The public parts of my notebook.
Victor talks about choosing a life’s work that will be important in a hundred years. He cites Carver Mead’s talk at the centennial of the Caltech Electrical Engineering department.
Mead says the following things.
The department was founded by Royal Sorensen. Sorensen’s field was power electronics, which had already gone through the exponential improvement part of its S-curve and had started leveling out. This meant that there wasn’t much left to contribute.
Caltech alums invented quite a few of the foundational technologies of the information age. This was because Sorensen made it a core value to understand something right down to the bottom. This meant people could ignore fields of expertise and work with whatever techniques and knowledge were relevant to achieving their goal.
And you can’t see the field that will be important in a hundred years, just like Sorensen couldn’t see the field of information theory that underpinned the information age. Victor’s lesson from this seems to be that, though you can’t see what field will be important, he can contribute by inventing tools for thinking that are technology independent.
It’s worth watching Mead’s whole talk: