the behavior of politicians on a temporary basis, but it doesn't really change politics in the sense that I meant. I was talking more about popular sentiment than how politicians vote.

          But your point is well taken.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:27am

    Real innovation involves lots of experiments. Lots of toys. Lots of trivial "apps." And much of it fails. If it doesn't, there's not enough innovation and experimentation going on. Innovation is a process, and to outside eyes, it almost always looks trivial. Until it's changed the world.
    To put it simply, innovation is organic.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    illuminaut (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:47am

    They're both right

    I think both Masnick and Tyson are right. The problem with start-up culture that is worth pointing out is that the prospect of getting rich quick draws a disproportionate number of smart and educated people away from other areas of research, which are at least as important to progress and society as anything Silicon Valley does.

    The "throwing things against the wall and see what sticks" method works for Silicon Valley, but a lot of other fields require years of dedication to a subject matter, and it looks like the number of people willing to do that is shrinking, at least compared to the number of people looking for a quick payday with apps. This brain drain is worth criticizing, though belittling apps is not the way to do that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:55am

      Re: They're both right

      "The problem with start-up culture that is worth pointing out is that the prospect of getting rich quick draws a disproportionate number of smart and educated people away from other areas of research"

      I don't think this is a huge effect, actually. Really valuable researchers aren't in it to get rich in the first place. They choose their field because they find the field inherently exciting, and it's those people who make the real innovations, not the people who are just in it for a buck.

      "The "throwing things against the wall and see what sticks" method works for Silicon Valley, but a lot of other fields require years of dedication to a subject matter"

      Silicon Valley requires years of dedication to the subject matter as well -- it's called becoming an expert. I don't see how this is a point of much difference from other fields.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rich Kulawiec, 16 Oct 2014 @ 11:59am

      Re: They're both right

      I concur with the idea that they're both right. Yes, a great deal of quasi-random tinkering, accompanied liberally with failure, is necessary to get anywhere -- so let a thousand experiments bloom.

      But on the other hand, the latest iPhone is unimportant and trivial. The next one will be too. So will the next so-called "social network" and the next release of Android. The real innovation, the long-term work, the stuff with the big payoff maybe, isn't happening there and isn't happening as much as it used to because of the tremendous shift to short-term profits uber alles.

      In other words: where is 2014's Bell Labs?

      It's fine that people are writing apps even though nearly all of them are useless fluff. Some aren't and eventually better ones will emerge and that's fine. But it's not fine that we're lacking serious, sustained, well-funded, well-staffed R&D of the variety that turns very smart people loose with no more of a specific mandate than "study what interests you".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:22pm

        Re: Re: They're both right

        In other words: where is 2014's Bell Labs?

        Try every-bodies hate target, Google, which is doing all sorts of interesting work.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Rich Kulawiec, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:56pm

          Re: Re: Re: They're both right

          Google is doing lots of interesting things, but they are not anywhere near what Bell Labs was. They're not even in the game -- at least, not yet.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Kal Zekdor (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:46pm

        Re: Re: They're both right

        IBM

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:50pm

          Re: Re: Re: They're both right

          surely, you jest

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Rich Kulawiec, 16 Oct 2014 @ 2:06pm

          Re: Re: Re: They're both right

          No, not IBM either. Again, they're doings lots of interesting things, but they're not in the same league with Bell Labs.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Kal Zekdor (profile), 17 Oct 2014 @ 2:38am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: They're both right

            You don't think so? In the past decade, IBM Research has made significant contributions to the fields of Artificial Intelligence, Cryptography, Telecommunication, Public Infrastructure, Data Analysis, Biotechnology, and Quantum Computing. And those are just the ones I'm aware of offhand.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2014 @ 9:02am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: They're both right

              The only thing IBM has done in the last decade is figure out how to profit from selling nothing. Which is what they are now; nothing.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:17pm

    Wow, where to even start?

    The nature of truly great disruptive innovation is that it starts out looking like a toy. It's easy for people to dismiss. Google was a toy -- slightly better search in a world that already had a bunch of dominating search engines? Why bother?

    Umm... what? Were you even there at the turn of the millennium? Google Search never looked like a toy; from the very beginning it looked like "these guys have taken the toy of web searching and finally gotten it right." What brought so many users to Google so quickly was the simple fact that it just worked, returning high-quality, high-relevance results, when Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos, etc. gave you lots of garbage with a low signal-to-noise ratio.

