The Conversation

Responses and reverberations

The Inventors Shaping Our Future

For November’s special technology issue, The Atlantic asked prominent figures in technology, science, medicine, and design to identify the visionaries whose inventions could have a significant impact on society. Leading the list was Elon Musk of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, a choice some readers protested. A conversation ensued online about what makes someone an inventor.

You put Elon Musk at the top of the list of candidates for the greatest living inventor. You do not, however, mention a single invention credited to Mr. Musk. Nor are any such inventions mentioned in the various online biographies of Mr. Musk.

Are you not confusing inventor with businessman?

Peter Blau
Weston, Conn.

Very few people on this list have invented something. Most have merely used already invented resources to develop variations of businesses that have existed for decades.

mrsatyre comment

Most of the people on this list are just paeans to the Cult of Personality. I respect Musk, and would classify him as a visionary, but he’s no inventor.

Eric Scoles comment

Inventors are not just people who conceive of and model an idea. Inventors use the environment around them to get that idea. Through open-sourcing, we can all be inventors. Isn’t this the simple genius of people like Musk? He sees the problem. Defines it. Then has others help him get to the best solution. We need more “inventors” like Musk.

DTARS comment

The Great Forgetting

Elsewhere in the technology issue, Nicholas Carr warned of the perils of automation. Relying on computers to fly our planes, find our cancers, design our buildings, and audit our businesses is all well and good, but what happens when the computer fails?

In my work as a software developer, I’m guilty of contributing to the problems described in “The Great Forgetting.” Despite being an atheist, I often imagine Saint Peter at the gates of heaven asking me to justify my life. Saying “I helped eliminate the need for skill in the world” is not a great recommendation for admittance.

John Goodman
Cambridge, Mass.

Cautiously embrace the new, but do not utterly forsake the old. Design tech with a fallback where possible, such as astronauts knowing Morse code.

Patrick Ervolina comment

The Nature of Diversity

In September’s Chartist, “The Real Cost of Segregation,” Emily Badger wrote, “Segregation is a problem because it concentrates poverty, which isolates minorities from access to good jobs, quality schools, and healthy environments.”

As an African American public-school teacher in Chicago, I took issue with this article. I love my South Side Chicago neighborhood. It’s a living memory of the Black Metropolis, still steeped in its strong black roots.

What Emily Badger failed to account for is the fact that many black people, of multiple income levels, choose to live in “black” neighborhoods. They do this for many reasons, but it is still a choice that they have the right to make. The article also doesn’t account for the fact that black people don’t need white people in order to improve their lives. The argument should focus on the need for economic diversity in blighted areas. If you’re arguing that economic diversity leads to more equal opportunities, then your argument is true, and I agree. However, I take issue with economic diversity being colored white. The South Side’s rampant violence, failing schools, and poor health come from the lack of economic opportunities—not from the lack of whiteness.

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