How we changed photography, and photography changed us.
Tagged with “innovation” (40)
By 1975, George Lucas knew exactly what he wanted Star Wars to look like, but what it would sound like was another story altogether. Lucas was tired of Sci-Fi’s typical synthetic and electronic cliches; he wanted a sonic world that felt organic and personal. So he hired a young sound designer named Ben Burtt, and sent him out into the world with a recorder and microphone.
Burtt would need to blend and manipulate his recordings in order to achieve original sound designs, customized in every way to help bring the Skywalker saga to life. Like a detective, Burtt would have to hunt for the perfect buzz, bark, or hum to make Star Wars come alive. And in the process, he and Lucas would help to change the way audiences experience sound in films.
With the success of STAR WARS, George Lucas finally had the independence and power to make movies exactly the way he wanted to make them—which was critical, because the sequels he planned were going to be even bigger and more challenging than the original. The artists of Industrial Light and Magic had barely finished the first film, but now they’d have to top themselves—designing a snow planet, imperial walkers, tauntauns, asteroid fields, a Cloud City, and a 12-mile long Star Destroyer.
From 1978 to 1983, ILM surged forward with the mandate to not only complete the original STAR WARS trilogy, but also expand the company itself. The ultimate mission: to push the edge of what visual effects could be, and ultimately lead cinema from its analogue origins, to its digital present.
When STAR WARS debuted in May 1977, it gave rise to a pop-cultural phenomenon unlike any the world had ever seen. The movie was so singular and iconic, and so technically ambitious — that it almost never came to be.
To bring Star Wars to the screen, new technology had to be invented and existing technology had to be utilized in ways never before imagined. None of the special effects companies in Hollywood could handle the blend of creativity and innovation necessary to bring director George Lucas’s vision to life. So Lucas built his own studio, and forever changed the way movies are made.
At the heart of the Milky Way, there’s a supermassive black hole that feeds off a spinning disk of hot gas, sucking up anything that ventures too close — even light. We can’t see it, but its event horizon casts a shadow, and an image of that shadow could help answer some important questions about the universe. Scientists used to think that making such an image would require a telescope the size of Earth — until Katie Bouman and a team of astronomers came up with a clever alternative. Bouman explains how we can take a picture of the ultimate dark using the Event Horizon Telescope.
In 1714, British Parliament offered a huge cash prize to anyone who could find a way to determine longitude at sea. And it worked, sort of—several decades later. Are modern contests like the DARPA challenges and the X Prize an effective way to spur technological innovation? Guests include: Dava Sobel, author of Longitude.
Wanda Diaz Merced studies the light emitted by gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic events in the universe. When she lost her sight and was left without a way to do her science, she had a revelatory insight: the light curves she could no longer see could be translated into sound. Through sonification, she regained mastery over her work, and now she’s advocating for a more inclusive scientific community. "Science is for everyone," she says. "It has to be available to everyone, because we are all natural explorers."
Why cities live forever
West focussed on cities in his discussion of the newly discovered exponential scaling laws that govern everything alive.
“We live,” he said, “in an exponentially expanding socio-economic universe.”
Global urbanization has reached the point that there are a million new people arriving in cities every week, and that rate is expected to continue to midcentury.
What is the attraction?
One reason for constant urban growth is that the bigger the city, the more efficient it is, because of economies of scale.
With each doubling of a city’s size, the numbers of gas stations and power lines and water lines, etc. increase at a rate a little less than double.
In other words, with every size increase there is a 15% improvement in energy efficiency.
“That‘s why New York is the greenest city in America,” West said.
The same dynamics of networks explain how what is called “power-law scaling“ works in biology.
The bigger the animal, the slower and more efficient its metabolism is, at a rate lower than 1-to-1 (“sublinear” in West’s terminology).
This leads to some remarkable constants.
Shrews weigh 2 grams, and in their 14-month life their heart beats a billion times.
Blue whales weigh 200 million grams, and in their 100-year life, their heart beats the same billion times.
Ditto for all mammals (except humans, who have achieved a lifetime average of 2 billion heartbeats, presumably for cultural reasons.)
In physical terms, cities are like organisms, enjoying sublinear economies of scale with each increase in size.
But when you look at cities in terms of their social-economic networks, an astonishing finding emerges. Once again there is power-law scaling if you count patents, wages, tax receipts, crimes, restaurants, even the pace of walking, but instead of slowing down with increasing size, cities speed up with increasing size.
Their increase is greater that 1:1.
It is superlinear.
“Bigger cities are better,” said West.
Each time they increase in size, they are 15% more innovative socio-economically at the same time they are 15% more efficient in terms of energy and materials.
Furthermore, they apparently live forever.
They create most of civilization’s problems, but they are capable of solving problems even faster than they create them.
However, when you compare companies with cities, companies have similar metabolic efficiencies of scale as they grow, but their innovation rate, instead of increasing with size,
slows down as they get ever bigger. And they are mortal.
The average lifespan of a publicly traded companies is 10 years.
They can grow prodigiously, but their net income, sales, profits, and assets can’t quite keep up—they are sublinear.
Successful new companies start off like cities, full of innovation, but over time the nature of corporate growth leads them to focus ever more solely on exploiting their success, and eventually they taper off and die like animals.
The city feeds on their corpses and creates new companies.
"The actual path of a raindrop as it goes down the valley is unpredictable, but the general direction is inevitable," says digital visionary Kevin Kelly — and technology is much the same, driven by patterns that are surprising but inevitable. Over the next 20 years, he says, our penchant for making things smarter and smarter will have a profound impact on nearly everything we do. Kelly explores three trends in AI we need to understand in order to embrace it and steer its development. "The most popular AI product 20 years from now that everyone uses has not been invented yet," Kelly says. "That means that you’re not late."
How do creative people come up with great ideas? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant studies "originals": thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world. In this talk, learn three unexpected habits of originals — including embracing failure. "The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most," Grant says. "You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones."
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