    Lots of people like to attack things like Uber, Lyft and Sidecar for disrupting the taxi industry, but have little vision for how those companies can evolve into ones that fundamentally change the way we travel.

    No, lots of people like to attack Uber for being run by an evil, profiteering Objectivist who likes illegal price gouging during times of crisis. And even if these services are tremendously successful, they aren't going to fundamentally change the way anyone travels; they'll still be fundamentally traveling in taxis.

    You know what would fundamentally change the way people travel? The Hyperloop, which Techdirt featured a while back. But "App Culture" is going to make it very difficult to get a project like Hyperloop off the ground. Tyson was right on the money with this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:23pm

      Re:

      "What brought so many users to Google so quickly was the simple fact that it just worked, returning high-quality, high-relevance results, when Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos, etc. gave you lots of garbage with a low signal-to-noise ratio."

      You're skipping ahead a little bit here. When Google first appeared on the scene, it was not substantially better than the existing players. It became much better very quickly, but it was, originally, a "toy" to the same degree as the competition was. (Although I wouldn't have called any of the major engines "toys." -- as sucky as they were, they were useful.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:04pm

        Re: Re:

        The one thing that got me hooked on Google was that it did not use any bandwidth-hogging ad banners, or even any graphics of any kind. Google's simplicity made it stick out among the dozen or so search engines of the day, whose main function seemed to be maximizing profit to the highest level that the consumer would bear. The quality of a search engine's results becomes immaterial when you have to wait several minutes for that stupid animated ad banner to load.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:10pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Yes, this was exactly why I switched to Google immediately as well. I suspect that a LOT of people did for the same reason, which is why Google puts such extreme emphasis on having a minimalist main page even to this day.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 2:14pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Although Google's main page is visually minimalist, the underlying code sadly is not. Browser spoofing has become a necessary skill whenever navigating Google sites, as the page version Google feeds your particular browser might not be the one you want, or even the one that works.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Mason Wheeler (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 2:38pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Exactly. That was a big part of the reason why Google Search was obviously a better product from the very beginning, even before CodeRank got polished enough to truly shine: the signal-to-noise ratio was high.

            Obnoxious banner ads are not useful search results. Even non-obnoxious non-banner ads are not useful search results. (Seriously; how often do you get "featured ads" at the top of your Google searches? About 70% of the time, for me at least. And how often do you actually click on them because they're what you were looking for? I can't remember ever once having done so.) So even very early on, when the results being returned weren't all that much better than what you'd get elsewhere, the way in which they were presented made it a far better system than the competition.

            My original point stands. Google Search was never "a toy," and it's a bit mystifying that someone as tech-savvy as Mike Masnick would present it that way.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 4:05pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          The one thing that got me hooked on Google was that it did not use any bandwidth-hogging ad banners, or even any graphics of any kind. Google's simplicity made it stick out among the dozen or so search engines of the day,

          Other than Alta Vista maybe. :-)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin Carson, 16 Oct 2014 @ 12:34pm

    Tomorrowland...

    ...isn't in Silicon Valley OR giant corporate R&D departments. It's in Hackerspaces and projects like Open Source Ecology

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:01pm

      Re: Tomorrowland...

      100% this.

      In the computer software industry, this space is where the really innovating things are happening the most. It used to be that tiny, 2 and 3 man shops were where the innovations were happening, but it seems to me they've fallen into the second spot now -- but it's hard to tell, since they are also likely to participate in hackerspaces and the like.

      Startups and established companies have never been where most of the real innovation has happened.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:02pm

        Re: Re: Tomorrowland...

        A clarification: by "startups", I mean the kind of companies that most people seem to thing of when the word is used: things like twitter, etc. Those startups are not representative of most.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:24pm

        Re: Re: Tomorrowland...

        I always wondered if my university's computer science department ever regretted kicking out the students they caught developing video games. (This was before the PC era, mind you, when computer time was not free, or even cheap.) Now gaming is a major industry, and who knows how many talented programmers had promising careers thwarted by college administrators who just "knew" these students were on a dead-end path and so felt forced to put their heads on a pike in order to save other students from wasting their college education pursuing childish goals.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        jackn, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:40pm

        Re: Re: Tomorrowland...

