TIME Innovation

Why the Euro Was a Mistake

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are the best ideas of the day

1. The euro was a big mistake, and Greece is paying the price.

By Timothy B. Lee in Vox

2. Homeownership is fading and we’re not ready for the renting explosion.

By Laurie Goodman, Rolf Pendall and Jun Zhu at the Urban Institute

3. How to power Africa’s renewables revolution.

By Kevin Watkins in World Economic Forum

4. What if our moral code explains the human propensity for violence?

By Tage Rai in Aeon

5. Can hip-hop overcome the conflict inside itself to be the voice of a changing culture?

By Talib Kweli at the Perception Institute

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Driverless Car Maker Denies Claim of Near-Miss With Google Car

Delphi clarified a report about a close encounter with a Google car

After a report that a Delphi driverless car and a Google driverless car came close to a traffic incident on a road in Palo Alto, Calif., Delphi has issued a statement that “the vehicles didn’t even come close to each other.”

The original report, by Reuters, quoted a Delphi official as saying he was in one of his company’s driverless cars when it was “cut off” by a Google car as it was preparing to make a lane change. He said the Delphi car “took appropriate action,” aborting the lane change.

But a Delphi spokesperson subsequently said that the incident was blown out of proportion, calling it “a typical lane change maneuver” and adding that “no vehicle was cut off.” Google, which did not originally comment, put out a statement saying both cars “did what they were supposed to do in an ordinary everyday driving scenario.”

According to a spokesperson, Reuters “stands by the accuracy of its original story.”

[Reuters]

TIME Innovation

Why Recycling Is a Bad Deal for Cities

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Find out why recycling used to be a good deal for cities, but now it’s costing them millions.

By Aaron C. Davis at the Washington Post

2. Setting its sights on the next billion users, Facebook is opening its first office in Africa.

By Kurt Wagner in Re/code

3. We can save $40 billion of National Park land and assets from climate destruction.

By the U.S. Department of the Interior

4. Let’s get rid of religious tax exemptions.

By Mark Oppenheimer in Time

5. Violence is contagious. Tackle it like an infectious disease.

By Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips in Salon

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Opinion

Innovation Isn’t Dead

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Dave Reede—Getty Images A farmer looks out over his field of canola being grown for biofuel while the encroachment of his farmland by housing development is in the background, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Most important innovations are only obvious in hindsight.

Wilbur and Orville Wright’s airplane flew for the first time in December 1903. It was one of the most important innovations of human history, changing the world in every imaginable way.

To celebrate their accomplishment, the press offered a yawn and a shoulder shrug.

Only a few newspapers reported the Wright’s first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. All of them butchered the facts. Later flights in Dayton, Ohio, the brothers’ home, still drew little attention.

David McCullough explains in his book The Wright Brothers:

“Have you heard what they’re up to out there?” people in town would say. “Oh, yes,” would be the usual answer, and the conversation would move on. Few took any interest in the matter or in the two brothers who were to become Dayton’s greatest heroes ever.

An exception was Luther Beard, managing editor of the Dayton Journal … “I used to chat with them in a friendly way and was always polite to them,” Beard would recall, “because I sort of felt sorry for them. They seemed like well-meaning, decent enough young men. Yet there they were, neglecting their business to waste their time day after day on that ridiculous flying machine.”

It wasn’t until 1908 — five years after the first flight and two years after the brothers patented their flying machine — that the press paid serious attention and the world realized how amazing the Wrights’ invention was. Not until World War II, three decades later, did the significance of the airplane become appreciated.

It’s a good lesson to remember today, because there’s a growing gripe about our economy. Take these headlines:

  • “Innovation in America is somewhere between dire straits and dead.”
  • “Innovation Is Dead.”
  • “We were promised flying cars. Instead we got 140 characters.”

The story goes like this: American innovation has declined, and what innovation we have left isn’t meaningful.

Cancer? Not cured. Biofuel? An expensive niche. Smartphones? Just small computers. Tablets? Just big smartphones.

I think the pessimists are wrong. It might take 20 years, but we’ll look back in awe of how innovative we are today.

Just like with the Wright brothers, most important innovations are only obvious in hindsight. There is a long history of world-changing technologies being written off as irrelevant toys even years after they were developed.

Take the car. It was one of the most important inventions of the 20th century. Yet it was initially disregarded as something rich people bought just to show how deep their pockets were. Frederick Lewis Allen wrote in his book The Big Change:

The automobile had been a high-hung, noisy vehicle which couldn’t quite make up its mind that it was not an obstreperous variety of carriage.

