Are our best minds being wasted?


Prospective students tour Georgetown University. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Here are five ideas that could affect how we live, work and play.

1. The tragedy of highly educated thinkers sitting on the sideline of public debates. From Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times:

There are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.

A basic challenge is that Ph.D. programs have fostered a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience. This culture of exclusivity is then transmitted to the next generation through the publish-or-perish tenure process. Rebels are too often crushed or driven away.

“Many academics frown on public pontificating as a frivolous distraction from real research,” said Will McCants, a Middle East specialist at the Brookings Institution. “This attitude affects tenure decisions. If the sine qua non for academic success is peer-reviewed publications, then academics who ‘waste their time’ writing for the masses will be penalized.”

At the Monkey Cage Erik Voeten responded, calling the column “a merciless exercise in stereotyping.”

2. A wristwatch that predicts heart attacks. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Apple is heavily exploring medical devices, specifically sensor technology that can help predict heart attacks. Led by Tomlinson Holman, a renowned audio engineer who invented THX and 10.2 surround sound, Apple is exploring ways to predict heart attacks by studying the sound blood makes [as] it flows through arteries.

Taken together, Apple’s potential forays into automobiles and medical devices, two industries worlds away from consumer electronics, underscore the company’s deep desire to move away from iPhones and iPads and take big risks.

3. An Apple-Tesla marriage? The same article reports that the Apple executive in charge of mergers and acquisitions met with Tesla chief executive Elon Musk last spring. Apple notoriously has a huge pile of unused cash on hand, so it could make a splash like this.

4. Passwords you don’t have to remember. Google has acquired SlickLogin. Via TechCrunch:

The idea behind SlickLogin was, at the very least, quite novel: to verify a user’s identity and log them in, a Web site would play a uniquely generated, nearly-silent sound through your computer’s speakers. An app running on your phone would pick up the sound, analyze it, and send the signal back to the site’s server confirming that you are who you say you are. … The service was built to be used either as a password replacement, or as a secondary, Two-Factor authentication layer on top of a traditional password.

5. Smart lighting that helps you navigate retail stores. Via Engadget:

Ever spent ages wandering the grocery store while looking for a hard-to-find ingredient? If Philips brings its new connected retail lighting to your local supermarket, you may always know where to go. The technology uses light-based communication to create a positioning grid for your smartphone, telling you just what route you’ll need to take to get everything for that recipe.

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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Matt McFarland · February 14