Where did it all go wrong? Somewhere, somehow, during the great sweep of American history in the last hundred years, they turned on the inventor. Fulton, Edison, Lawrence you name 'em; at one point most inventors were lauded in the United States. Now they have become social pariahs. In the 2003 suspense film The Italian Job the real hero among the crooks is the technologist. Without his mind, his computer genius, the whole plan to steal a load of gold falls apart, but he is portrayed as a creepy geek you wouldn't hang around with if you could absolutely avoid it. The heroine safecracker is a strictly old-style, finger-touch burglar and the rest of her cohorts are thugs, for the most part. Everyone save the geek is beautiful and stylish. Go figure.
In the first Jurassic Park, one of the kids mentions that she can help get everyone out of a computer jam because she knows Unix. Well, that would be a great message were it not for the fact that the movie's premise is that technology kills.
There is a National Inventors Month, which is a good thing. But the bad news is that it's August, when no one's around.
You know this, of course. You grew up with it. In the recent survey of engineers we conducted with the Portland, Ore., firm McClenahan Bruer, the results were familiar: Engineers consider themselves smarter than the average person (duh!), but they also see themselves as less social and fashionable. Since I've met scores of fashionable and socially engaging engineers, I know this to be a false belief, but still the cultural sense infects the professional ranks. (For a better sense of how we really feel about the innovator, check out "The Creators of Technology" video at eet.com/mediakit. Then show it to every fifth-grade class in your school district.)
With this week's Great Minds, Great Ideas magazine, which came with your weekly edition of EE Times, we're turning the crank on the cultural counterattack. Great Minds celebrates the people, as much as the technology, paving the way to the future. Steve Corbato, John Deng, Joe Santos, John Cioffi, Ajay Bhatt, Toshi Doi and 25 others are featured in this celebration of innovation. Their inventions have built markets, companies and cultures, changed the course of history and enriched lives far beyond their own. And by the way, they're pretty darned attractive and fashionable.
This is our small part in the broader war to retain a culture of innovation in America, where research and education funding is being slashed to the bone, and being stigmatized is tearing the hearts of the people who make it happen. We've crafted a great online presence for Great Minds as well (at eet.com/disruption). For now it serves mainly as a repository for the Great Minds profiles and additional content related to the project. But as the months pass, we will evolve the site into a living, breathing celebration of innovation.
A live component is also in store. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, EE Times on Jan. 5 will sponsor a day of panels dedicated to exploring the future of various technologies, in part through the eyes of some of the same Great Minds we've profiled. Held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center as part of our EE Times "Great Minds, Great Ideas Zone," the day will kick off with a lecture on technological disruption by the eminent Harvard engineering professor Woodward Yang. Next will come four panels hosted by EE Times editors that will explore the innovation generation, "TV 2.0," mobile multimedia and digital media.
If you stop by, I'll buy you a beer and tell you why I think people like Lou Garner are a heck of a lot more attractive than Charlize Theron. Lou, who sent me a note last week commenting on an earlier editorial, worked on various spacecraft designs, including the lunar module, in the 1960s. He's still plugging away as a consultant in the profession he loves. The last time I checked, Charlize Theron had not designed any history-making electronics.
By Brian Fuller (email@example.com), publisher and editor in chief of EE Times