Over at the Polymath Project, Charles Chu writes Gene Wolfe: A Science Fiction Legend on the Future-Altering Technologies We Forgot to Invent
A worthwhile read (as is Gene Wolfe. Seriously, go read him), talking about how arbitrary it can be when things actually get invented. In some cases, get invented, forgotten, and then re-invented. It’s a fun read, and also encouraging in a “don’t just assume that if it was a good idea it would have been invented already, because that’s bullshit” sort of way.
Many of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century such as the laser and the internet were first made as playthings or for unrelated purposes. Nobody thought they would have the practical application they now do. Many of the great discoveries of the 21st century will be found in the same way—by accident.
The answer, then, may not be to pour more funding into R&D. Rather, we should encourage tinkering—we need to repeat many rounds of random, playful and curious trial-and-error to actually discover the amazing ideas that are sitting, invisible, right in front of our faces.
I’m not entirely sure I agree with the notion of pouring less into R&D (good R&D is a mixture of structure and open tinkering and exploration), but I think the argument is otherwise sound.