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Current Essay Contest

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Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
Contest Partners: Fetzer Franklin Fund, and The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation

What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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Steve Agnew: on 6/6/14 at 16:33pm UTC, wrote It is interesting to me that you seem to be so averse to the term...

Steve Agnew: on 6/6/14 at 16:11pm UTC, wrote You have sensed correctly, but it is a little more than a belief. It seems...

Steve Agnew: on 6/6/14 at 16:03pm UTC, wrote Thank-you for your detailed comments. I do believe that science is in a rut...

Lorraine Ford: on 5/31/14 at 14:16pm UTC, wrote Hi Stephen, I agree that we need to "stabilize population amount and...

Sebastian Benthall: on 5/30/14 at 15:10pm UTC, wrote I get the sense from your essay that you believe human knowledge is...

Peter Jackson: on 5/23/14 at 12:46pm UTC, wrote Steve, I think you put your finger firmly on the pulse of what will...

Steve Agnew: on 5/17/14 at 4:12am UTC, wrote Once again, I do not know how to reply to a note that does not reference my...

Steve Agnew: on 5/17/14 at 4:11am UTC, wrote Motivation is definitely key. Of course, my preference is for the rewards...


Stefan Weckbach: "Hi Lorraine, in the case of the crashing twin-towers, the term “top-down..." in The Present State of...

Stefan Weckbach: "Hi Steve, take also care Steve, and may the force of the three spheres be..." in The Present State of...

Jim Snowdon: "Since evolving on our rapidly rotating planet, we have used it`s rotational..." in The Quantum Clock-Maker...

Steve Dufourny: "a general universal clock of evolution irreversible correlated for me with..." in The Quantum Clock-Maker...

Georgina Woodward: "If considering existence rather than appearances, the time dimension..." in Anatomy of spacetime and...

Georgina Woodward: "That is about the 'anatomy"" of spacetime." in Anatomy of spacetime and...

Georgina Woodward: "Thank you. Good luck." in The Nature of Time

Lorraine Ford: "Rob, As you have not replied, I take it that you now concede that the..." in 16th Marcel Grossmann...

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September 17, 2021

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: Innovation Is the Key for Humanity’s Future by Stephen Agnew [refresh]
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Author Steve Agnew wrote on Feb. 11, 2014 @ 15:34 GMT
Essay Abstract

The true wealth of humanity lies with its knowledge and tools, not with the transient control of material resources that is its monetary wealth. Nevertheless, economic growth is what sustains the growth in the wealth of knowledge and tools and innovation is the way to sustain economic growth. With every innovation and its change, though, also comes free choice and humanity must still choose whether to change the world or to change ourselves. This essays shows that humanity should steer a future to: stabilize population amount and demographics; grow the economy with productivity through innovation; shift spending from less desirable to more desirable needs with innovation; use the recursion of more knowledge and more tools to generate more innovation; choose with each innovation between changing ourselves to adapt to the world as it is or changing the world; teach our children to believe in their purpose, origin, and destiny.

Author Bio

Stephen F. Agnew, received a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics from Washington State University in 1981. Dr. Agnew has been involved in innovation as an award winning scientist his entire professional life. His career has spanned from the Max Planck Institute to Los Alamos National Laboratory to various private innovations and his wealth of knowledge provides him an optimistic purpose for a desirable future.

Download Essay PDF File

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Joe Fisher wrote on Feb. 13, 2014 @ 15:38 GMT
Doctor Agnew,

Recent news reports have commented on the fact that 85 of the richest people on earth claim to own the same amount of wealth as that of 3,500,000,000 of the other poorer people do. For over two years now, more and more information about the growing gap between the 1% of the rich and the 99% of the poor.

This disparity has been caused by a single factor. When a bank, -be it a local bank, a national bank, or an international bank- makes a loan. that bank creates an additional amount of credit for itself equal to the amount of the loan. The books balance for the credit equals the loan. As the loan is repaid, the bank has to reduce its created credited amount by the amount of the repayments made. However, the bank charges interest helping the loan to become irredeemable. America borrowed $1 trillion from China. The Chinese National Bank promptly created $1, trillion for its own use. China modernized.

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Feb. 17, 2014 @ 19:08 GMT
If a bank lends capital to an enterprise, the bank then has less capital on hand. Unless the bank can print more money or get more capital, it would seem like the bank would have less to lend, not more.

