Cultivating Innovation and Optimism

I begin this column with a confession of sorts. I am not a science fiction (SF) reader. And yet, I am intrigued by the recent commentary of renowned SF writer Neal Stephenson in World Policy Journal. Stephenson laments the loss today of the “techno-optimism” of science fiction’s Golden Age—from Tom Swift’s photo telephone, to radiotransporters and robots in the works of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, to James Bond’s inventive gadgetry.

Where are those sources of imaginative innovation today? Where is the counterbalance to the apocalyptic tones of so many writers (and game designers) and the scientific skepticism and innovation risk aversion emerging in the general public?

Stephenson makes a call to his fellow SF writers for a more exciting, inspirational “Big Stuff Gets Done” approach to science literature. I see clear parallels in the work of our science centers and museums. Our ability to present the facts of science is not in question, and our desire to inspire generations of interest in science is understood. But are we featuring the risk-reward ratio of science as it applies to innovation or that unpredictable journey (complete with occasional dead-ends) from research to new exciting technologies?

ASTC is taking on this challenge with the formation of a new thought group specifically designed to promote more innovation-related themes in our science centers and museums—not just the advent of new gadgets, but the inspirational pathways that make this innovation possible. There is a changemaker in all of us, and society has come to count on this quality to meet our basic needs, enliven our lives, and confront our greatest global challenges.

Innovation starts with “tinkering,” and this is frequently well featured in many of our institutions. And yet, somehow, resistance to and trepidation about change can creep into our collective mindset. Let’s find ways to quell that notion and give our youth a future of “techno-optimism” not “techno-phobia.” To learn more about the new innovation thought group, contact Kate Crawford.

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