Neal Stephenson on Innovation Starvation

Many of you are probably fans of the prolific Neal Stephenson.  He basically helped to start the whole “cyberpunk” movement with his novel Snow Crash, and has been pumping out giant novels at an alarming rate ever since.  Stephenson recently wrote an essay bemoaning the dismantling of the space program, and more generally the lack of real innovation when it comes American engineers.  He chalks this up to two reasons: the first, that modern SF writers are not doing their job, which is to inspire real-world scientists to innovate.  The second reason is that the corporate atmosphere fails to be conducive to risk-taking which is absolutely essential to achieve real innovation.  Companies are instead able to quickly scan the internet for precedents, leading to a defeatist attitude:

What if that person in the corner hadn’t been able to do a Google search? It might have required weeks of library research to uncover evidence that the idea wasn’t entirely new—and after a long and toilsome slog through many books, tracking down many references, some relevant, some not. When the precedent was finally unearthed, it might not have seemed like such a direct precedent after all. There might be reasons why it would be worth taking a second crack at the idea, perhaps hybridizing it with innovations from other fields.

He has a point.  How important is the space program to our overall economic productivity?  How important is the average SF writer’s role in this?

[Via World Policy Journal]