As the west continues to struggle its way out of the GFC, one of the hot topics is innovation - where it comes from and how to get more of it. Manzi's analysis of American innovation highlights the interplay between big, centralised institutions and small, distributed actors. While Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial innovation matters, big picture government leadership lays the foundation for new sectors like biotechnology and information technology to boom.
The energy sector offers the most pressing example of where this innovation is desperately needed. Lord Rees, the UK's Astronomer Royal, says we need a new Apollo Project. The goal: dealing with the lack of innovation in the energy sector and driving down the cost of carbon-free energy sources like renewables and nuclear power. Doing so is scary but important: it will inevitably involve risk, humility, and a fair amount of failure.
More generally, innovation in our time appears to be built upon the kind of trial-and-error learning that is mediated by markets. It involves producers and providers trying different approaches with relatively few limits on their freedom to experiment and consumers choosing freely among them in search of the best value. And it requires that we allow people to do things that might seem stupid to most informed observers — even though we know that most of these would-be innovators will in fact fail. This is an approach premised on epistemic humility. Because we are not sure we are right about very much, we should not unduly restrain experimentation.