The Chinese banks simply loan us a portion of the capital, ~20%, that we spend importing their manufactured goods. We spent about $315 B more on Chinese imports in 2012 than we exported back to them and yet we only borrowed about $65 B from China in 2012, about 20%. So the Chinese banks are flush with a lot of American capital.

It is true that there is a huge disparity of monetary wealth in the world and that there are a lot of different reasons for that disparity. However, I still argue that the true wealth of humanity is not monetary at all, it is in our knowledge and information and innovation is therefore the key for our future.

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Feb. 19, 2014 @ 01:57 GMT
Hello Stephen,

Being in strong agreement with the title, and finding more points of agreement in the abstract, I decided to make your essay the first of this year's offerings to read. My only complaint is that you could have said more about how to foster innovation, as well as why we must innovate for humanity to survive. I firmly believe that innovation is what drives the economy, and it is the economic engine most under our control. But you only scratch the surface of what might be said on the subject.

I find in your earlier comments a strong analogy with the work of economist Paul Pilzer, who asserts that the value of a natural resource is defined by innovation, as that is what sets both its applications and its efficiency of utilization. Some later comments reflect core principles of Cognitive Dissonance theory, which posits that we reduce internal dissonance by either changing our world our ourselves. So there might be some clues in these works, as to how the ideas you lay out could be applied in the real world.

I am in disagreement about the likelihood of Kurzweil's machine-consciousness Singularity event, as I think it is inevitable. However; I also feel strongly that human innovation is what will make the difference. We can either find ourselves ruled by Terminator-like robots, or have C3PO and R2D2 as our faithful servants, depending on whether we can actually develop artificial intelligences with human-like subtlety before the machines achieve a more brutish state of collective consciousness, by reaching a critical mass. So I think we must admit to the existential risk of such possibilities.

All the Best,


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Author Steve Agnew replied on Feb. 19, 2014 @ 04:43 GMT
Very nice, thanks for the comments. Actually, I could not agree with you more that my essay falls short on implementation. However, the original thesis for my project back at Los Alamos was how to attempt to justify R&D funding in a particular sector. What I ended up with is a much larger framework that just the government sector. What I did not mention in this short essay is that that is a very nice statistical workup of public and private R&D funding that is done every five years by the NSF, the NCSES.

With this additional R&D data, you can then calculate the percentage of that sector that goes to R&D funding for each of the 14 sectors and then see if that R&D has the desired result in the next five year report. The results are very cool. I have been keeping this data over the last twenty years or so, and so you find a very compelling case for spending more R&D in certain sectors and also spending less R&D in other sectors that do increase productivity.

But you do need a set of goals for humanity…what are the sectors that are desirable and what are the sectors that are undesirable. My short essay here only scratched the surface as you correctly surmised.

As far as machine intelligence is concerned, it is very likely that machines will get faster, better, cheaper, but for goodness sake, people are people and machines are machines. Why in the world would anyone want to build a machine as obnoxious as even an average human?

We will have plenty of interesting things to occupy us in the future and there will be more augmention. It is also likely that there will be more problems with fanatic ideologs as well, since that is after all a part of what makes humans human. Innovation, though, is still the key even for solving political and social problems. It might be that more R&D into these sectors would then be helpful as well.

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Jonathan J. Dickau replied on Feb. 19, 2014 @ 17:35 GMT
Thanks Steve, for your thoughtful reply..

I think you will find there is broad agreement between us, once you read my essay "Recognizing the Value of Play," which I am now wrapping up, and which focuses on how we can foster innovation - but also touches on why innovation is of key importance to progress and the survival of humanity. I find it striking that there is such close agreement between what top researchers in Physics and folks in Cog Sci, Neuroscience, and Education say about how to foster innovation - and yet Administrators feel that they must impose norms of predictability and control that effectively limit progress in a Research environment.

I think you will find interesting, my proceedings paper for FFP11 (attached) in which I introduce some of the concepts I develop in my current essay, yet to be submitted. This talk was prompted by comments made in the keynote for FFP10 by Gerard 't Hooft, suggesting that some important discoveries would never come, unless we can cultivate environments that foster a level of inter-disciplinary collaboration which is unprecedented. But the evidence and testimony for my thesis continues to accumulate, as I found several of the top Physics researchers at FFP11 echoing the message of my talk and paper, and had more confirmation from experts since then.



attachments: JDickauFFP11.pdf

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Feb. 20, 2014 @ 03:53 GMT
Thanks for the paper and I did find it interesting. However, funding innovation is a very complex enterprise in prioritization. Yes, there are a large number of worthwhile, there is not enough resources to fund them all.

