Creativity

Google's Innovation Pathway: Some Classical Ingredients

Everyone acknowledges the role of "serendipity" in the progress of science and technology, where the term means "making desirable discoveries by accident." Picture it as Google co-founder Sergy Brin enjoying zero-gravity at left - a major breakthrough is often something you bump into while happily floating somewhere else. Google has marched from a search algorithm developed by graduate students at Stanford to a search engine and into a dominant position in web advertizing and onward to a global information empire now encompassing the past as well as the future -- with a diplomacy wing being incorporated into Google Ideas. In spite of Google's ubiquity in the global information cloud, was its success in fact an accident?

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Greg Bear, "Blood Music"

“Blood Music,” now twenty-five years old, was one of the first science fiction novels to explore the hypothetical consequences of nanotechnology run amok. It concerns the emergence, rapid development, and eventual planet-wide takeover of a new race of microbiological organisms called “noocytes.” They are created in a laboratory by Vergil Ulam, but are not entirely the product of his mind. He creates the creatures, “intellectual cells” or “cellular computers,” by creating an RNA-DNA feedback loop, effectively activating the introns...

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Robert Heinlein, "Waldo"

Heinlein's 1942 novella prefigures (and according to Colin Milburn, partially determines) the scientific field of nanotechnology. It chronicles a series of strange happenings that seem to defy scientific understanding, and the attempts by the titular character to account for, and control, them. Set in the future, the text posits a time ruled by absolute scientific rationality. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle has been explained away; physics is back on course as an exact science, able to explain physical phenomena at all scales without encountering any indeterminability. This thematic move on Heinlein's part is interesting, for it is precisely at the subatomic level—the level that nanotechnology is concerned with—that we currently understand matter to behave in indeterminable ways...

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Colin Milburn, "Nanovision" Part II: Beyond Fabrication

Colin Milburn, in his 2007 book “Nanovision,” closely examines the tropes of nanotech discourse, which does not merely arise out of nanotech research, but also shapes the form that research takes. Milburn claims that this holds true right down to the primary instrument used by nanotech researchers, the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM). This device is envisioned by researchers as both an imaging device and a probe, an extension of sorts of the human hand.

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Lawrence Lessig, "Code, Version 2.0"

Lessig is a lawyer, and this book is about regulation. His great contribution to the literature of open source and networked communication structures consists of expanding the notion of regulation to include not only legal structures, but technological ones as well. Regulation is written into legal codes, but it is also written into hardware and software codes. This is summed up in his dictum: “code is law.” Originally, in the context of the late 90s, Lessig was reacting to the euphoric cyberlibertarianism that flourished at the time. This creed had two components: one descriptive (“the Internet by its very nature is unregulable by government”) and one political and prescriptive (“government should not attempt to regulate the Internet”). Lessig attacks both points by noting that law is only one small component of a complex, interconnected system of regulation that depends on the market, cultural norms, architectural design (code), and finally government.

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Wil McCarthy, "Bloom"

Wil McCarthy's 1999 science fiction novel explores nanotechnology that has escaped humanity's control, become its greatest enemy, or rather competitor, for in the future vision nanotech is very much alive, and taking over the solar system. As the novel opens, the humans have already been defeated: decades earlier nano-replicators ran amok on Earth, leading to an emergent living system known as “Mycora,” a substance that—at least in the presence of heat—consumes most forms of matter it comes in contact with, transforming it into more of itself. The emergency evacuation of Earth to escape the spreading Mycosystem has left the remnants of humanity...

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Colin Milburn, "Nanovision" Part I: Science and Fiction

Nanovision, Part I: Science and Fiction Colin Milburn tackles nanotechnology from a cultural/science studies perspective in his whirlwind 2007 book, “Nanovision.” He is particularly interested in nanotech discourse; that is, how and why nanotech narratives are produced by scientists, popular news media, and science fiction writers. His basic thesis is that when we trace these narratives out, we find them inextricably linked to one another as mutually constitutive. While certainly not claiming that nanotech research is unscientific, he does claim that such research is prescribed by the nanotech discourse—that the form it takes arises from discourse that is as much fiction as science. The two cannot be separated.

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Colin Milburn, "Nanovision" Part III: Gray Goo

Nanovision, Part III: Gray Goo In charting out the various futurist strands in nanotechnology discourse in his book “Nanovision,” Colin Milburn devotes a great deal of space to the “gray goo scenario.” This is the inevitable corollary to the dream of complete control of all matter: namely, that self-organizing nanobots, drawing no distinction between different sorts of matter (organic vs. nonorganic, for instance), could devour the entire world, turning it into amorphous, non-differentiated soup. This homogeneity and indiscrimination is meant to be captured by the term “gray goo,” and it figures prominently in nanodiscourse, both in scientific literature and science fiction novels. Milburn asks, “what kind of cultural work [this] fantasy [is] performing?” (119)

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