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robertogreco : riskaversion   14

Why has human progress ground to a halt? – Michael Hanlon – Aeon
"Some of our greatest cultural and technological achievements took place between 1945 and 1971. Why has progress stalled?"

"Yet there once was an age when speculation matched reality. It spluttered to a halt more than 40 years ago. Most of what has happened since has been merely incremental improvements upon what came before. That true age of innovation – I’ll call it the Golden Quarter – ran from approximately 1945 to 1971. Just about everything that defines the modern world either came about, or had its seeds sown, during this time. The Pill. Electronics. Computers and the birth of the internet. Nuclear power. Television. Antibiotics. Space travel. Civil rights.

There is more. Feminism. Teenagers. The Green Revolution in agriculture. Decolonisation. Popular music. Mass aviation. The birth of the gay rights movement. Cheap, reliable and safe automobiles. High-speed trains. We put a man on the Moon, sent a probe to Mars, beat smallpox and discovered the double-spiral key of life. The Golden Quarter was a unique period of less than a single human generation, a time when innovation appeared to be running on a mix of dragster fuel and dilithium crystals.

Today, progress is defined almost entirely by consumer-driven, often banal improvements in information technology. The US economist Tyler Cowen, in his essay The Great Stagnation (2011), argues that, in the US at least, a technological plateau has been reached. Sure, our phones are great, but that’s not the same as being able to fly across the Atlantic in eight hours or eliminating smallpox. As the US technologist Peter Thiel once put it: ‘We wanted flying cars, we got 140 characters.’

Economists describe this extraordinary period in terms of increases in wealth. After the Second World War came a quarter-century boom; GDP-per-head in the US and Europe rocketed. New industrial powerhouses arose from the ashes of Japan. Germany experienced its Wirtschaftswunder. Even the Communist world got richer. This growth has been attributed to massive postwar government stimulus plus a happy nexus of low fuel prices, population growth and high Cold War military spending.

But alongside this was that extraordinary burst of human ingenuity and societal change. This is commented upon less often, perhaps because it is so obvious, or maybe it is seen as a simple consequence of the economics. We saw the biggest advances in science and technology: if you were a biologist, physicist or materials scientist, there was no better time to be working. But we also saw a shift in social attitudes every bit as profound. In even the most enlightened societies before 1945, attitudes to race, sexuality and women’s rights were what we would now consider antediluvian. By 1971, those old prejudices were on the back foot. Simply put, the world had changed."

"Lack of money, then, is not the reason that innovation has stalled. What we do with our money might be, however. Capitalism was once the great engine of progress. It was capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries that built roads and railways, steam engines and telegraphs (another golden era). Capital drove the industrial revolution.

Now, wealth is concentrated in the hands of a tiny elite. A report by Credit Suisse this October found that the richest 1 per cent of humans own half the world’s assets. That has consequences. Firstly, there is a lot more for the hyper-rich to spend their money on today than there was in the golden age of philanthropy in the 19th century. The superyachts, fast cars, private jets and other gewgaws of Planet Rich simply did not exist when people such as Andrew Carnegie walked the earth and, though they are no doubt nice to have, these fripperies don’t much advance the frontiers of knowledge. Furthermore, as the French economist Thomas Piketty pointed out in Capital (2014), money now begets money more than at any time in recent history. When wealth accumulates so spectacularly by doing nothing, there is less impetus to invest in genuine innovation."

"But there is more to it than inequality and the failure of capital.

During the Golden Quarter, we saw a boom in public spending on research and innovation. The taxpayers of Europe, the US and elsewhere replaced the great 19th‑century venture capitalists. And so we find that nearly all the advances of this period came either from tax-funded universities or from popular movements. The first electronic computers came not from the labs of IBM but from the universities of Manchester and Pennsylvania. (Even the 19th-century analytical engine of Charles Babbage was directly funded by the British government.) The early internet came out of the University of California, not Bell or Xerox. Later on, the world wide web arose not from Apple or Microsoft but from CERN, a wholly public institution. In short, the great advances in medicine, materials, aviation and spaceflight were nearly all pump-primed by public investment. But since the 1970s, an assumption has been made that the private sector is the best place to innovate."