In the year 1906 Woodrow Wilson, who was then president of Princeton University, said, “Nothing has spread socialistic feeling in this country more than the automobile,” and added that it offered “a picture of the arrogance of wealth.”

Or consider medicine. Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic effects of the mold penicillium in 1928. It was one of the most important discoveries of all time. But a decade later, penicillin was still a laboratory toy. John Mailer and Barbara Mason of Northern Illinois University wrote:

Ten years after Fleming’s discovery, penicillin’s chemical structure was still unknown, and the substance was not available in sufficient amounts for medical research. In fact, few scientists thought it had much of a future.

It wasn’t until World War II, almost 20 years later, that penicillin was used in mass scale.

Or take this amazing 1985 New York Times article dismissing the laptop computer:

People don’t want to lug a computer with them to the beach or on a train to while away hours they would rather spend reading the sports or business section of the newspaper. Somehow, the microcomputer industry has assumed that everyone would love to have a keyboard grafted on as an extension of their fingers. It just is not so …

Yes, there are a lot of people who would like to be able to work on a computer at home. But would they really want to carry one back from the office with them? It would be much simpler to take home a few floppy disks tucked into an attache case.

Or the laser. Matt Ridley wrote in the book The Rational Optimist:

When Charles Townes invented the laser in the 1950s, it was dismissed as ‘an invention looking for a job’. Well, it has now found an astonishing range of jobs nobody could have imagined, from sending telephone messages down fiberglass wires to reading music off discs to printing documents, to curing short sight.

Here’s Newsweek dismissing the Internet as a fad in 1995:

The truth [is] no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

How about electronic publishing? Try reading a book on a computer. At best, it’s an unpleasant chore: the myopic glow of a clunky computer replaces the friendly pages of a book. And you can’t tote that laptop to the beach.

Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet.

Uh, sure.

You can go on and on. Rare is the innovation that is instantly recognized for its potential. Some of the most meaningful inventions took decades for people to notice.

The typical path of how people respond to life-changing inventions is something like this:

  1. I’ve never heard of it.
  2. I’ve heard of it but don’t understand it.
  3. I understand it, but I don’t see how it’s useful.
  4. I see how it could be fun for rich people, but not me.
  5. I use it, but it’s just a toy.
  6. It’s becoming more useful for me.
  7. I use it all the time.
  8. I could not imagine life without it.
  9. Seriously, people lived without it?

This process can take years, or decades. It always looks like we haven’t innovated in 10 or 20 years because it takes 10 or 20 years to notice an innovation.

Part of the problem is that we never look for innovation in the right spot.

Big corporations get the most media attention, but innovation doesn’t come from big corporations. It comes from the 19-year-old MIT kid tinkering in his parents’ basement. If you look at big companies and ask, “What have you done for the world lately?” you’re looking in the wrong spot. Of course they haven’t done anything for the world lately. Their sole mission is to repurchase stock and keep management consultants employed.

Someone, somewhere, right now is inventing or discovering something that will utterly change the future. But you’re probably not going to know about it for years. That’s always how it works. Just like Wilbur and Orville.

More From Motley Fool:

TIME Innovation

The Myth of the Lone Wolf Terrorist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. There’s no such thing as a lone wolf terrorist in cyberspace.

By Gabriel Weimann at Reuters Great Debate

2. Crowdsource the end of sexual violence.

By Elsa D’Silva at Aspen Ideas Spotlight Health

3. Scientists may someday treat brain disease with artificial neurons.

By Katarina Sternudd at Karolinska Institutet

4. An almost-instant field test for Ebola will be a game-changer for the next outbreak.

By Jake Miller at Harvard Medical School

5. This self-fixing solar-powered toilet could close the sanitation gap for billions around the world.

By Kimm Fesenmaier at CalTech

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

‘I Don’t Have Ethics': The Dark Heart of Google’s Latest Chatbot

"I'm in the middle of nowhere"

A new research paper released by Google this week reaffirms what’s been more or less obvious since HAL 9000 murdered four astronauts in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey: computers do not make particularly dependable friends.

The Google project—an admittedly more benign exercise than Kubrick’s—was yet another attempt to fashion a “conversational model” of artificial intelligence. Colloquially, we refer to these systems as “chatbots”—programs that can somewhat convincingly engage in human discourse.

