In a recent article from Science Magazine‘s website, there’s this:

“This fabulous work opens the eyes of people like me and other researchers,” says Foster, who plans to use LiDAR in his future investigations of forest ancestry in Massachusetts. It shows “that with relatively little effort, you can generate a completely new data set of information about the landscape.”

Just taking a shot in the dark here (pun intended), but isn’t a Laser system, that can map out details this refined from a satellite orbiting the Earth, rather complex? Not to be too facetious, but it sounds like more than a “little effort”.

Oh wait, I forgot that little “relatively” qualifier.

It’s incredible that we’ve come to a period of technological innovation where something like this can be considered effortless. Futurists like Michio Kaku guess that the future will be an ever-more-seamless integration of technology into life, until everything we take for granted now disappears into a brilliant fog of… something new, some ‘hyper-ized’ lifestyle and culture that we just can’t predict. In many ways that is fascinating and enticing, but in other ways I am humbled by the enormous moral hurdles that will inevitably follow. That’s a discussion for another day however.

This is a great book, by the way. Even if the cover is reminiscent of 1950s sci-fi magazines... which... really fouled up their predictions of the future.
This is a great book, by the way. Even if the cover is reminiscent of 1950s sci-fi magazines… which… really fouled up their predictions of the future.

We ought to take a few minutes and consider all that has come before to provide our relative ease in life, especially when disruption in that condition can rapidly bring bitterness and anger.

One hundred years ago, the primary modes of transportation were the steamship, the coal-engine train, and the horseback/carriage. One hundred years before that, the train had yet to be invented. One hundred years before that the ocean was traversed with wind, skill, and providence. One thousand years before that (714 A.D.), transportation was still operating on essentially the same forces. And a thousand years before that? And a thousand more?

I’m slowly becoming a bigger and bigger fan of the ‘gilded age’, that period of the late 1800s when creativity and innovation exploded with Cambrian strength and brought about the astounding technological world we have today.

Many argue that it was the Age of Reason bringing natural fruits forward, and there’s some truth to that, although the story is much deeper. Others argue that significant changes to patent law and property rights played a significant part, and that is also beyond a doubt.

This post is more about encouraging people to appreciate the shoulders upon which we stand. Putting a satellite in space was an incredible achievement just fifty years ago! Perhaps an even more outstanding achievement is that we have been so successful since then as to make the first spacewalk seem mundane.

If children today scratch their heads and wonder why the world would be awed by such feats, then maybe we’ve got to tell these stories better. Part of why so many truly profound people became interested in science and engineering is because they were growing up in a world that was changing quickly with new marvels all the time. Richard Feynman comes to mind.

Yes, we’re past the period where science is pushed forward by amateur tinkerers, but that means absolutely nothing to the five year old who doesn’t necessarily care about the edge of the wave of new discoveries in particle science at the LHC. Why should the five-year-old care? He doesn’t have a context to interpret those discoveries. And he never will, if you don’t bring him to a point where he can understand those things.

That’s the great thing about the history of science and ideas. You can present the history of physics to a child and bring him slowly up from Kepler and Galilei to Pascal and Newton to Einstein and Bohr. The concepts at play build upon themselves from the basic to the complex. In many ways, science is still struggling to nail down these rudimentary concepts. Physics is tugging at the fabric of the universe to try to figure gravity out, still!

But we have to be very conscious of where we came from and maintain humility about what we have now. I almost want to say we must be reverent for the hard work that has gifted us a wonderful set of opportunities unavailable to previous generations. Technology is not something that would have happened ‘eventually’ out of inevitable necessity. It’s something that took the effort of countless lives. We ought not be callous in forgetting that. We should never eat a meal without giving thanks for it. The best thing we can do is to pass on this understanding to the next generation.

Failing to provide that fascination to a child is tragic in many ways. Anyone who has ever seen the way a little boy looks at a toy dump truck and the way his face lights up with awe when he sees the real thing in operation for the first time will understand.

As to this particular scientist, I’m confident his “relatively” means, compared to the alternative means of mapping these colonial farms. Still, I would put dollars against dimes that hundreds of thousands of man-hours went into creating that LiDAR system. This is obviously true if you expand to include prerequisite discoveries that were employed.

Anyhow, here’s a SmarterEveryDay video. Watch. Enjoy.