So first of all, you need purpose. What are the most important problems and issues that will contribute most to growth of knowledge? Here is a snippet on what...

view entire post

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Vladimir F. Tamari wrote on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 00:13 GMT
Dear Steve,

I enjoyed reading your essay. You have tried seriously to consider realistically and creatively - and most importantly - hopefully - the many factors that will affect Humanity's future. I know you explained it but I found the chart itself baffling. Additionally the U.S. Economy is hardly representative of that of the the world as a whole. I liked your use of the bus imagery to describe our choices- but what if the road to an essential destination has not yet been built?

Best wishes


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Author Steve Agnew replied on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 04:24 GMT
Sorry that the graph was baffling. If you provide more reasons, I could maybe improve it. Macroeconomic modeling that use GDP is a little tricky, but does tell us how we are doing.

You are correct that the U.S. economy is hardly representative...but the U.S. economy has the best data. I would love to include Europe, China, India, and of course Russia as well. What this essay does not reveal is that there is another level of information in the R&D funding (see previous posts) that allows one to calculate the %R&D funding for each sector. The trends over time are really illuminating.

I like your metaphor of a road not yet built...then where did the bus come from? If you look at the bus/train system in country like Tanzania, you can really appreciate that innovation really begins at the local level first of all. And transportation is one of the big three for a good reason.

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Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on Feb. 21, 2014 @ 05:15 GMT
Dear Stephen,

Nature of time is causal for human evolution that effects innovations, in that ‘Steer the Future’ is to influence the emergence of discrete-times in holarchical reference time, by the dynamics of matters.

Since Environment-friendliness is the Law of Nature to Humanity for its existence with the Nature for a desired period of time by the Nature, we may have to evolve an economically unbiased strategy to assign a road map on which Humanity to Steer the Future. This indicates the limitations on the capabilities of Humanity in steering for a destiny with incomplete predeterminations.

With best wishes, Jayakar

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Feb. 22, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
Thank-you for the comment. If I am understanding you, you want more consideration of the environment. That does appear to be well with needs and simply means that humanity steers more resources to the environmental need as desirable. The hard choices come on which needs then become less desirable...

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Alan M. Kadin wrote on Mar. 9, 2014 @ 15:35 GMT
Dr. Agnew:

I am pleased to note that your essay addresses what I consider "the elephant in the room", global population. My essay ("Just Too Many People: Towards a Sustainable Future Earth") takes this issue further, and argues that we need to steer towards a reduced global population, based on improved solar and nuclear energy technologies, in order to achieve long-term sustainability. Technological innovation will be essential to achieve this.

Alan Kadin

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Mar. 13, 2014 @ 05:20 GMT
Thank-you for your comment. Stable population though, must also come along with a stable demographic as well, i.e., a stable distribution of age. And yet we will need to adapt to a evolving future, and ironically that means we will always need to maintain a diversity of people in order to provide a sustainable future. That might mean reduced global population, or it might mean an oscillating population.

Remember that humanity has many challenges ahead in the geologic record: ice ages, mass extinctions, life explosions, etc., are all part of earth's history. Although we are currently concerned with rising atmospheric CO2, there are far more serious issues coming for humanity.

Life, though, is all about adaptation and evolution. As the challenges of humanity arise, we can and will adapt to and/or change our world in our journey to a desirable future.

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Torsten Asselmeyer-Maluga wrote on Mar. 14, 2014 @ 12:01 GMT
Dear Steve,

thanks for the very good and thoughtful essay. My own contriobution is along the lines of your thoughts.

Maybe have a look into my essay:

I agree with you completely that innovation (or science as prerequisite) is the driving force. But using an abstract model of evolution I also identify another part: communication (or exchange) between the species.


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Author Steve Agnew replied on Mar. 23, 2014 @ 19:21 GMT
Thank-you for you remarks. Innovation is key for humanity's future, but I would not limit that innovation to science and engineering. I would also include better monetary policy and more efficient government and better risk management in humanity's future, which are all areas not typically associated with S&E.

You are correct to bring in other species into humanity's future and the heuristics of the approach in your essay makes that very clear. I will leave a comment there.

