How to get things moving, was: Contributing to Society.

From: Kai Becker (
Date: Tue Jan 08 2002 - 11:51:42 MST

Am Dienstag, 8. Januar 2002 15:51 schrieb Brian D Williams:
> >[...] Instead of shooting two men on the moon,
> >a disproportionate waste of money and resources to breed a
> >microchip and a teflon pan, we could have gone straight for the
> >chip (and the pan). The possible uses were predictable at that
> >time.
> I completely dispute that the possible uses were predictable at
> that time.

There may be a misunderstanding. IMO, the possible uses of microchips were
predictable at that time. At least more predictable than the direct
benefits or the by-products of the moon flights.

> The president set an almost unbelievable goal. [...]
> Yes he fired their immaginations and as a result we received many
> beneficial technologies as a bonus. Technologies who's return has
> been many times what we spent on the project, so nothing IMHO was
> wasted.

Seen from today, you are right. And I totally agree. But I doubt that the
enormous effects of the "by-products" were expected and calculated in
advance. Economists usually don't calculate that way (soft factors,
unexpected by-products, the effect of motivation on engineering and
creativity, etc.). Economic factors were pushed out of the reasoning by
things like national prestige (against the SU), strategic and military
issues, etc.

Now, what kind of project could possibly repeat this success? We would need
something really challenging most of the planet (to join humanity).
Something that could go wrong (no risk, no fun), but would end in a
desaster for many of us if we'd do nothing (motivation). A problem which is
simple to communicate (to make its necessity clear for everyone). And
something that needs contributions from many scientific fields (we don't
know where the best by-product will come from). Hm. Oh, and finally
something that turns economists from money keepers into money spenders :-)


== Kai M. Becker == == Bremen, Germany ==
"Any technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced"

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