I love our President. He is such a nerd.
In a White House interview about science and technology with Wired‘s Scott Dadich and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito, President Obama invokes Star Trek and The Martian to talk about the fundamental American belief in our “common humanity” and “our ability to solve problems”:
DADICH: I understand you’re a Star Trek fan. That was a show inspired by a utopian view of technology—what about it shaped your vision of the future?
OBAMA: I was a sucker for Star Trek when I was a kid. They were always fun to watch. What made the show lasting was it wasn’t actually about technology. It was about values and relationships. Which is why it didn’t matter that the special effects were kind of cheesy and bad, right? They’d land on a planet and there are all these papier-mâché boulders. [Laughs.] But it didn’t matter because it was really talking about a notion of a common humanity and a confidence in our ability to solve problems.
A recent movie captured the same spirit—The Martian. Not because it had a hugely complicated plot, but because it showed a bunch of different people trying to solve a problem. And employing creativity and grit and hard work, and having confidence that if it’s out there, we can figure it out. That is what I love most about America and why it continues to attract people from all around the world for all of the challenges that we face, that spirit of “Oh, we can figure this out.” And what I value most about science is this notion that we can figure this out. Well, we’re gonna try this—if it doesn’t work, we’re gonna figure out why it didn’t work and then we’re gonna try something else. And we will revel in our mistakes, because that is gonna teach us how to ultimately crack the code on the thing that we’re trying to solve. And if we ever lose that spirit, then we’re gonna lose what is essential about America and what I think is essential about being human.
ITO: I totally agree—I love the optimism of Star Trek. But I also think the Federation is amazingly diverse, the crew is diverse, and the bad guys aren’t usually evil—they’re just misguided.
OBAMA:Star Trek, like any good story, says that we’re all complicated, and we’ve all got a little bit of Spock and a little bit of Kirk [laughs] and a little bit of Scotty, maybe some Klingon in us, right? But that is what I mean about figuring it out. Part of figuring it out is being able to work across barriers and differences. There’s a certain faith in rationality, tempered by some humility. Which is true of the best art and true of the best science. The sense that we possess these incredible minds that we should use, and we’re still just scratching the surface, but we shouldn’t get too cocky. We should remind ourselves that there’s a lot of stuff we don’t know [Scott Dadich, “Barack Obama, Neural Nets, Self-Driving Cards, and the Future of the World,” Wired, 2016.10.11].
President Obama flows from Star Trek to Socratic wisdom. President Obama is my kind of nerd.