The Road Not Taken
In 1993 I started grad school in social science at Caltech, after being out of school for nine years. But going back to school wasn’t the only option I had considered. My good friend and mentor Eric Drexler, whose book Engines of Creation had put the nanotech concept on the world’s table, was a fan of my work on "idea futures," now known as "prediction markets." Eric is a good writer; he had helped me hone my idea futures papers writing, and he was encouraging me to write a popular book on the subject. I didn’t have anywhere near Eric’s contacts to help me sell my book, but with Eric’s help I might have had a decent chance at writing an engaging popular book on idea futures.
But I choose to go back to school, instead of writing a book. I was 34, near the limit of how old a student can be to be accepted and seriously considered for an academic career. I wanted to make a break from my software career to work on my ideas full time, but I had doubts about how far I could get with just a book and no other credentials. I was worried that there were relevant things I didn’t understand about idea futures, and I wanted to pursue other related social institution ideas.
It turns out that there was a whole lot I didn’t understand about social science, and by going to school I managed to find a career where I can think about ideas at least half time. But now as I finally start to write my first book, I see it will probably never be clear to me whether I made the right choice.