Science and engineering have become so complex that the general public's lack of interest may be based on the oft-quoted cognitive failure to understand large numbers (people can't really visualize or grasp millions, billions or larger, except symbolically). Most people can understand that a basketball player can jump a few inches higher than someone else and some are willing to make that player a sports hero. But most people can't understand the difficulty of managing a product with hundreds of millions of transistors, millions of instructions of code, untold states and interactions, so they just won't value it as much as those who know how hard it is.
Another component is the generally faceless nature of science and engineering these days. People want heroes. Unlike the days of Edison, Fleming, or Einstein, it is hard for the general public to get excited about a team of several hundred engineers all doing their part to build a complex IC or system. There are a small group of exceptions, such as Gates, Brin or Page, but they are probably respected by the general public not because of their technical acumen, but because of the $$$ that they earned as a result.
I am not even sure WHAT "lady gaga" is, and I really don't care. The laser certainly is a pervasive invention, but it has not gone in the direction that the news media anticipated, hence they ignore it for the most part. I agree that it has made many things possible that just simply could not be done before, and it has overall, possibly, been a bigger benefit to society than the proliferation of computers has been. For sure, the laser has done less to reduce our quality of life than the computer has done.
I think that our society does have a problem with not knowing what's really important. I do see some progress though. Programs like FIRST robotics are putting robot competitions in schools using a model similar to sports. "Geek" celebrating is finding it's way onto TV with shows like Mythbusters. We have a long way to go still, but I do see technology edging toward the main stream.
Back in 1981 I was a student at Stanford when Art Schawlow won his Nobel prize, 30 years after his work on the laser. I took his grad course on spectroscopy mainly for the opportunity to meet him and learn from him. In 1999 I attended his memorial service at Stanford Memorial Church. It was a nice event, attended my more Nobel Prize winners than I'd ever seen in one room. But what struck me was that there were maybe 100 people at the service. He contributed to one of the greatest technological inventions in human history, yet so few people, and no government officials showed up. Movie stars and sports figures attract overflow services and pages of newsprint. I think this is a really sad statement about our society.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
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