The researchers behind the experiment, Oriol Vinyals and Quoc V. Le, programmed their particular chatbot with two sets of data: guidelines from an IT troubleshooting help desk and a database of movie subtitles. The ensuing dialogue was mostly awkward and occasionally nihilistic.

“What is the color of water?” the researchers asked.

“Water,” the computer replied simply.

“Where are you now?” they asked.

“I’m in the middle of nowhere.”

“Tell me the definition of morality,” the researchers requested.

“I don’t have ethics,” the machine advised them.

According to the transcript, this went on for awhile. Philosophical banter proving futile, Vinyals and Le switched gears, with more coherent results.

“What do you think about Cleopatra?” they asked.

“Oh, she’s very regal.”

Read more dialogue here.

TIME Autos

Check Out the World’s First 3-D Printed Supercar

Divergent Microfactories

It has a chassis about 90% lighter than the average car

The “Blade” is light, sleek and — at an acceleration of 0-60 m.p.h. in 2.2 seconds — incredibly fast, just like you’d want any supercar to be. But a few things set this wondrous machine apart from others of its kind, foremost among them its method of manufacture.

The car, made by San Francisco–based startup Divergent Microfactories, has a chassis created entirely using a 3-D printer, Engadget reports. The 3-D printing reduces the overall weight of the car by 90%, the manufacturer claims, coupled with the use of carbon fiber for most of the car’s body rather than steel or aluminum. As a result, the whole vehicle weighs just under 1,400 lb.

“How we make things is much more important than how we fuel them and whether they have a tailpipe or not,” Kevin Czinger, CEO of Divergent, said in an interview with Forbes.

Czinger has also put some thought into how the car is fueled, however, with Blade carrying a 700HP engine that can run on compressed natural gas — thereby also making it one of the most environment-friendly automobiles around.

The company will produce a certain number of cars initially, but eventually plans to sell its technology to smaller manufacturers to make their own vehicles.

“We have got to rethink how we manufacture, because — when we go from 2 billion cars today to 6 billion cars in a couple of decades — if we don’t do that, we’re going to destroy the planet,” Czinger adds.

TIME Innovation

We Were Wrong About Fat

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. We were wrong about fat.

By Eliza Barclay at NPR

2. Want to boost graduation rates for poor students? End merit-based college scholarships.

By Meredith Kolodner at Hechinger Report

3. Here’s how the iPhone will help scientists study the unique health needs of LGBT Americans for the first time.

By Stephanie M. Lee in Buzzfeed

4. We can fight cholera by crowdsourcing better maps.

By Tom Gorman in Ozy

5. Does air pollution cause dementia?

By Aaron Reuben in Mother Jones

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Two Driverless Cars Almost Collide on the Road

Cars from Google and its competitor Delphi came close to an accident

Two driverless cars from competing companies came close to getting in a fender bender in Palo Alto.

Cars being tested by Delphi Automotive and its rival, Google, found themselves on the same road during recent test drives, Reuters reports. The Delphi car, an Audi, was planning to change lanes when the Google car, a Lexus, cut it off. A Delphi executive who was a passenger in the car said it reacted appropriately and abandoned its lane change. Google did not comment to Reuters.

While both company’s cars have been involved in minor fender benders with vehicles driven by humans, this is thought to be the first close call between two automated cars.

[Reuters]

 

TIME world affairs

Why Every American Should Adopt a Second Country

world-map-watercolor
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

A modest proposal for changing the way we see the world—and ourselves

About 10 minutes into the soccer game, Sebastian’s cries of “here,” “behind you,” and “cross it” became cries of “aquí,” “atrás,” and “al centro.” I’d never heard so much Spanish voluntarily pour out of my 10-year-old. There is nothing like a hunger for the ball. And nothing like full immersion in a foreign language.

I brought Sebastian to the quaint colonial gem of San Miguel de Allende in central Mexico for a couple of weeks of Spanish and art classes. But mostly, I wanted him to soak up the atmosphere of his other country, the one where his dad was raised. The one his dad feels guilty his son doesn’t know better.

I grew up in Mexico, in a split household – American mother, Mexican father. Two languages, two passports, two sets of cultural mores; two favorite sports; two historical narratives; two kinds of humor; two culinary traditions. I grew up always synthesizing, comparing, navigating, blending mischievously. Toggling between two worlds is what experts in bilingualism call it. My parents did what I haven’t done adequately for my son – they forced me to speak the other language (in our case, English) at home to make us fully bilingual.