        Startups and established companies have never been where most of the real innovation has happened.

        100% this

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 1:54pm

    Google was a toy?

    Are you joking? Slightly better? From day one, it was obvious google was a friggin' quantum leap. Google was the thing that made the Internet USEABLE. All of a sudden, we had a way to usefully search - ten times as fast, a hundred times as accurate.

    Google started out as a toy? Give me a break. You say you're in Silicon Valley... if you were there fifteen years ago, when we started USING google - when everyone, almost overnight, stopped using any other search technology - you'd understand it was never a toy, never thought of as such. In the tech community, the switchover was viral - once you had used Google, you would be infected immediately and permanently. Google is and was the killer app for the Internet.


    To a certain extent, Neil is absolutely right. This isn't America of the 1960s, with a huge population of post-WWII engineers, a vast array of big problems begging to be solved, and the desire and will to approach them head-on. I don't think anyone but people really looking for any excuse to rag on him would claim he meant there are literally zero people looking at the big picture. Elon Musk is the perfect example. But how many Elon Musks are out there?

    Instead, we've got a pile of Nathan Myhrvolds - people who are actively working against the progress that came so easily in the post-WWII era. And way too many people who have the intellect and drive to solve problems - to create - instead lock themselves up coding high-speed trading systems or making ninety-nine cent apps for phones.

    I've got nothing against apps. (Actually, that's a lie, I kind of hate how every single one of them wants to spy on me these days.) But apps are not likely to change the world. Yes, I know Uber exists - "disrupting the taxi industry" is not the same as changing the world. It's shifting some money from one group of people to another, which is the same as NOT saving the world. I don't begrudge them that, at all - I mean, god damn, I wish I had written it - and I don't think anyone's obligated to save the world instead of trying to make a buck. But when EVERYONE's trying to make a buck instead of save the world, that's when we have problems.

    You're right, Mike. Neil's statements are very attackable. But by shifting right into attack mode, you're glossing over the fact that, big picture, he's probably right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 16 Oct 2014 @ 2:35pm

      Re: Google was a toy?

      Are you joking? Slightly better? From day one, it was obvious google was a friggin' quantum leap. Google was the thing that made the Internet USEABLE. All of a sudden, we had a way to usefully search - ten times as fast, a hundred times as accurate.

      It was better and it was clean and yes, I was among that early crew who immediately jumped over to Google, but people are rewriting history if they don't think it was a toy. Everyone thought it was a toy. It was a Stanford project and it was cool and people liked it -- just like they like many toys -- but no one thought it was a business or changing the world. In fact, people thought that the company would struggle because of its no ads policy.

      I'm comparing that "toy" nature of "ooh, new better search engine" to everything Google became.

      This isn't America of the 1960s, with a huge population of post-WWII engineers, a vast array of big problems begging to be solved, and the desire and will to approach them head-on.

      That didn't exist either. Lots of people have been attacking lots of problems, both in the 60s and today. And, I'd argue it's easier today because so much of the infrastructure is orders of magnitude cheaper.

      Instead, we've got a pile of Nathan Myhrvolds - people who are actively working against the progress that came so easily in the post-WWII era.

      There were people doing the same (in a different manner) back then too.

      I've got nothing against apps. (Actually, that's a lie, I kind of hate how every single one of them wants to spy on me these days.) But apps are not likely to change the world. Yes, I know Uber exists - "disrupting the taxi industry" is not the same as changing the world. It's shifting some money from one group of people to another, which is the same as NOT saving the world.

      Don't think of what Uber is today. Think where it will be five years from now. It's not about disrupting the taxi business. That's nothing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Oct 2014 @ 3:03pm

        Re: Re: Google was a toy?

        Everyone thought it was a toy.

        I guess the large community of academics and startup geeks I was part of at the time weren't part of "everyone", then, because none of us saw it as a toy - we saw it as the thing that finally made the Internet into what we had always wanted it to be. Your mileage may vary, and we both should probably stop assuming our own experience was universal.

        This isn't America of the 1960s, with a huge population of post-WWII engineers, a vast array of big problems begging to be solved, and the desire and will to approach them head-on.

        That didn't exist either. Lots of people have been attacking lots of problems, both in the 60s and today. And, I'd argue it's easier today because so much of the infrastructure is orders of magnitude cheaper.


