I saw The Martian recently. It’s a great movie. Worth seeing, even if you haven’t read the book. What was especially exciting was the realization that we will see this reality in our lifetime. Martian-nauts might be in the audience with you!
As the closing credits played, I reflexively checked the news on my phone. Going from a movie about humans conquering space to reading about the latest Twitter client made Silicon Valley innovation feel incremental at best. Of course, not all startups can be accused of this. SpaceX is trying to reach Mars. Cruise is building a self-driving car. I sure wish there were more startups that felt truly ambitious.
This got me thinking: could Hollywood be the strategy to spawning more SpaceX’s? Hollywood is really good at making things seem cool. The Sopranos makes mobsters seem cool. Entourage makes loquacious talent agents seem cool. Friday Night Lights makes tough-love coaches feel cool. House of Cards celebrates foxy politicians.
What if all of the movies and TV shows you saw had a hidden agenda: to inspire people to solve today’s Big Problems? Olivia Munn plays a scientist that cures cancer. Kevin Spacey plays a politician that brings nuclear energy to the world. Ben Affleck is a genius engineer that figures out how to make nanobots that connect the human brain to the Internet.
Rather than trying to usher kids to read more (and lose that battle to Call of Duty), should we be focusing on making really compelling movies that celebrate science by portraying fictional solutions to mankind's greatest challenges?
The key metric for the “Definite Optimism Production Company” might be measuring what kids answer when asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.
Consider a world where the predominant answer is: “scientist.”