[See also this response from Alan Jacobs:

"I’m not sure this essay by Michael Hanlon on the lack of technical and scientific progress over the past 40 years adds much to other recent speculations on the same theme: Tyler Cowen’s book The Great Stagnation, talks by Neal Stephenson on our lack of visionary imagination, and so on.

But it’s an indication at least of a growing awareness that, despite the determined efforts of the advertising world to suggest that everything is getting better all the time, our society is stuck in something of a technological rut, especially with regard to travel and, more important, medical care. Flying is a more frustrating experience than it has ever been and is only getting worse; only Google and Elon Musk are even trying to innovate in automobiling; and, as Hanlon points out, a person getting cancer today will receive treatment not fundamentally different than he or she would have received in 1970, and doesn’t stand a much greater chance of beating the disease.

So why aren’t we doing better? Hanlon offers a few fairly vague suggestions, as does Cowen, but this is an inquiry in its early stages. Let me just offer my two cents — precisely two.

Cent number one: Litigiousness. Every technological development in every field, but especially in health care, is hamstrung by the need to perform due diligence, and then beyond-due diligence, and then absurdly-over-the-top diligence, before putting a product on the market lest the developing company be sued by someone unhappy with their results. How many times have you read about some exciting new cancer treatment — and then never hear about it again, as it disappears into the endless Purgatory of tiny clinical trials that dying people beg (usually unsuccessfully) to be allowed to participate in?

Cent number two: Self-soothing by Device. I suspect that few will think that addition to distractive devices could even possibly be related to a cultural lack of ambition, but I genuinely think it’s significant. Truly difficult scientific and technological challenges are almost always surmounted by obsessive people — people who are grabbed by a question that won’t let them go. Such an experience is not comfortable, not pleasant; but it is essential to the perseverance without which no Big Question is ever answered. To judge by the autobiographical accounts of scientific and technological geniuses, there is a real sense in which those Questions force themselves on the people who stand a chance of answering them. But if it is always trivially easy to set the question aside — thanks to a device that you carry with you everywhere you go — can the Question make itself sufficiently present to you that answering is becomes something essential to your well-being? I doubt it." ]
science  technology  progress  michaelhanlon  tylercowen  attention  distraction  litigiousness  law  legal  funding  economics  capitalism  research  society  channge  inequality  innovation  riskaversion  risktaking  risk  medicine  healthcare 
december 2014 by robertogreco
Mark Allen Artist Lecture on Vimeo
"The LA Times writes that Mark Allen is “Nikola Tesla by way of P.T. Barnum, with a dash of ‘The Anarchist Cookbook.’” Come hear a talk by Machine Project founder Mark Allen at the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry: Step right up!

Mark Allen is an artist, educator and curator based in Los Angeles. He is the founder and executive director of Machine Project, a non-profit performance and installation space investigating art, technology, natural history, science, music, literature, and food in an informal storefront in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. Machine Project also operates as a loose confederacy of artists producing shows at locations ranging from beaches to museums to parking lots. Under his direction Machine has produced shows with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, the Contemporary Art Museum St Louis, and the Walker Museum in Minneapolis. He has produced over 500 events in Los Angeles at the Machine Project storefront space, and recently concluded a year long artist residency addressing topics of public engagement at the Hammer Museum.

Machine Project events emphasize intersections between fields and practices, particularly where the arts and sciences meet. In a 2006 LA Weekly article, writer Gendy Alimurung described Machine Project as, “Nikola Tesla by way of P.T. Barnum, with a dash of ‘The Anarchist Cookbook.’ “[2] Machine Project facilitates conversations between poets, technicians, artists, scientists, and obscure hobbyists and supports work that arises out of unusual combinations of interests. Past activities have included urban plant foraging and needlepoint therapy based on classic oil paintings. Machine Project prioritizes accessibility, explicitly courting amateur practitioners and curious locals. Workshops are regularly offered in sewing electronics, soldering, Arduino and Processing for artists.