        As someone who has been deep into the history of the post-WWII GI bill for the last year or so, this is such a strange comment that I don't even know where to start. You can't possibly be saying that the country DIDN'T have a huge cohort of scientists, doctors and engineers during that time period, you ALSO can't be saying that the pace of scientific advancement wasn't enormous, so... you're saying what, exactly?

        Instead, we've got a pile of Nathan Myhrvolds - people who are actively working against the progress that came so easily in the post-WWII era.

        There were people doing the same (in a different manner) back then too.


        Oh? Who? I'm actually not challenging you on this one - I am genuinely interested in what the precursors to modern patent trolls were. It's an area I think I know a lot about, and I've never really explored what you're talking about at all. I've heard of people being stubborn patent holdouts (for example, the situation that required the forced air patent pool in the 20s) but I've never heard of any kind of Intellectual Ventures style NPE in that time period.


        Don't think of what Uber is today. Think where it will be five years from now. It's not about disrupting the taxi business. That's nothing.


        I lack a crystal ball. Where will it be five years from now? Maybe I just lack imagination on this one, but nothing worldbreaking springs to mind.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Carl Sagan's wannabe, 16 Oct 2014 @ 10:45pm

    Can't we just get along?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GrayArea (profile), 17 Oct 2014 @ 6:54am

    Societal Change

    He's missing the mark entirely by dismissing apps as being unimportant to solving problems. Apps (and their assorted physical tie-ins) are changing how we live our lives as humans. From the apps that tell farmers in Africa when to plant crops to the period tracker that helps couples improve their chance at fertility, we are seeing improvements in our daily lives on a global scale from apps. Yes, there is a lot of trash out there just made to raise money. But it is inconsequential to the myriad of changes in the way people live, work, and interact, that apps have made.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Andreas (profile), 17 Oct 2014 @ 7:00am

    I disagree, google was never a toy. It set out to replace stupid bots and manual aggregation with a combination of smarter bots and intelligent algorithms. They succeeded right from the beginning, altavista and babbel and yahoo didn't stand a chance to compete with them, because google was truly innovating and not just scratching an itch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2014 @ 7:22am

      Re:

      because google was truly innovating and not just scratching an itch.

      Scratching an itch almost always means trying new and innovative solutions to problems. However innovation does NOT mean commercial success. Many innovative solution are no better, or even worse that the existing solutions, and fall by the wayside. Also innovations can languish in obscurity because the innovator lacks the skills or ability to gain the attention of the people needed to make it a success. A poor implementation can come to dominate a market due to marketing skills and luck.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    shane (profile), 17 Oct 2014 @ 8:25am

    Really?

    I'm pretty sure what you are all missing here is the certain lack of engagement with larger issues.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GrayArea (profile), 17 Oct 2014 @ 9:37am

    Re: Really

    Fertility and Farming are not larger issues to the human race? (See my post above about the usefulness of apps.) My point is that just because what people are currently doing is not what we traditionally think of as R&D problem-solving, does not mean that it is not serving the same purpose. Tyson seems to be missing this point entirely. For good examples of how this works in gaming, check out this TED talk by Jane McGonigal - http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world?language=en

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 17 Oct 2014 @ 10:31am

      Re: Re: Really

      I haven't viewed that TED talk (I'm at work), so forgive me if I'm just repeating whatever it says. But your point is an excellent one.

      There are two things about the computer game development that people outside of the software industry generally remain unaware of.

      The first is that the vast majority of expert software engineers got interested in programming, and developed their initial skills in it, through writing computer games. It's the "gateway drug" of software development.

      The second is that a huge amount of the truly important advances in software -- advances that unambiguously benefit mankind at large -- comes from high end game companies. Computer games are some of the most demanding and technically complex software that gets written, and they often serve as an incubator and testbed for generalized breakthroughs in mathematics and engineering.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 17 Oct 2014 @ 3:11pm

    So what? Let them make apps if it makes them happy

    This reminds me of the argument from a few years ago where people complained that math geniuses were going into Wall Street firms instead of doing physics research. These geniuses were able to calculate risk ratios that made millions for Wall Street traders instead of doing something that benefited everyone.