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Turil Sweden Cronburg wrote on Mar. 27, 2014 @ 13:59 GMT
What about letting individuals decide what they, themselves, need from society, rather than some kind of top down decision? (That way you seriously reduce people’s need to use coercion to get their unique needs met.)

Also, you mention efficiencies in resource spending, to which I’d add that our current competition-based system automatically makes efficiency the enemy, since high quality products and services are only needed once, or occasionally, as opposed to low quality, inefficient things that we have to use more of to get the minimum we need. So, I totally agree that “Humanity should bring its children into a conscious purpose that provides cooperation with others and a desirable future.”! (Competition against one’s past performance is the only really ideal form of competition.)

Also, as for your discussion of consciousness, you might be interested in a map of the kinds of consciousness, and their levels/dimensions, as they occur in normal human brain development (with the ages listed, as well). That maps is here:

Finally, who do you think we should look to for enacting the positive changes you expound upon?

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Author Steve Agnew wrote on Mar. 30, 2014 @ 20:55 GMT
There was an implicit assumption of free markets where individuals do choose what they need. The GDP numbers that I show as simply a statement of what is was in 2005, not what it should be.

There is a tendency toward waste in much consumption I would agree. That is why the environmental need is there to provide for a more desirable environment as a cost of consumption.

Actually, there is another part to this essay that has to do with the spending of R&D for each of these needs as reported by the NSF's five year report. Although this R&D spending is only for science and engineering, it is both public and private and it is by investing in such innovation that humanity can further its goals. The process right now is a little clumsy, but more R&D does go for projects that people care more about and less money for projects that people care less about.

My goal is to use the progress over about twenty years or so and through wars and booms and recessions to better show how focused R&D can best sustain innovation. Humanity does still need to first of all decide among the more desirable needs versus less desirable needs, although that does more or less happen in any event.

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Jonathan J. Dickau wrote on Apr. 8, 2014 @ 22:40 GMT
Hi Steve,

As you know, I support your view that innovation is key to progress, and that we must take steps to foster the kind of innovation that allows humans to have sustained technological progress. You may find my views on how to do this interesting, and now that my essay has posted; I invite your comment there. I think giving our innovators more opportunities to play is a key to the R&D success formula. Do you agree?

All the Best,


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Author Steve Agnew replied on Apr. 13, 2014 @ 18:12 GMT
Thank-you for your reading. I will comment on your play essay. You know that play is one of those words, though, whose meaning is obvious until you try to define it. Somehow we all seem to know what play is, but then have a really difficult time generalizing any specific play into a general notion of what play is.

Giving innovators more opportunities is very important, I do agree. How to do that most effectively with limited resources is the hurdle that my essay does not address. Fundamentally, though, it comes down to the basic doctrine of Tsun Tsu's Art of War, "Feed success, starve failure."

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Georgina Woodward wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 11:04 GMT
Hi Steve,

I enjoyed your essay. I agree with the notion that in the future there should be a stable population. I have had some difficulty deciding what would be a desirable magnitude.I have read that world population is thought to stabilize around 10 billion but I don't know if even that population size is sustainable because with climate change there will be alterations in the productivity of agricultural lands. Oil needed for mechanized agriculture and production of fertilizers are going to decline, as they are used up more and more rapidly by increasing productivity and logistics of trade. Do you have some idea of what your ideal stable population size would be or are you going with the 10 billion estimate?

I thought your shifting of wealth from low to high priorities was a good idea but I don't agree with the ones you have in each category.For example I think a healthy population should be a high priority for governments. When the people are healthy, physically and mentally, they will be more content, will take less time off work, will commit less crime, will raise healthier, happier children etc,etc. Spending should be on promoting health though not just on treating sickness.

You said that we should teach our children to believe in their purpose, origin and destiny, but have not really expanded upon that. Do you have a religious meaning in mind? Or is it for the children to discover for themselves, having been taught to believe that such things as purpose and destiny exist to be discovered? (Rather than what a person canor might be able to do developing and changing as he/she grows in knowledge and capability/ skill/ experience?

A thought provoking read, thank you.

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 22:27 GMT
Thank-you for your read and note. Population amount is a tough one, but I would like to allow for even an oscillating population. It is true that we are headed for 10 billion, but it is really the demographics that are more particular, the percentage of elderly. Fortunately, humanity does seem to be getting more productivity from semi retired people and that trend will help.

