Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Word for the Year is Innovation--And President Eisenhower Stops By

You are going to be hearing the word a lot over the next twelve months.
Here are some recent examples:

New York Times, January 1, 2011
When Innovation, Too, Is Made in China

Washington Post, January 2, 2011
Can cash prizes for innovation get the economy rolling again?

ABC's "This Week" January 2, 2011
Transcript: White House Adviser Austan Goolsbee 
"I think the focus has got to be on investment, on exports, and on innovation.

I am in full agreement. I also want to share one of the most farsighted speeches ever delivered in the USA, President Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the American People, January 17, 1961.
Most folks know his warning on the military-industrial complex:
...In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together...

But they don't remember what followed immediately after:
...Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades.
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.
Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.
The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present--and is gravely to be regarded.
Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite....
Something to think about.
We'll see if my meme-spotting is prescient.
I'm pretty sure Eisenhower was.