Don Nielson on Societal Innovation

The HyperScope crew attended SRI’s 60th Anniversary celebration at the Computer History Museum last night. The main event was a panel discussion moderated by Paul Saffo. Participating were SRI luminaries Doug Engelbart, Phil Green, Don Nielson, and Paul Cook.    (LHD)

Saffo closed the discussion with the question, “If you had a large sum of money to change the world, what would you do with it?” Don Nielson had a wonderful response. He said that he firmly believed that it was impossible to do top-down social innovation. Societal change occurs when good people do lots of interesting things, and some of those things just happen to meet certain societal needs.    (LHE)

Jeff Shults and I made this same question the central exercise of our “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” workshop last April. Curiously enough, all four teams came up with proposals that were about catalyzing bottoms-up innovation. Several of our participants came from foundations.    (LHF)

It’s good to see this philosophy starting to spread, but it’s much easier said than done. By definition, creating an emergent space implies uncertain outcomes. People have a very hard time grappling with that uncertainty.    (LHG)

Tomorrow, I fly to Baltimore, then Raleigh for two projects that are very much about emergence. One of them is Imergence (formerly 1Society), which I still haven’t talked much about yet. Trust me, I’m not hiding anything, I’ve just been really busy, but I hope to write more about it soon. It’s been a very satisfying experience so far, not just because of the great people involved, but because of the opportunity to shape the proposal with ideas that I’ve been formulating and refining since founding Blue Oxen Associates almost four years ago.    (LHH)

DARPA’s Bizarre Failures

Today’s Los Angeles Times published, “Army of Extreme Thinkers”, which compares DARPA’s great successes with some of its unusual failures:    (7O)

But the price of success has been an equally impressive record of scientific kookiness. And now, in a darker era of amorphous terrorist threats, even some of its staunchest supporters are feeling a twinge of anxiety over such projects as the Future M A P terrorism market.    (7P)

In the 1970s, DARPA studied telepathy and psychokinesis. Another project was to create a mechanical elephant for traveling through the jungle.    (7Q)

According to the article, 85-90 percent of DARPA’s projects fail to accomplish their stated goals. Nevertheless, Paul Saffo is quoted as saying that DARPA has “paid back its investment by orders of magnitude.” I would love to see a study that showed this.    (7R)

This year, DARPA granted $2.7 billion on more than 200 projects, including $12 million for creating a brain-machine interface.    (7S)

This article makes me think of Donald E. Stokes’s Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation (Brookings Institution Press 1997). When I get a chance, I’ll pull up my notes and post a review.    (7T)