Science

Space adventures, internet, health: if not for boomers…

On September 12, 1962, John Fitzgerald Kennedy promised the Americans the moon. In front of 40,000 people gathered at Rice University in Houston, he will give a decisive impetus to the so-called baby boom generation, born between 1945 and 1965.

JFK commentators highlight the effectiveness of the message: it’s simple (“We choose to go to the moon”), sets a date (“before the end of the decade”), and carries a huge mobilizing dimension with the history of the project for the country when it states: “We choose to do this and much more, not because it is easy, but because it is difficult; because it will allow us to use all our strengths and talents.” If the push given to the boomer generation had to be brought back to a key moment, it would undoubtedly be Rice’s speech.

In terms of a technical problem, the target set by JFK is not exactly Flamanville’s EPR. At that time, the United States only had fifteen minutes of space flight. The term “flight” is also exaggerated, as it is a ballistic trajectory aboard a tiny aluminum cockpit. It’s also called the NASA capsule where the astronauts want to see the spaceship (spaceship); they will threaten to strike if it doesn’t have a tiny window so they don’t feel like lab rats and can say they saw Earth from there.

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Boomers, Pillars of Innovation

To say scientists are skeptical of this crazy idea is an understatement. Shortly after JFK’s speech, Pierre Tardy, then professor of physics and astronomy at the Ecole Polytechnique, “demonstrated” that it was impossible to put a man on the moon, one of his former students cheerfully recounts. Not only did Kennedy’s vision materialize in just eight years, but the optimism and confidence she carried led to one of the most prolific periods of innovation in history, whose boomers were to become artisans.

This effort involved 400,000 people in 20,000 companies and at that time all university research was mobilized. The benefits are innumerable: the microprocessor (invented in 1971), digital imaging, countless new materials, alloys and even textiles, dehydrated foods and even Velcro are all the result of space adventures… Research efforts will extend far beyond space. a sector with inventions such as the medical scanner (1972) or the personal computer in the early 1970s.

Illustrious boomers celebrate a history of innovation. In his book Outliers (ed. Penguin), Canadian Malcolm Gladwell even put forward the theory of being born “at the right time.” Between 1952 and 1955 were born Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bill Joy (founder of Sun Microsystems, which changed the possibilities of computing and modeling), Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) or even Eric Schmidt, without whom Google would probably be the same remained an engineering whim.

interdependent eras

Between 1975 and 2005, which corresponds to the intellectual maturity of boomers, more than 100,000 patents were filed in the United States, twice as many as in the entire previous century. And that momentum has been accelerated by the rubbish bins of private finance, selective immigration, the rise of the digital giants, driven by their massive R&D investments (Google spends more on R&D than the entire French research community). Consequences: From 2005 to date, 300,000 patents have been filed, three times the amount of the boomer golden age.

For Dennis Ellison, professor of computer science at Stanford, Calif., the two eras are actually interdependent: “Major technological, scientific, and industrial projects such as the Apollo program have made it possible to learn how to mobilize and coordinate vast human resources in a short period of time and with specific goals. Undoubtedly, this ability played an important role in the emergence of large technology companies such as Amazon or Google.

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Is Europe’s technological backwardness due to a lack of excessive ambition? Possible. But the United States has also benefited from a historically integrated and homogeneous market. If Europe manages to develop its own, then its future is assured. Because there are enough stories with epic dimensions.

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