In addition to weekly events held in the storefront gallery space in Echo Park, Machine Project operates as a gathering place for local and visiting artists to produce shows at various cultural institutions and events in Los Angeles. Frequent collaborators include Brody Condon, Liz Glynn, Kamau Patton, Corey Fogel, Jason Torchinsky, Chris Kallmyer, and Adam Overton. Machine Project has curated performances at the Glow Festival at Santa Monica Pier and at several art museums. Through their Artist in Residence program, Machine Project invites previous collaborators to develop larger projects that generally include a pedagogical element in addition to performances and exhibitions.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry and the CMU School of Art."
markallen  collaboration  participatoryart  2013  poetry  art  lcproject  openstudioproject  capitalism  machineproject  events  learning  education  museums  howwelearn  arts  audience  process  howwework  experimentation  gender  curiosity  identity  titles  ambiguity  adaptability  makerspaces  hackerspaces  community  communitycenters  collectives  horizontality  organizations  flexibility  accessibility  humor  riskaversion  risk  institutions  failure  risktaking  curation 
july 2014 by robertogreco
Brown Alumna Recalls What She Failed to Learn -
"Though I alone was responsible for insulating myself from challenge and failure and meaningful reward, an entire system buffers today’s children from such possibilities. Overprotective parents, schools dedicated to acing exams, a college preparatory system that offers zero capacity for error (unless it provides pathos fodder for the application essay) — all of these elements make it hard for the ambitious child to risk a misstep. There is no room for failure, let alone soap opera afternoons.

Today, perfect children check off boxes at all levels. At a Manhattan preschool last year, word spread about the magnificent child who had won acceptance at 12 — 12! — coveted kindergartens. “How did she manage it?” parents were heard to whisper. And then the answer was passed along the same gossip chain. “When asked to jump, my daughter will not only jump, she’ll ask, ‘How high?’ ” her mother explained."
universities  colleges  experience  riskaversion  fearoffailure  failure  competition  gamingthesystem  assessment  grading  grades  standardizedtesting  testcentricschools  collegeprep  missingthepoint  perfectionism  self-esteem  motivation  incentives  conditioning  checkboxes  schooliness  risktaking  learning  education  2012  princetonkid  pamelapaul 
december 2012 by robertogreco
MAKE | Zen and the Art of Making
"Some of the most talented and prolific people I know have dozens of interests and hobbies. When I ask them about this, the response is usually something like “I love to learn.” I think the new discoveries and joys of learning are the crux of this beginner thing I’ve been thinking about. Sure, when you’ve mastered something it’s valuable, but then part of your journey is over — you’ve arrived, and the trick is to find something you’ll always have a sense of wonder about. I think this is why scientists and artists, who are usually experts, love what they do: there is always something new ahead. It’s possible to be an expert but still retain the mind of a beginner. It’s hard, but the best experts can do it. In making things, in art, in science, in engineering, you can always be a beginner about something you’re doing — the fields are too vast to know it all."
philliptorrone  making  learning  unschooling  curiosity  education  experts  generalists  creativegeneralists  2011  zen  knowledge  expertise  lewiscarroll  makers  electronics  art  artists  science  scientists  tinkering  tinkerers  lifelonglearning  deschooling  mindset  beginners  invention  arduino  fear  risktaking  riskaversion  teaching  lcproject  failure  stasis  yearoff  openminded  children  interestedness  specialists  motivation  intrinsicmotivation  exploration  internet  web  online  constraints  specialization  interested  beginner'smind 
november 2011 by robertogreco
The end of zero risk in childhood? | Tim Gill | Comment is free | The Guardian
"In 1980s & 90s we collectively fell prey to what I call the zero-risk childhood. Children were seen as irredeemably stupid, as fragile as china plates, & utterly unable to learn from their mistakes. Hence the role of adults was to protect them from all risk, no matter what the cost.

