“[In] the last century, discovery was basically finding things. And in this century, discovery is basically making things.”

historic-engravings

In a recent post by the online publication MAKE,  the OpenROV team discusses meaningful making and ocean exploration. By looking at design and making today, it is becoming available to the amateur. In this world, we’re opening up sources and plans for what we want to create. More importantly, the curiosity has never been bolder. OpenROV founder David Lang writes,

So explained Stewart Brand at the TED conference this past February. He was referring to the National Geographic Society’s rationale for hosting the first-ever meeting on de-extinction — a gathering of scientists and engineers who are using biotechnology to bring back extinct species.

His statement is a bold idea: the future of discovery is about making. In the context of Brand’s talk, however, the message was quickly overshadowed by the even bolder idea that we are close to reviving extinct species. But the “making” statement is worth unpacking. Is it true? What does that mean for discovery? What does that mean for makers?

True discovery — the kind that pushes the species forward — doesn’t get mentioned much in popular culture, or even maker conversations, for that matter. It’s a feature on the Twitter search bar, a television network that hosts Shark Week, or something relegated to research universities and National Geographic. Not something that regular folks like us stop to consider, unless we’re reading an article about some new finding or breakthrough. But maybe it’s time we start.”

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OpenROV v2.5

Lang continues,

“Hidden in the mist. And now the sky, sea, and even outer space. Makers (and their connected devices) are moving out of the garage and into the physical and natural world. Of course, this wasn’t really unforeseen. People have been talking about the Internet of Things for years. But the aesthetic of the industrial internet always conjured up visions of connected devices that spoke quietly to each other: thermostats that never needed tending, plants that watered themselves and toasters that knew the day’s weather. It was always a promise of convenience (and automation and sleekness). What wasn’t obvious, to me anyway, was that an Internet of Things could usher in a golden age for curiosity. Where everyone, even a luddite like me, was constantly at the edge of what was possible. Where a new adventure — a new set of questions about our world and our place in it — was only a group friends and an internet connection away.

It’s curiosity for curiosity’s sake. Without permission and without reservation. Which brings up the third reason the current notion of “citizen science” needs to be re-examined. It’s not about fitting into the existing scientific establishment: peer reviewed papers, NSF grant applications, and conferences. It’s more basic than that. Have a question? Make the tool, find the answer. Do we really need to create a dolphin-controlled robot? Probably not. Will it be interesting and worth studying and sharing the outcomes? Absolutely! The NSF wouldn’t touch a project like this. But the question doesn’t have to stop there. We can do it on our own volition. Simply because we can.

It opens up all sorts of new ethical questions we’ll have to answer. We’re just starting to see this play out. Should we use our OpenROVs to control the invasive Lionfish in Florida? Where do we draw the privacy line for drones in our neighborhoods? The more we can do, the more we need to think about what we should do.”

 

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