Paul Witkay in Smart Business: "The Future Will be Better"
June 1, 2012
Most of what we hear on the news is how the world is going downhill — and quickly. Economic chaos, terrorist and pandemic threats, political stagnation, budget deficits and global warming are only a few of the issues constantly bombarding us.
Fortunately for me, these doomsayers are in direct contrast to the people I work with every day. It’s my privilege to live in the Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley, and work closely with CEOs who believe that they can make a difference in the world — sometimes even create a whole new future.
I suppose that’s why I find the book “Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think” so inspiring. Written by Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation and a key figure in the development of the personal spaceflight industry, it describes the forces that are transforming our world and the trends that will enable us to address the most challenging issues facing our planet.
Here are a few of Diamandis’ examples that demonstrate how we can innovatively address the massive challenges facing us:
Dean Kamen, the famous inventor of the Segway, portable infusion pumps and kidney dialysis machines, got interested in water and invented the “Slingshot,” a device that can purify 250 gallons of water per day using the same energy as a hair dryer. The power source is a Stirling engine that can run on most anything (even cow dung) and is designed to operate for five years in remote villages without maintenance. Kamen believes it can reduce costs by 90 percent.
Winston Churchill said it was absurd to grow a whole chicken simply to eat its breast and wings. In the 1990s, NASA developed a way to grow meat from stem cells to feed astronauts on long space flights. Although it will take another decade to perfect the process, cultured meat has the promise to provide the protein we need, eliminate farm animal cruelty and restore the 30 percent of Earth’s surface currently used to raise livestock.
Billions are being invested in developing the capability to produce and distribute clean, renewable, safe and low-cost energy. In addition to exciting developments in solar, biofuels and storage, the potential for next-generation nuclear plants is enormous.
Bill Gates and others have invested in TerraPower, a company that is developing a traveling wave reactor (TWR) described as the “world’s most simplified passive fast breeder reactor.” A TWR can’t melt down and can run safely for 50 years without human intervention.
Learning will be different in the 21st century. With the ability to find information on anything at any time on the Internet, we must develop the ability to ask the right questions. Creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving skills will be most valued. Although we need to restructure our education systems, the opportunity for personalized learning programs has never been better.
Medical researchers are pushing the cost of diagnosing disease to almost nothing. mChip, developed by scientists at Columbia University, has already demonetized and dematerialized the HIV testing process. Using a microfluidic optical chip smaller than a credit card, a single drop of blood can be read in 15 minutes at a cost of under $1.
The potential to make low cost, simple and accurate diagnoses for a wide range of diseases via mobile devices has enormous ramifications for improving health.
The Arab Spring of 2011 proved the power of today’s communications technologies. One activist reported that they “use Facebook to schedule the protests, Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.”
Freedom is a powerful and irresistible force for change, and technology is making it happen.