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I liked the quote by Paul Ginsparg (who is one of my heroes) to the effect that “qualitatively new forms of academic effort” are being created.
But how likely is it that these “qualitatively new forms of academic effort” will be welcomed?
Reaching into my database of quotes, I find this zinger from Stephen B. Johnson’s The Secret of Apollo: Systems Management in American and European Space Programs: “The extreme environment of space exacted its toll in numerous failures of extremely expensive systems. Those funding the race demanded results. In response, development organizations created what few expected and what even fewer wanted — a bureaucracy for innovation.”
This leads us to ask: “What is it that young scientists and engineers want, and what are they likely to get?”
For sure, the answer cannot be: “A community of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers that embodies the traditional values and social mores of the present community, but with 20X as many jobs.”
The reason is that academic enterprises are undergoing a transformational increase in scope and scale that is (in its own way) as dramatic as the increase in scope and scale of the Apollo Program.
This suggests that even under the most favorable scenarios that we can presently imagine, the global community of mathematicians, scientists, and engineers in the year (say) 2050 is likely to take a form that (in Stephen Johnson’s phrase) “few expect and even fewer want.”
The point of the above is not to express pessimism … because the dystopian future of a planet with ten billion people on it does not bear contemplation. The point is instead to express the optimistic view that we may even find that we like our future … once we get used to it. 🙂
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