Science Fiction author Neal Stephenson has inspired the creation of a new project, dubbed Hieroglyph, which aims to promote discussion about big ideas humanity will actually build.
The group is a response to Stephenson’s essay Innovation Starvation in which he bemoans the world’s “inability as a society to execute on the big stuff” like moon landings. Instead, the essay says, the nature of modern society mean big projects become impossible to execute thanks to a combination of inertia, politics and vested interests. The combined effects of those forces, he writes, mean that in Stephenson’s home city of Seattle “ … a 35-year-old plan to run a light rail line across Lake Washington is now being blocked by a citizen initiative. Thwarted or endlessly delayed in its efforts to build things, the city plods ahead with a project to paint bicycle lanes on the pavement of thoroughfares.”
Hieroglyph aims to cut through that mentality by encouraging “writers, scientists, engineers, technologists, industrialists and other creative, synoptic thinkers to collaborate on bold ideas in a protected space for creative play, science, and imagination.”
The hoped-for outcome is ideas as compelling as Arthur Clarke’s communications satellite, Robert Heinlein’s rocket ship that lands on its fins, Issac Asimov’s robot or William Gibson's cyberspace* because they can capture the imagination, as did the idea of landing humans on the moon. Big, recognisable ideas that encourage action, Stephenson says in the essay, are "Hieroglyphs".
“What science fiction stories—and the symbols that they engender—can do better than almost anything else is to provide not just an idea for some specific technical innovation, but also to supply a coherent picture of that innovation being integrated into a society, into an economy, and into people’s lives,” the group’s site says. “Often, this is the missing element that scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and entrepreneurs need in order to actually take the first real steps towards realizing some novel idea.”
The site’s forum offers registered users the chance to advance just such ideas, and one already posted suggests “Remote Stereolunagraphy” as an idea worth considering.
“Space is cool, but it's a hard place to live because of cramped quarters and radiation,” the post reads. “Why not send robot 3D printers to the moon and have them build places for us to live?”
Why not indeed? ®
* Yes, we do know that Vernor Vinge got there first.
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