The Arc of Invention: Inspiration, Perspiration, and Incorporation
In 1965, future Intel co-founder Gordon Moore proposed that the number of circuits that could be fit on a single computer chip would double every two years, leading to “such wonders as home computers.” Moore’s prediction still holds true fifty years later, and is an example of how the pace of technological innovation in human history may grow exponentially. In this seminar we will investigate the fundamental act of technological advancement: invention. The first phase of the course will focus on the creation of the invention itself. How do we define an “invention?” What are the attributes of a successful invention? Can we dissect and characterize the generative sequence that leads to the creation of an invention, keeping in mind phrases such as “birthing an idea” or “necessity is the mother of invention?” In the second phase of the course we will study the inventor. What can we distill from popular conceptions of the inventor? How do we delineate between an inventor who builds on the ideas of others, and one who steals the ideas of others? What insight may be gained by contrasting the heroic and socialist theories of invention? The final phase of the course will assess broader impacts of invention. What are the ethical responsibilities of the inventor? How do we resolve apparent contradictory behaviors in society where technological advancement is both resisted and embraced? Readings and media central to the discussions will include the writings of Douglas Hofstadter, Dava Sobel’s Longitude, Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, Rube Goldberg’s artwork, Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001, and of course Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We will also engage in the act of invention by designing, constructing, and presenting a nonsensically serious Rube Goldberg device of our own over the course of the semester. Perhaps we will even enter the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest!
Course taught by
J. Charles Williamson