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May 26, 2003



James Tobin's recent book "To conquer the air: the Wright Brothers and the great race for flight" provides a detailed illustration of how, when the exact challenge is not yet well-defined, under-funded, persistently experimenting, highly-focused individuals can thrash well-funded top-down "official" competition.


Top down only ever works in theory. All useful innovation happens bottom-up, with time and tinkering. Even something like the Apollo program, touted as the quintessence of top-down, is as much a result of 'tinkering until you get it right' as it is an exercise in seamless, big science planning. We've all seen the film loops of the beta versions blowing up on the launchpad or shortly after lift off. If you're the US government, of course, you have the liberty to tinker at a very high burnrate.


Hey, this relates to your other bloggings about government institutions and trust!

Solutions to the more unique problems usually come from individual minds and hardly ever from stoic beauracracies such as government. Perhaps trust is nothing more, nor less, than a recognition of this maxim in such an open society?


I want to see the ultimate bottom-up approach: since iron ore literally falls out of the sky on Mars (given a high-field magnet), I imagine that a habitat for explorers could be built from resources on-site, bringing along only a little factory for tiny robots, their processors, catalysts for polymer synthesis and a few bootstrap systems. It's possible in principle, it's the practical stuff that will impede...

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