Notes from my mind-blowing event at ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination

In April, I was invited to participate in a special workshop on the future of space exploration at Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination. This unique think tank was created on a dare after author Neal Stephenson complained that scientists today lacked the grand visions that inspired previous generations. Instead of scoffing at the idea, ASU’s President Michael Crow took up Stephenson’s challenge and within a few short years helped the Center get off the ground. Today the Center unites artists with scientists while inspiring and influencing public policy.

I have been following the Center for Science and the Imagination since its inception, when it created a blog site called Project Hieroglyph that aimed to foster online dialogue between creators, engineers, and scientists. While that effort didn’t succeed, the Center released Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future, a unique compendium of fiction that explored what could be possible while avoiding dystopian modes of storytelling. The Center has since hosted scientists and artists from around the world.

The purpose for the gathering was to discuss a new book on space exploration, where I contributed an essay on inequality in Low-Earth Orbit. We met with NASA engineers, ASU scientists, artists, science fiction writers, and even the president of the acclaimed Planetary Society, Professor Jim Bell. I spoke about Nigerians in Space and my forthcoming sequel After the Flare, and also discussed my work at Access Now, where I fight to ensure that technology respects human rights. Below is a short photo tour of my experience at ASU.

I truly enjoyed the trip and I have been talking about it non-stop to whoever will listen. We need more risk-takers like the Center for Science and the Imagination. I just finished Joi Ito and Jeff Howe’s new book Whiplash: How to Survive our Faster Future (Hachette), and they argue that inter-disciplinary research centers — just like ASU — can model how people can thrive in our rapidly innovating, unsettled world.

I’ll follow up soon with details about the new book collection — it should make for a great read.

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