In the past years we have begun to realise the flaws in this zero-risk logic. The constant stream of jaw-dropping anecdotes – children arrested for building a tree house, teachers having to complete reams of paperwork to take classes to the local church, schools banning chase games – has brought home an insight that should have been obvious from our childhoods: children need challenge…adventure…uncertainty…risk.

Children learn a great deal from their own efforts, & from their mistakes. If we try too hard to keep them safe, we starve them of the very experiences that they need if they are to learn how to deal w/ the everyday ups & downs of life. What is more, children themselves recognise this."
resilience  timgill  parenting  teaching  tcsnmy  lcproject  overparenting  helicopterparents  helicopterparenting  experience  learning  unschooling  deschooling  risk  riskaversion  2011  uk  danger  safety  policy  fear  uncertainty  adventure  adversity  challenge 
july 2011 by robertogreco
Fish don't know they're in water | Derek Sivers
"I was born in California…grew up w/ what I felt was a normal upbringing w/ normal values.

…speaking to a business school class…in Singapore…asked, “How many people would like to start their own company some day?” In a room of 50 people, only one hand…this question…in CA, 51 hands would have gone up…

…Their answers:…“Why take the risk? I just want security.”

“I spent all this money on school…need to make it back.”…“If I fail, it would be a huge embarassment to my family.”

Then I realized my local American culture…land of entrepreneurs & over-confidence. I had heard this before, but I hadn't really felt it until I could see it from a distance.

…When I told one that I left home at 17, she was horrified…“Isn't that horribly insulting to your parents? Weren't they devastated?”

…realized my local American culture again. The emphasis on individualism, rebellion, following your dreams. I had heard this before, but I hadn't really felt it until I could see it from a distance."
culture  business  us  family  entrepreneurship  confidence  failure  individualism  rebellion  risk  risktaking  riskaversion  society  values 
june 2011 by robertogreco
Tim Harford's Adapt: Positive Black Swans: How to fund research so that it generates insanely great ideas, not pretty good ones. - By Tim Harford - Slate Magazine
"Still, after a few years, Capecchi had decided that Harvard was not for him. Despite great resources, inspiring colleagues and a supportive mentor in Watson, he found the Harvard environment demanded results in too much of a hurry. That was fine, if you wanted to take predictable steps along well-signposted pathways. But Capecchi felt that if you wanted to do great work, to change the world, you had to give yourself space to breathe. Harvard, he thought, had become "a bastion of short-term gratification." Off he went instead to the University of Utah, where a brand-new department was being set up. He had spotted, in Utah, a Galapagan island on which to develop his ideas."

"It isn't right to expect a Mario Capecchi to risk his career on a life-saving idea because the rest of us don't want to take a chance."

[Just read the whole thing.]
technology  politics  history  science  creativity  mariocapecchi  slow  slowness  shortterm  speed  competition  2011  risk  fuckitmoments  stubborness  unschooling  deschooling  society  nih  failure  risktaking  riskaversion  riskassessment  learning  experimentation 
may 2011 by robertogreco
Myths Related to Learning in Schools
"This chapter focuses on the intellectual stultification of learners, the first of three fundamental problems that limit the quality of thinking and efficacy of the educational experience. Students in increasingly lower grades and educators at increasingly earlier points in their careers lose their joy for their work. They become jaded by the limitations on their imaginations, frustrated by the questions they are not allowed to pursue, and depressed by the more experienced peers around them who seem uninterested in their ideas. Somewhere along the way, we—educators, parents, and students alike—decided that schooling was supposed to feel this way, that the drudgery of school was necessary in order for learning to happen. We are all culpable for perpetuating this reality."
unschooling  deschooling  schooliness  learning  schools  education  via:hrheingold  drudgery  pedagogy  teaching  lcproject  tcsnmy  criticalthinking  curiosity  engagement  boredom  coping  wastedtime  attention  homework  superficiality  myths  grades  grading  motivation  speed  slowlearning  slowness  slowpedagogy  slow  intelligence  pace  risk  riskaversion  treadmill  treadmilleducation  racetonowhere  sageonthestage  hierarchy  freedom  autonomy  burnout  creativity  curriculum 
december 2010 by robertogreco
Views: The 20-Something Dilemma - Inside Higher Ed
"rigid scripting of childhood & adolescence has made young Americans risk- & failure-averse. Shying away from endeavors at which they might not do well, they consider pointless anything w/out clear application or defined goal. Consequently, growing numbers of college students focus on higher ed’s vocational value at expense of meaningful personal, experiential, & intellectual exploration. Too many students arrive at college committed to pre-professional program or major they believe will lead directly to employment after graduation; often they are reluctant to investigate unfamiliar or “impractical”, a pejorative typically used to refer to liberal arts…Ironically, in rush to study fields w/ clear career applications, students may be shortchanging themselves. Change now occurs more rapidly than ever before & boundaries separating professional & academic disciplines constantly shift, making flexibility & creativity of thought that a lib arts education fosters a tremendous asset…"

