• An excerpt from an article on Slate’s Future Tense channel:
    Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Seveneves, begins: “The Moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.” Scientists realize humanity has roughly […]

  • Thanks for starting this thought-provoking thread, Christopher. I have a lot of opinions about “seriousness” as we generally construe it but I’m going to save that for another time (when I have more time!). I wanted to respond to the discussion about the potential role of science fiction in making a real impact in complex global problems like…[Read more]

  • When Thomas Jefferson wrote about the American imagination, he chose the metaphor of fire. Ideas should flow like light in the darkness, “as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” […]

  • I’d like to thank Rudy for his post and for raising these important questions. We have given a lot of thought to the challenges of creating a diverse and inclusive community at Hieroglyph and welcome this opportunity to discuss them collectively.

    Let me start with the community in general (including authors, researchers, students, and the m…[Read more]

  • Good question, John! To add on to Kathryn’s response, it’s worth pointing out that we are also putting the two possibilities into productive tension. We might not end up building the 20 kilometer tower, but there are a few engineers who are exploring it as a serious technical problem.

    Another way to look at it would be to argue that the science…[Read more]

  • Ed Finn replied to the topic A Hotel in Antarctica in the forum Big Ideas 4 years, 2 months ago

    Sounds like fun! I’m reading a book called Weird Life right now about extremophiles and the question of whether life might have evolved more than once on Earth. Perhaps your hotel could derive some power from methanogens or bill itself as a kind of ecotourism preserve?

    As a vacation property you’d obviously have to contend with a rapidly…[Read more]

  • “We’ve seen obvious lapses in the ability of our technologies to give us things that we want.” – Neal Stephenson

    Our colleagues at Future Tense have launched a new podcast series on science fiction and their […]

  • Lee Konstantinou has started a new thread about creating a decentralized, drone-based wireless internet commons that bypasses state and corporate control. Join the conversation about a shadow drone internet!

  • Berlin is a great city for weird buildings. To answer your question (to the extent that I am able) I might describe the tall tower project to Ars Electronica this way: “How tall can we build? What are the limits […]

  • Bruce Sterling has started a new thread asking about the tall tower as a potential power source. Could it harness piezoelectric, solar, magnetic, or atmospheric energy? Get in on the conversation about dark lightning!

  • Greetings and welcome to the new Hieroglyph website! We’ve spent a lot of time building a new platform for this project that we hope will be responsive, elegant and easy to use. The site has both public and […]

  • The tower project began when Neal Stephenson started asking a simple question: how tall can we build something? As he started working with structural engineer Keith Hjelmstad, it turned out that this question has […]

  • [caption id="attachment_55" align="alignright" width="274"]Photo by Bob Lee. Photo by Bob Lee.[/caption]My life span encompasses the era when the United States of America was capable of launching human beings into space. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on a braided rug before a hulking black-and-white television, watching the early Gemini missions. At the age of 51—not even old!—I watched on a flat-panel screen as the last Space Shuttle lifted off the pad. I have followed the dwindling of the space program with sadness, even bitterness. Where’s my orbiting, donut-shaped space station? Where’s my fleet of colossal Nova rockets? Where’s my ticket to Mars?

    But until recently I have kept my feelings to myself. Who cares that an otherwise fortunate nerd has not lived to see his boyhood fantasies fulfilled?

    Nonetheless, I’ve had a vague feeling of disquiet that our inability to match the achievements of the 1960s space program might be symptomatic of a general inability of our society to do Get Big Stuff Done. Those feelings were crystallized by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 and the Fukushima meltdowns of 2011. We’re better than this, people.

    In early 2011 I accepted an invitation to participate in a conference called Future Tense. For the occasion I climbed up on my soapbox and wrote an article about the decline of the space program, then pivoted to the gulf oil spill as a way of indicating that the real issue isn’t about space launch. It’s our inability as a society to do big things, to execute big plans.

    I had, through some kind of blind luck, struck a nerve. Many people, it seems, have been fretting about this very thing in the backs of their minds. They seemed hugely relieved to see the topic broached in a public arena. I haven’t stopped hearing about it since.

    One of the questions that came up at Future Tense was: what can a science fiction writer do about it? My instinct—wrong, as it turned out—was to think that mere writers could be of very little use. Others were more confident that SF had direct relevance—even utility—in addressing the problem.

    I heard two theories as to why. They are not mutually exclusive:

    1. The Inspiration Theory. SF inspires people to choose science and engineering as careers. This much is undoubtedly true, and sort of obvious.

    2. The Hieroglyphic Theory. Good SF supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place. It has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to a scientist or engineer, and provides them with a template that they and their colleagues can use to organize their work. Examples include Asimovian robots, Heinleinian rocket ships, Clarke towers, and Gibsonian cyberspace. As Jim Karkanias of Microsoft Research put it, when I was discussing this with him later, such icons serve as hieroglyphs—simple, recognizable symbols on the significance of which everyone agrees.

    “You’re the ones who’ve been slacking off!” proclaimed Michael Crow, the President of Arizona State University, when I ran all of this by him later. He was referring, of course, to the science fiction writers. The scientists and engineers, he seemed to be saying, were ready, and looking for things to do. Time for the SF writers to start pulling their weight!

    Hieroglyph is, accordingly, the name of a project that has been taking shape during the months since. The idea is to get SF writers to contribute pieces to an anthology. These pieces would all be throwbacks, in a manner of speaking, to 1950’s-style SF, in that they would depict futures in which Big Stuff Got Done. We would avoid hackers, hyperspace, and holocausts. The ideal subject matter would be an innovation that a young, modern-day engineer could make substantial progress on during his or her career. It’s linked to a new entity at Arizona State University called the Center for Science and Imagination which will foster direct collaboration between SF writers, researchers, engineers, and students.

    A year after the Future Tense conference I made a presentation on this topic at Google’s “Solve for X” conference, and found myself in enthusiastic discussions with people who had gathered there to discuss “moon shot” projects in general. Jack Hidary coined the term “moon shot ecosystem” to describe the network of people and institutions needed to Get Big Stuff Done. I like the term; ecosystems are amazingly productive and robust when they are up and running, but hard to fix when they get out of whack. Ours is out of whack, but we’re hoping that Hieroglyph and the discussions and institutions to which it’s linked may be able to produce a few green shoots that will teach us what needs to happen next.

  • Ed Finn changed their profile picture 4 years, 6 months ago

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