Only in retrospect do I appreciate how much effort that took on their part, and what a phenomenal gift it was. In real time, it was more of a pain – and a mortifying one, at that, when Mexican friends would come over and my mom would speak to them in English.

North of the Rio Grande, generations of immigrants have struggled with the challenge of keeping in touch with their other country, and handing down its language and culture to their children. It’s never been easy, especially because prevailing notions of American supremacy and exceptionalism create a disincentive to studying other languages or cultures. My own son generally goes about his fourth-grade, suburban Maryland existence fairly confident he lives in the center of the universe, with little need to learn from the rest of the world.

The dirty little secret is that the more Sebastian steps out of his comfort zone, and the more he learns about his other country and culture, the better he will also come to understand the United States and his American identity. People are constantly extolling the study of foreign languages and cultures because it helps us better understand the rest of the world, and because it turns out that being bilingual is good for the brain (thanks, ma!). But one of the corollary benefits of spending time immersed in a foreign culture – as important as any other benefit – is that you gain a better understanding of your own.

Imagine if you spent your entire life going out to only one restaurant. Would you really know its essence? Doesn’t your appreciation and understanding of a place require some comparative context?

I remember when growing up in Mexico, looking into the U.S. from the outside, being struck by the disconnect between the tenor of news in the two countries. Mexico, for all its wonders, was clearly the less democratic and less prosperous of my two countries. But you wouldn’t know that from comparing the press in both countries. The copies of Time that made their way to Chihuahua weeks late described a country that was falling apart, while the front pages of the local papers all extolled the achievements and virtues of Mexico’s revolution. I thus acquired a deeper appreciation for how freewheeling criticism is a hallmark of a society that is never complacent, always moving forward. But you can’t know what’s distinctive about one place until you’ve sampled others.

That’s why all Americans should adopt a second country, if they don’t already have one. Recent immigrants and their families shouldn’t be the only ones to benefit from toggling between cultures.

Here’s how it would work: Every American second grader would be assigned a second country. School districts would organize annual festivals around a lottery that matched kids with their second countries, with which they’d establish a long- term relationship. Thanks to the ubiquity of interactive learning software and video conferencing, hundreds of kids in a school could be learning dozens of languages during this “global hour” by connecting to their fellow Pashtun or German or Vietnamese students and teacher remotely. (Occasionally kids and guest speakers in the foreign country would join the conversation.) Now that distance learning is a reality, kids shouldn’t be limited to choosing only between French or Spanish, or whatever languages their schools manage to find instructors in.

Under my proposal, kids would study their second language and culture through high school, and be provided creative exchange and entertainment opportunities within their bi-national community. Students would belong to strong networks connecting them not only to their assigned country, but also to others across America assigned to the same country. The result would go beyond creating a far more cosmopolitan and informed citizenry. This would be the most ambitious public diplomacy ever deployed by a great power.

America’s economic competitiveness and security interests would also be served by having a deep bench of regional experts, of people invested in other cultures. As Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan noted in a 2010 speech on foreign language education, 95% of college students enrolled in a language course study European languages, but fewer than 1% study a language the Defense Department considers critical to national security. Even when language study is influenced by market-based reactions to what’s in the news – the post-Sputnik spike in Russian study, the post-9/11 spike in Arabic study – the results tend to be transitory and scattered.

By contrast, my second grade students-to-countries matching lottery would guarantee a more rational distribution of interest and knowledge. We need Americans who understand and appreciate Indonesia, Kenya, and even countries like the Netherlands, regardless of whether or not they happen to be in the news. These long-term relationships with their second countries would be among the most rewarding and fun educational experiences for American kids.

That’s my proposal, anyways. Back here in the real world, however, the trends are heading in the opposite direction. Less than one in five Americans speaks another language (compared to slightly more than half of all Europeans) and many of these Americans, in immigrant families, wouldn’t have picked up the language in school. Only a quarter of all elementary schools offered foreign language instruction in 2008, compared to about a third a decade earlier. In our schoolyards, it’s as if the rest of the world were shrinking in economic and strategic importance to us.

Meanwhile, I will continue trying to expand Sebastian’s horizons, and appreciation for his other country. A Father’s Day lunch in San Miguel was a modest score along the way. Sebastian blurted out, “They should do this in the States,” referring to the sliced limes routinely served at meals here. I smiled. The boy was thinking comparatively, assessing how restaurants, and countries, vary – and can learn from each other.

Provecho.

Andrés Martinez is the editorial director of Zócalo Public Square and a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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