The needs that we shift wealth into are humanity's decisions and also market decisions. Certainly the U.S. has decided one way or another to spend more on health care and just like you say, that could pay off in many ways.

Teaching children that they need a purpose is more my meaning. The process of discovery is something that we can teach and the take home lesson is don't leave purpose to chance. Make it part of growing up. People can grow up to live very pleasant and desirable lives without much material wealth as long as they have a purpose. People can grow up to be very unhappy and discontented even if they have material wealth, but without a purpose in life.

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James Dunn wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 16:37 GMT
I like your essay and gave it a 9. But I disagree that a technological singularity will not occur. We as humans want to evolve, and evolving in a machine architecture is perhaps the most viable pathway.

I wrote something about this elsewhere, so I don't want to repeat myself.

But the summary is that we will most likely be required to merge with machines and evolve accordingly, if not out of pure competition in the marketplace.

James Dunn

FQXi Submission:

Graduated Certification for Certification of Common Sense

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James Dunn replied on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 16:43 GMT
Innovation is based in Critical Thinking, Predicting Consequences, and supported by the needed skill sets. Without these capacities in an individual, they have no hope of efficiently moving forward with development.

If you have an interest in becoming a Board Member for building the foundation for acting upon innovation, please contact me at

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 22:54 GMT
I agree that machine augmentation of humanity is an ongoing enterprise and is a part of innovation. My cutsy remark about doubting the coming singularity is related to the master race or even Stalinist or Maoist ideologies. Such ideologies always suppose that if somehow you can just create the perfect human by eliminating all of the bad human traits, all of humanity's problems will go away. Somehow that has never worked out that way with humans and likely will not work with smart electronic machines either.

If we create humanlike machines, won't we then just have more humanlike problems? What future does a humanlike machine have? Humans are neural networks with complex biological relationships with other people and objects and those relationships determine human purpose. A machine can also be a complex neural network, but without biological responses, it will always augment human purpose.

A neural machine can never have a purpose on its own just like machines today augment human purpose, they do not replace human action. It will certainly be fun to have a machine that converses like a human, but it is clear to me that that purpose would be to facilitate my use of a device. I do not relish the idea of a machine without an off switch.

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Ioana Petre wrote on Apr. 18, 2014 @ 19:44 GMT
Interesting essay! I have one question, nonetheless. Does it matter what and how we innovate or any kind of innovation, in itself, is sufficient to positively steer the future of humanity?

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Apr. 19, 2014 @ 22:58 GMT
It does indeed matter how we innovate. First, we look for needs that we would like to reduce spending and address those needs with innovation. Since housing, transportation, and health care dominate spending, innovation can help each of those needs.

Correspondingly, we can make a decision to spend more on the environment, and innovation can help drive that increase in spending as well. So humanity does need a way to focus innovation in areas that are likely to get the best return in terms of humanity's true wealth.

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Hoang cao Hai wrote on Apr. 22, 2014 @ 02:54 GMT
Dear Agnew

Innovation has always been key to the future

The demand is always greater than the ability

Confidence is always stronger than reality

The thing that has always been our big problem - very interesting to know your opinion about them.

Best wishes and highest scores - Hải.CaoHoàng

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Apr. 26, 2014 @ 20:27 GMT
Thank-you for your comment. As I understand it, your comment is that our confidence for meeting a demand has always been greater than the reality of our ability to meet that demand.

I agree that humanity always falls short in meeting all demands, but as long as the incentives are in place that foster innovation, humanity can still realize innovation driven growth.

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Anonymous wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 23:34 GMT
Dear Stephen,

I read your essay because of its title. I totally agree that innovation will drive, even more than it already does, our future.

You confused me, however, with your initial emphasis on "stabilize population" because innovation in food, energy and everything else has followed lock-step in parallel with population increases. Whenever we have come close to running out of anything, an innovative mind solves it for us e.g. Norman Borlaug figured out how to increase yields and fed a third of the then world population that would, without his success, soon face famine. Yes, if population didn't increase, we would need less innovation of this kind. You yourself say "questions are the innovation that drives growth and a desirable future". Must we continue to use population as a whipping boy for so many of our shortcomings? Can we not continue to invite and expect innovations that address population growth?

The dilemma you pose of "changing the world or changing ourselves" Is the right one. In my thinking, one extreme is asking to change nature (we humans are one integral part of it) while the other is to change the artificial world we have created. The latter is, obviously, a doable task.

