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This is the place to learn about the features of Hieroglyph and get support for technical problems.

Hieroglyph and the Center for Science and the Imagination

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    Ed Finn

    Welcome to Hieroglyph, a web publication, collective conversation and incubator for the “moonshot ecosystem.” We hope to bring together writers and other creative, synoptic thinkers with scientists, engineers and technologists to collaborate on bold ideas. This is a protected space for creative play, allowing everyone involved to step outside of the normal parameters and push the envelope on science and imagination.

    Arizona State University is pleased to be collaborating with the great minds behind Hieroglyph. We view this site as a companion the proposed Center for Science and the Imagination, which will formally launch at ASU in the fall of 2012. As a platform for intensive conversation about ambitious new ideas, addresses the same fundamental challenges that the center will take on:

    •  Applying radical thinking to existing technologies
    • Creating better dreams for better futures
    • Reigniting our grand ambitions for discovery
    •  Changing the culture for science

    What will we get out of it? Some stimulating ideas, for one thing. Radical new ways to think about the major challenges facing the human race, shaped by compelling stories for thinking through potential solutions. And, perhaps most of all, a network of thinkers, inventors and entrepreneurs ready to start thinking and doing Big Stuff.

    We’re glad to have you on board.

    John Fogarty

    I think that I understand the starting point for ideas in this forum: a writer has a story concept that involves humans creating or reacting to a major engineering achievement. I say engineering rather than scientific, because the focus of this group is on projects that, given the right social and economic support, could be achieved within twenty years. Then the engineers, if sufficiently enthused, offer plans and consulting that the writer can use – as suits their plot – to improve the technical reality of the story. I suppose that engineers could propose projects and hope that writers will be enthused enough to create stories about them, but writer instigation seems more likely.

    So much for beginnings; but I have a question about endings. What is the goal? Is it the publication of fictional work that can inspire an upcoming generation of innovators and investors? Or is it, in conjunction with writing the story, to rigorously prove feasibility, to create a plan that could be seriously presented to a corporate board as a case for taking the risk of launching a major engineering project? It could be argued (as an example) that Professor Hjelmstad’s tall tower paper is rigorous in the sense that, within the context of specified caveats, that paper provides a logical, self-consistent argument. But, as that same paper also notes, “the issue of connecting the members together will start to emerge as one of the key engineering tasks (if not the key engineering task).” I agree. And it will emerge as the key manufacturing cost as well. So, is it part of the mandate to design the joints? Is it part of the mandate to send out drawings to vendors and collect cost estimates?

    More succinctly, is the focus of this group the story, or the project? For the writer, it’s the story. But I’m asking about the forum as a whole. It’s not as though one answer is better than the other. But understanding what the forum founders had in mind will influence how I interact.

    Kathryn Cramer

    The short answer to your question is that Neal Stephenson has a concept of how a certain kind of world-changing science fiction might be written, and it has been our job as the editors to find a way to implement that vision. Hence, this website.

    ASU has a contract with HarperCollins for a Hieroglyph anthology that is forthcoming in 2014, edited by Ed Finn and me. A majority of the discussions on the site concern ideas connected to stories that will be in the book.

    In the longer term, the goal of this effort is to create a subgenre of science fiction that is more directly connected to scientific and technological innovation than most of the current SF field and that will put ideas out there to inspire.

    Ed Finn

    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 fiction outcomes that Kathryn describes above should (and already have, in a few cases) prompt some new research questions. And who knows, perhaps some Hieroglyph ideas will become real prototypes? I think the kinds of work that different participants put into Hieroglyph will depend on their background, expertise and interests.

    John Fogarty

    Thank you. I believe that, through your responses, I understand the intent and spirit of the forum. Best Wishes! I’ll help as I can.

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