    The same argument can be made for movies: James Cameron spent $250 million to make "Avatar" and it grossed almost $2 billion at the box office. Imagine how far $2.5 billion could go towards curing diseases or poverty.

    Is this good or bad? Should someone with a special talent be required to use it to benefit everyone? So what if they make a stupid app if it makes them happy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Niall (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 2:12am

      Re: So what? Let them make apps if it makes them happy

      Of course, it depends whether the movie drives technology or technological spin-offs that later have a positive effect on life - such as making 3D imaging better, more useful or more accepted, as an example.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Oct 2014 @ 5:50pm

    Neil deGrasse Tyson is absolutely correct.
    What I took away from reading the excerpt you provided (too lazy to move my finger and read his actual statement)
    is that the effort of so many great minds are on the wrong things... mostly trivial shit.
    It's like scientists working on boner pills rather than cancer.
    There's a false perception that there's no money in curing certain diseases,
    addressing climate change, etc. so funding is directed towards
    apps& shit.
    Greed > Societal Progress
    It's a mismangement of talent and resources.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Oct 2014 @ 2:54am

      Re:

      Three points.
      1) Authoritarian management and direction of talent always results in slow progress. Being forced to work on a problem, and being tied down by a bureaucracy always lead to almost no progress.
      2) High profile projects, like Virgin Galactic and Spacex are just the top of the iceberg. They are the projects that make the news, and help attract people into science and technology. Many of these people will go on to work on low profile and more directly useful to society projects. The problems of more value to society are also being worked on, but just not reported.
      3) Some of the social problems, like affordable, available medicine and climate change etc. are not really science and technology problems, but rather social and political problems, and there solution requires the electing of a different breed of politicians. Get rid of the control freaks in politics, and elect people who are prepared to co-operate with others, and reign in the excesses of capitalism, and progress will be made.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 20 Oct 2014 @ 5:13pm

    I think I can agree with him on this one. IBM, Microsoft, HP, and even Google versus Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

    Which were building a new vision of tomorrow and which were trading on our own vanity to make a buck?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 20 Oct 2014 @ 5:22pm

      Re:

      IBM, Microsoft, HP, and even Google versus Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

      Which were building a new vision of tomorrow and which were trading on our own vanity to make a buck?


      That is significant only if there is now no analog to the first group and there was previously no analog to the second group. I don't think this is self-evident.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tweak (profile), 27 Oct 2014 @ 11:24am

    For the sake of what?

    I think that I am going to have to agree with Dr. deGrasse-Tyson. This is mostly due to the fact that I think Mike and the good Doctor are speaking about two different things here. I think Dr. dG-T is suggesting that without innovation of a certain type, our species is doomed to failure. No matter how hard one tries, no app for our wonderful portable computers is going to change that.

    No one is going to develop an app that solves our need for a fundamental change and improvement in global energy production, pave the way for new medicines to help the species once our antibiotics are completely negated by nature or devise a mechanism to create potable water worldwide.

    I see Dr. dG-T's statements as an assessment of the focus of popular innovators now. Those people seem instead to be intent on innovating for the sake of innovation and developing technology for the sake of technology. There is no grand vision for the improvement, development or salvation of the species that comes from within a 5" screen on the new iToy.

    As a society, we do not value the true innovators that create REAL benefit. Getting you more efficiently from 82nd St to SoHo at the touch of your phone is not a REAL benefit. Getting your stuff delivered from Amazon in minutes rather than days is not a REAL benefit. This is an iterative improvement on our already first-rate existence.

    A REAL benefit is developing and distributing an effective malaria vaccine. Or sending rovers to Europa and Enceladus to survey for extraterrestrial life. Or creating sustainable, safe, small-scale nuclear fusion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    The Overseer, 28 Feb 2016 @ 9:23am

    Butt hurt OP is butthurt

    I'd say that NDGT's description of SV and startup CULTure is spot on. I find it ironic that you mention that innovation doesn't come from someone deliberately trying to change the world. For one, it's wrong. For two, that's what every asinine, arrogant, privileged little hipster says about their stupid app. "I'm gonna change the world!" "We're changing the world!" No little peasant, your simple app isn't going to change the world. It's irrelevant. It's BS. An app isn't a business! It's a product! The cult of startup is disgusting and investors need to stop throwing money at retarded ideas that will never turn a profit...or change the world.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Copying Is Not Theft
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.