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Stony Brook Innovation Center Blog

History: The Final Innovation

Sep 18 2014

The most helpful topic for an Innovation Center blog would seem to be examining whether innovativeness can be instilled in people the way installing computer programs enables us to do different things, and if so, how is it downloaded, or learned?  Is there a single Skill Set underpinning all the other attributes that are identifiable in the majority of innovators, short of the few savants floating around, and even there?  Do innovations like the light bulb and Internet arise out of nowhere, or evolve as species do: putting similar things together again and again, and how is that done? 


Had we but world enough and time,
                                     This coyness, lady, were no crime.

                                                from “To his Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell,

The good news is, it’s mid-September, and we’re still here.
  Most of us, anyway.  One might think that unquestionably THE most staggeringly nightmarish visual image EVER seen is that of people leaping from 110 storey buildings, holding hands, but then there is the truly seemingly insane film footage of Auschwitz, Dachau, Treblinka, and other concentration camps—only the people who committed those atrocities weren’t insane at all—where some 9 million people’s lives ended—3000 TIMES more than the roughly 3000 who died in the World Trade Center catastrophe, in an equally horrific manner.  And then of course there are the 2nd generation Hiroshima and Nagasaki mutation victims, if the effects of The Bomb on those who survived aren’t horrifying enough; not to mention the ghastly sight of children starving to death with swarms of flies already feasting on them, some 30,000 of whom perish this way each and every day!  (Why double-check?  Does it matter if it's every year?)  And that’s the good news, my friends.

The bad news is that the October / November 2005 issue of California Monthly, Berkeley’s alumni magazine—the place where the atom was first split and the computer chip born; arguably the foremost research institution in the country, if not the world, but why bicker?—included a report about a study done for the Pentagon, anticipating nuclear attacks here within five years, meaning we’re awready living on borrowed time, tick tick tick.  Not even Bill Gates or Warren Buffet are incineration-proof.
9/11 came and went again with only a momentary scare amidst the fanfare, about thousands of terrorists all around us, even more capable than those who shattered our delusional sense of security 13 year and 7 days ago.  

The Point, Bloggerman?  Certainly not just to freak everyone out, as we used to say back in the day when folks started stopping wars in earnest, and it still took ten more unusually long years—‘specially for the folks Over There—from when Mario Savio took up a megaphone in Sproul Plaza, to end the one in Vietnam, which didn’t stem the tide of similar debacles elsewhere one bit.  Radio listeners of all persuasions may have been convinced that Orson Welles really was reporting about a War of the Worlds on October 30th, 1938, but today’s technologically sophisticated audience is far more jaded to pull a fast one over on.  The oft-repeated refrain of Slaughterhouse-Five, “So it goes,” has dwindled down to, “So what?”
This is the way the world ends 
                                              Not with a bang but a whimper 

om “The Hollow Men,” by T.S. Eliot

I’ve mentioned several almost unimaginably brilliant people throughout my posts, as even a cursory glance at their writings will surely confirm.  Just about the only thing more mind-boggling than their brilliance is how it is possible—even conceivable!—that none of them are apparently able to figure out how to straighten out the world—just stop people from killing one another, for starters—let alone an aggregate of them working on the problem together, unless … unless … they have, just as the chief in Jaws knew the crazed shark was in the water when it ate its last innocent victim, a little boy, and all these superminds are likewise silenced for fear of losing their positions because the solution is too politically incorrect—too fit, if I may—to print; only this time the mothers of the people being killed aren’t on some tourist town beach to slap them in the face and scowl, “You knew!”
Steven Spielberg may not be there to film it in Technicolor, but we watch similarly grief-stricken parents all over the world on TV beating their chests to keep their hearts from bursting in agony, just as they may watch people from here being beheaded.  Again, it shouldn’t be difficult for any reader to envision extra-terrestrials, who stumble on our TV news, thinking the whole world is insane, except … you know what that implies.

Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, which is currently the most valuable company in America—maybe the world, for all I know—was interviewed on Charlie Rose this past Friday and Monday, who replied at around 4:30 minutes of the second interview, when asked about the touchy issue of using Apple product customers’ information, that they not only don’t (unlike other mega-technology companies).  Their products are designed so they can’t, even if they wanted to.  We are not their product; only their gadgets are.  If you want to know how companies use your information for their benefit, he advised, “follow the money.”  
I’m no economist, but we have plenty of them right here, who should be able to tell you in a snap how much everyone’s annual income would be if the whole planet’s were divied up equally. 
I guesstimated Americans’ from the GDP in Wikipedia at around $635,000 per person every year; call it a round $2 ½ million per four-person household: not too shabby, as they say.  If we wanna be generous, we can each give $5 back to those 100 richest people here, who alone have as much as half the rest of the world combined, for starters (it isn't repetition; it's a refrain): an extra $15 million each, so they aren’t too bad off; OR … we can conduct an experiment and see whether Middle Easterners, for example, would still be killing each other if everyone had a swell home with shopping malls and lavish gyms nearby, like we do.  It’s only another guess, but does anyone think that people everywhere wouldn’t follow suit if for once they had more than enough, instead of less? I’m no historian, either, but the Wikipedia article about Huey Long, the fabled governor and senator of Louisiana before and during The Great Depression, indicates that I’m not the first to harbor this idea.  By 1935, his Share Our Wealth Society “had over 7.5 million members in 27,000 clubs across the country... and regularly garnered 25 million radio listeners, and he was receiving 60,000 letters a week from supporters.”  Much of the tremendous social reforms attributed to FDR, like Social Security and the National Labor Relations Board, Roosevelt “candidly admitted to trying to ‘steal Long’s thunder.’” 
I’m haunted by the last short story that Dostoevsky wrote, “The Dream of A Ridiculous Man,” best translated by Constance Garnett, and available online, which should be required reading for everyone on earth.
  He dreams that he commits suicide and is taken to a world identical to ours, where everything is as it should be, instead, and inadvertently brings the fall about by questioning the people there about how they did it—why this way and not that?—who then begin to question it, themselves, and of course disagree about their reasons, then fight over whose are right.  He awakens convinced of two things: that skepticism is the vile disease that infects our minds and ruins our chances of happiness, but more so that prosperity and peace really are conceivable everywhere on earth, if---and this is perhaps the biggest if in history—if only everyone wanted it, and that skepticism about it is the only thing holding it back.  That is “the mind-forged manacles,” as William Blake put it, by which the rulers have kept the rest of us at bay since time immemorial.  We mistakenly think the world has to be this way because it always has, which of course is backwards reasoning.

All men are created equal.  That’s our credo.  Lincoln, amongst others, thought that applies to everybody everywhere.  That’s what we’re supposed to be exporting; not guns (and advisors) for one side, who are then killed by guns and advisors that the other side got from someone else.  Each and every life lost needlessly counts as much as the next.

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