Please read my essay. I'm curious to know your thoughts on my approach to the future which, simply stated, is innovation by all in pursuit of each person's happiness.

Thank you


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Author Steve Agnew replied on May. 4, 2014 @ 14:12 GMT
You confuse me with your statement about population growth. It seems obvious that human population will stabilize and it seems equally obvious that is where humanity is heading. One estimate here is that humanity will stabilize at 10 billion in 2062.


It is true that innovation helps food production, but humanity's growth depends more on transportation, housing, and healthcare by far than on food production. Every country that reaches a stable and advanced economy has in fact already begun to decrease in population, including the U.S. Without immigration, the U.S. population would be decreasing at about 1%/yr instead of increasing at 1%/yr.

What advanced technology actually shows in that innovation naturally decreases population growth, and so we are heading in the right direction...

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Mohammed M. Khalil wrote on May. 10, 2014 @ 09:53 GMT
Hi Dr. Agnew,

Great essay! You provide great arguments to support your opinion that "innovation is the key for humanity's future", and I agree with you. I believe it was the scientific and technological innovations that led to our current progress; in my essay I try to discuss how to increase the rate of innovation in science and technology.

Best regards,


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Author Steve Agnew replied on May. 11, 2014 @ 16:38 GMT
Thank-you for your kind comments. Obviously, my essay is much about science and technology, but it is also about economics and monetary policy and politics and prisons. Science is really fun, but a world with only scientists would not be very interesting...believe me. In fact, science only makes sense as a piece of humanity, an important piece, but just a piece after all.

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Aaron M. Feeney wrote on May. 11, 2014 @ 01:49 GMT
Also, if you do decide to read my paper, please read my conversations with Michael Allan, Tommy Anderberg, and Robert de Neufville on my page as well. A great deal of clarification is available in those stimulating conversations.

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Author Steve Agnew replied on May. 17, 2014 @ 04:12 GMT
Once again, I do not know how to reply to a note that does not reference my essay.

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James Lee Hoover wrote on May. 13, 2014 @ 18:12 GMT

"This essays shows that humanity should steer a future to: stabilize population amount and demographics; grow the economy with productivity through innovation; shift spending from less desirable to more desirable needs with innovation; use the recursion of more knowledge and more tools to generate more innovation; choose with each innovation between changing ourselves to adapt to the world as it is or changing the world; teach our children to believe in their purpose, origin, and destiny."

Well chosen approaches to steering for a viable future. The problem, I also express in my essay is providing the right motivation for a consensus.


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Author Steve Agnew replied on May. 17, 2014 @ 04:11 GMT
Motivation is definitely key. Of course, my preference is for the rewards of wealth. I like to keep wealth ambiguous since there are really different kinds of wealth that motivate different kinds of people.

My thinking is that humanity really needs to keep a diversity of resources in order to face the trials of our future, and that means there needs to be rewards of wealth in property, knowledge, and spiritualism to maintain innovation. Humanity needs all kinds of different innovation to provide us a desirable future.

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Eckard Blumschein wrote on May. 13, 2014 @ 22:48 GMT
Dear Stephen,

Elsewhere you wrote: "Science needs to abandon the 4-space paradigm and adopt a different approach to matter and time."

Doesn't this opinion fit to your essay as well as to mine? When I neglected the question of economic growth, this does not mean a denial of growing quality. I would mainly like to object to the perhaps illusory doctrine of growing consumption of resources which are naturally limited. Presently I see growing destruction of humanity's basis.

I also observe declining progress in several disciplines going along with nonetheless increasing number of conference publications and even papers in peer-reviewed journals. Prof. Thomas Eagar of MIT, an renowned expert in welding analyzed the number of inventions each half decade. After an accelerating increase, that number declined to zero. He shocked the audience by concluding: Welding is a dying discipline. Of course, other disciplines are emerging and new ones will emerge in future too. I tend to smile about Mohammed Khali and Philip Gibbs. You are quite right: Scientific publications are not all. I would even say the larger their amount, the less important they tend to be. Each mediocre author may easily publish twenty or more papers a year unless he shares your quoted above opinion.

Best regards,


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Author Steve Agnew replied on May. 17, 2014 @ 04:05 GMT
It's funny that you should mention the rather large, gaping hole that we have in our understanding of the universe in the context of innovation. Yes, I do believe that our current science has a confusion of purpose and part of that confusion is related to the glaring black holes in our knowledge that metaphorically preclude the advance of knowledge.