[via: ]
education  learning  liberalarts  humanities  highered  demographics  childhood  adolescence  unschooling  vocational  training  colleges  universities  whatmatters  flexibility  tcsnmy  riskaversion  risk  failure  risktaking  experience  experiential  experientiallearning  exploration  whatdoiwanttodowithmylife  2010  parenting  youth  life  lcproject  deschooling 
october 2010 by robertogreco
The Ruleless Road « Snarkmarket
"In the long list of books I’ll never write, there’s one that’s about a the­ory of risk. The the­ory is that there’s a thresh­old of risk aver­sion beyond which our attempts to extin­guish risk actu­ally exac­er­bate it. It would be filled with the case stud­ies you might expect — things like the overuse of antibi­otics and how a finan­cial insur­ance prod­uct short-circuited the econ­omy. But the open­ing anec­dote would be about roads. And I’d basi­cally copy and paste it from from this Decem­ber ’04 Wired story: …"
comments  mattthompson  snarkmarket  risk  behavior  roads  driving  antibiotics  insurance  finance  riskaversion  helicopterparents  handmoderman  complexity  simplicity  helicopterparenting 
august 2010 by robertogreco
Scaling startups
"People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."

"Process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity."

"If you follow process religiously, you’ll never get anything done!"

"Hire well: This goes without saying, and I didn’t mention it in the panel. It’s a big topic probably best left for another post. Hiring great people makes everything else below easier.

Communication: Everyone in the company uses IRC, not just engineers. Everyone, all the time, from the CEO on down. Sure, sometimes you can miss things if you’re not in IRC at the time, but the benefits far outweigh the costs, and you have a lot fewer meetings about day-to-day mundane issues. …

Encourage experimentation … External transparency … Embracing failure …"
business  culture  startups  startup  entrepreneurship  scalability  risk  failure  strategy  chaddickerson  transparency  experimentation  tcsnmy  communication  process  purpose  riskassessment  riskaversion  risks  risktaking  hiring  via:stamen  scale 
august 2010 by robertogreco
Abby Sunderland: Is she an adult or is she a child? | Education Innovating
"Robert Epstein has developed a test of adultness...found many young people demonstrate more adult attributes than those 2-3 times their age...argues whole notion of ‘adolescence’ is out of touch w/ human nature, & instead an over-restrictive institution created by convergence of labor laws, compulsory schooling, & risk-avoidance culture. We forget how many extraordinary people—Bach, Michelangelo, Napoleon, Franklin, etc—began doing extraordinary things long before they were “adults.” In our world today this spirit still shows itself: Teenagers are the adults in many families...start professional sports & fight in wars. & often they do it well. We could be getting a lot more from our young people, if we only treated them as adults. The capacity of young people to do great things is a major source of potential growth for this country’s education system. To what extent does traditional school restrict, delay, or squander their capacity & motivation to achieve?"
robertepstein  tcsnmy  adults  adultness  children  teens  youth  society  risk  risktaking  riskaversion  compulsory  education  laborlaws  michelangelo  benjaminfranklin  do  unschooling  deschooling  glvo  trust  responsibility  capacity  motivation  napoleon 
june 2010 by robertogreco

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