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Countless Small Steps
Innovating Into The Future

It looks like someone finally got invisibility cloaking to work:

The so-called Rochester Cloak is not really a tangible cloak at all. Rather the device looks like equipment used by an optometrist. When an object is placed behind the layered lenses it seems to disappear.

Previous cloaking methods have been complicated, expensive, and not able to hide objects in three dimensions when viewed at varying angles, they say.

“From what, we know this is the first cloaking device that provides three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking,” said Joseph Choi, a graduate student who helped develop the method at Rochester, which is renowned for its optical research.

In their tests, the researchers have cloaked a hand, a face, and a ruler – making each object appear “invisible” while the image behind the hidden object remains in view. The implications for the discovery are endless, they say.

While it’s not clear yet whether this is a parlor trick or a more serious technology, what is interesting is that it doesn’t rely on cutting edge technical breakthroughs or exotic materials. It is the result of the intelligent and creative use of well known scientific principles and readily available materials.

This is a useful as a guide to the kinds of innovation that are likely to be coming—not just from Big Science and expensive labs. We may be returning to an era of tinkerers and home inventors, comparable to the age of Thomas Edison. In Edison’s time, scientists had made huge progress in developing new materials and new techniques and in particular had advanced our understanding of electricity. As a result, there were thousands of potential applications of the day’s high tech for household and business use—from the phonograph to the electric light to the radio and even such humble but very useful objects as the waffle iron and the toaster. Harnessing the power of the new technology to the needs of everyday people, or dreaming up new gadgets that people didn’t know they needed until they saw them, didn’t always require a lot of fancy equipment or scientific degrees. Even the Wright Brothers went from making bicycles to making the first airplane.

Today, Big Science is moving ahead faster than ever, and the opportunities for creative tinkerers and home inventors are greater than ever. but the technology we’ve got today is more dynamic than what people had in the 19th and early 20th centuries. IT makes it possible to invent new services and not just new gadgets, though smarter gadgets are also part of the picture.

Unleashing the creativity of a new generation of inventors may be the single most important educational and policy task before us today. If we want to reduce health care costs while improving both quality of treatment and access, it’s going to be the result of clever gadgets, home diagnostic kits, and of new IT-enabled ways of running complex organizations like hospitals better, and of enabling people with less education but better equipment to provide more and better health care at less cost.

In the same way, lots of small inventions, not particularly revolutionary or cutting edge in the level of technology they deploy, or particularly significant considered one by one, will add up to creating the industries and jobs of the future as well as providing for dramatic increases in peoples’ standards of living. Whether it’s ways of providing custom-made, individually styled clothing to the masses, allowing average people to dispense with expensive professional services like lawyers, architects and accountants through better software, enabling more people to realize their artistic visions by becoming filmmakers or composers and arrangers, dramatically reducing the cost of government services and allowing greater decentralization of power, services that allow elderly and disabled people to participate more fully in life, or many other improvements and enhancements that we can’t imagine until somebody invents them—these people and these inventions will create the new world of the information age.

Technology in today’s world has run way ahead of our ability to exploit its riches to enhance our daily lives. That’s OK, and there’s nothing wrong with more technological progress. But in the meantime, we need to think much harder about how we can cultivate and reward the kind of innovative engineering that can harness the vast potential of the tech riches around us to lift our society and ultimately the world to the next stage of human social development.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “Unleashing the creativity of a new generation of inventors may be the single most important educational and policy task before us today.”

    Why is it that leftists constantly want more of the incompetent Big Government Monopoly mucking about in areas which are better left to the free market? What is needed is for the big decaying carcass of Leviathan to get out of the way, and let the free market do its thing. It is the “Feedback of Competition” that forces continuous improvements in Quality, Service, and Price in the free market, the Government Monopoly doesn’t have it and never will. Of the examples of innovation provided and alluded to in the article, not a single one was assisted by the Government Monopoly’s involvement. Absolutely no Government educational or policy actions will contribute to speeding up innovation, in fact they are already responsible for the decline in public education and the red tape inhibiting new innovations.

    • Andrew Allison

      Why is it that leftists constantly want more of the incompetent Big Government Monopoly mucking about in areas which are better left to the free market?
      Because it is their raison d’etre.

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