Scientific American Spills the Beans on Innovation

December 21, 2023

green-dino_thumb_thumb_thumbThis essay is the work of a dumb dinobaby. No smart software required.

It happened! A big, mostly respected publication called Scientific American explains where the Google type outfits got their best ideas. Note: The write up “Tech Billionaires Need to Stop Trying to Make the Science Fiction They Grew Up on Real” does not talk about theft of intellectual property, doing shameless me-too products, or acquiring promising start ups to make eunuchs of potential competitors.

Instead the Scientific American story asserts:

Today’s Silicon Valley billionaires grew up reading classic American science fiction. Now they’re trying to make it come true, embodying a dangerous political outlook.


I can make these science fiction worlds a reality. I am going to see Star Wars for the seventh time. I will invent the future, says the enthusiastic wizardette in 1985. Thanks, MSFT Copilot. Know anyone at Microsoft like this young person?

The article says:

These men [the Brin-Page variants] collectively have more than half a trillion dollars to spend on their quest to realize inventions culled from the science fiction and fantasy stories that they read in their teens. But this is tremendously bad news because the past century’s science fiction and fantasy works widely come loaded with dangerous assumptions.

The essayist (a science fiction writer) explains:

We are not trying to accurately predict possible futures but to earn a living: any foresight is strictly coincidental. We recycle the existing material—and the result is influenced heavily by the biases of earlier writers and readers. The genre operates a lot like a large language model that is trained using a body of text heavily contaminated by previous LLMs; it tends to emit material like that of its predecessors. Most SF is small-c conservative insofar as it reflects the history of the field rather than trying to break ground or question received wisdom.

So what? The writer answers:

It’s a worryingly accurate summary of the situation in Silicon Valley right now: the billionaires behind the steering wheel have mistaken cautionary tales and entertainments for a road map, and we’re trapped in the passenger seat. Let’s hope there isn’t a cliff in front of us.

Is there a way to look down the runway? Sure, read more science fiction. Invent the future and tell oneself, “I am an innovator.” That may be true but of what? Right now it appears that reality is a less than enticing place. The main point is that today may be built on a fairly flimsy foundation. Hint: Don’t ask a person to make change when you pay in cash.

Stephen E Arnold, December 21, 2023


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