In­tro­duc­ing this year’s win­ners


Smithsonian Magazine - - Features -

GE­NIUS without ed­u­ca­tion is like sil­ver in the mine,”

Ben­jamin Franklin pro­claimed. In 1750, the same year Amer­ica’s found­ing in­no­va­tor printed this bit of wis­dom in Poor Richard’s Al­manack, he shocked him­self sense­less while try­ing to elec­tro­cute his Christ­mas turkey in the er­rant be­lief that it would ten­der­ize the bird. But he con­tin­ued his ed­u­ca­tion, pub­lish­ing his fa­mous kite ex­per­i­ment less than two years later.

Per­sis­tence. That bedrock na­tional virtue is well known to all the re­cip­i­ents of the 2018 Smith­so­nian Amer­i­can In­ge­nu­ity Awards. Janelle Monáe spent years, between film-act­ing roles and other mu­si­cal projects, de­vel­op­ing Dirty Com­puter, a daz­zling “emo­tion pic­ture” that dares to imag­ine a star­tlingly bleak fu­ture of robotic gains and hu­man losses.

Who epit­o­mizes the in­no­va­tor’s need for drive bet­ter than the engi­neers at Waymo, ten mil­lion miles into their quest to per­fect an au­tonomous (driver­less) car? Or Scott Bolton, whose Juno probe trav­eled nearly two bil­lion miles be­fore set­tling into its cur­rent or­bit around Jupiter?

No field of en­deavor would seem less sus­cep­ti­ble to in­ven­tion than his­tory, by def­i­ni­tion. But watch the ac­tor and co­me­dian John Leguizamo shat­ter that ex­pec­ta­tion in a hi­lar­i­ous stage per­for­mance—which is, like all the bold Amer­i­can in­ven­tions pre­sented here, elec­tri­fy­ing.

Janelle Monáe at the Greek Theatre in Los An­ge­les on her sum­merDirty Com­puter tour.

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