I must admit, though, that I am far more optimistic about the future of innovation that you seem to be. Resources are limited, that is true, but there was a huge demand for buggy whips and a fear of limited land for food at the turn of the century and now those resources are not really limits now.

If you imagine how little it really takes to survive in Africa or India compared to the largess of many western countries, resources are really not the limitation for humanity. It is purpose that limits humanity, not resources. Humanity can manage this planet quite well and our mother earth will take us into an amazing future if we just let her.

Science is not the most important knowledge, but it is right up there. Innovation is the best hope that I see for humanity...

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Peter Jackson wrote on May. 23, 2014 @ 12:46 GMT

I think you put your finger firmly on the pulse of what will sustain successful advancement; 'tools and innovation', and; 'the recursion of more knowledge and more tools to generate more innovation', to give us choices, because; "humanity's future is only possible with the growth of information and knowledge."

Importantly you also identified that poor understanding of nature...

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 16:03 GMT
Thank-you for your detailed comments. I do believe that science is in a rut right now between GR and QM and there does not seem to be a clear path out. Many ideas expressed on FQXi appear to come closer to the truth while many other ideas herein expressed seem to get further away from the truth.

There is an allegory that experts invariably anneal the best local solution to a hard problem, but are necessarily limited to local solutions. More naive approaches explore a much wider range of possible non-local solutions including some that clearly make no sense. Before annealing the problem into a truth, humanity does need to explore a wide range of possibilities and that is what innovation is all about.

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Sebastian Benthall wrote on May. 30, 2014 @ 15:10 GMT
I get the sense from your essay that you believe human knowledge is increasing monotonically over time.

Are you concerned at all with the possibility of humanity forgetting?

Or of the distribution of knowledge in society?

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Author Steve Agnew replied on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 16:11 GMT
You have sensed correctly, but it is a little more than a belief. It seems well documented that human knowledge has increased over the last several hundred thousand years or so.

If by humanity forgetting you mean that we lose our recorded knowledge, that is one of humanity's needs. Humanity seems to have ample resources for recording knowledge and knowledge is one of humanity's needs.

The distribution of knowledge is a function of education and that is also one of humanity's needs. Humanity's needs are meant to include all of the important concerns.

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Lorraine Ford wrote on May. 31, 2014 @ 14:16 GMT
Hi Stephen,

I agree that we need to "stabilize population amount and demographics", but it is not clear to me that "grow[ing] the economy with productivity through innovation" is going to save us.

I know that "innovate innovate innovate" is the current mantra. But there is a desperation here, an expectation of miracles. A lot of money and effort seemingly goes into attempts to "innovate", but isn't a lot of money wasted with nothing to show for it? A lot of innovations are "barking up the wrong tree" or are failures.

In the business world, the reality behind the seemingly innocuous word "innovation" is a dog-eat-dog winner-take-all mentality: is this the attitude that is going to save us?

So what sort of innovation are you talking about? Are you talking about the sort of innovation that requires the mining of rare metals in unstable developing countries? Are you talking about new chemical substances or nanoparticles that are later found to have unforeseen effects on living things and environments?

So I cannot see that "Innovation Is the Key for Humanity's Future". Also, I'm not in favour of brainwashing our children "to believe in their purpose, origin, and destiny".


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Author Steve Agnew replied on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 16:33 GMT
It is interesting to me that you seem to be so averse to the term "innovation" and you seem to only mention the adverse effects of innovation. You are correct in stating that a lot of resources go to innovations that are failures, but then you fail to mention the many successful innovations.

You also fail to mention that much more money goes into wars and conflicts and the security of police and fire and other public safety and prisons and courts and so on. Much of that money is also wasted, but we do not abandon our security because of some failures.

Is democracy a successful innovation?

My essay talks about innovation in politics and diplomacy, i.e. the administration need, that minimize war and conflict...are such innovations a waste of money? There are a downsides to innovation, but my essay was meant to focus on the upside. Even given an innovation, we always have a choice about whether we implement an innovation for our future.

But only if we have a purpose and without a purpose, our children have no reason to choose a future. Without an origin, children have no idea where they came from. And without a destiny, children can have no purpose. Teaching our children useful strategies for living is hardly brainwashing.

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