Meta-Trends & Mindsets
I recently attended Lesley University’s Boston Speaker Series and was pleasantly surprised when Dr. Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, was introduced. I want to share with you his thoughts on meta-trends he presented in “Technology Converts Scarcity into Abundance.”
Dr. Diamandis was a dynamic speaker and between the gasps of disbelief and surprise from the audience, I was excitedly exclaiming, “Hey, we did that project for a client!” and “I do this for work!” The talk was a vivid reminder that the projects we work on at yet2, from cutting-edge energy storage systems to AR/VR systems for emergency responders to figuring out how to do laundry in space, are still novel to the rest of the world. We live and breathe innovation, and thus take it for granted. It was a wonderful reminder that the projects we work on help push forward the frontier of technology.
A nice component of Dr. Diamandis’ talk is that he highlights meta-trends across industries, jumping from energy to robotics and Artificial intelligence (AI)/Internet of Things (IoT) to health and longevity. He emphasized how innovation has exploded in the past 100 years, from four patents in 1920*, to the proliferation of patents and innovations today. To be fair, the four innovations he mentioned from 1920 were really big ones in my opinion (the Band-Aid, the first commercial radio station, the handheld hair dryer, and the three-lens traffic light).
Below is an overview of his presentation that covered the meta-trends he’s noticed.
- Diamandis touched upon the recent evolution of energy, from killing whales for their oil, to mining for coal and oil, to fracking and developing renewable energy production like solar and wind.
- Technological advancements are bringing sustainable and renewable energy sources (solar and wind) closer to cost parity than non-renewable sources (oil and coal).
- 5G – faster connection is coming!
- Balloon-powered internet (Google)
- SpaceX launched the fifth batch of Starlink internet satellites (the first 302 out of 42,000 planned)
These technology developments will enable approximately 4+ billion people to come online by 2025. The question he poses – what will these new users upload, write, develop or buy? And how will life and society change as a result?
“We’re going to connect everything, everywhere…”
- There is an explosion of technology that will enable a connected world: cameras, sensors, LiDAR, drones, autonomous cars, AR glasses, etc. These are areas yet2 has looked into (see the Future of IoT blog post by Thia Griffin-Elliott, yet2 Active Projects and yet2’s whitepaper on Innovations in the Automotive Industry).
- He presented an example of a future scenario: You get up on a weekday and have breakfast with your family. While you are doing so, an AI system has two or three autonomous cars circling your neighborhood. And as you move to the door to catch a ride, the AI system (which knows your schedule and habits via wearables and other sensors) sends a car to pick you up. The AI system also knows you didn’t sleep well that night, so it has the car that picks you up lay a bed in the back so you can get a nap in before work.
- Autonomous vehicles are already here, and flying cars are coming! This might change the realty space, where people who live far outside the city can catch a flight into the city, so more may opt to live further away.
“There will be two kinds of companies at the end of this decade…those who are using AI…and those who are out of business.”
- Deepmind (acquired by Google) won the champion game of “Go,” which I’ve never heard about, but Dr. Diamandis reports that it is much harder than chess. Deepmind’s Go software AlphaGo learned from humans and could beat humans at the game. Deepmind’s next software iteration, AlphaGo Zero, learned from AlphaGo and can now beat AlphaGo. What else is a game? Stock market? Real estate? The implications of his suggestions are clear.
- Some people are concerned that AI system will displace their jobs, and he encourages people to partner with AI solutions. Because AI will be able to outperform humans, but a team of AI partnering with humans will be able to beat a standalone AI system since human intuition is a valuable asset to the team.
- AI in diagnostics is already being implemented in the medical field, particularly in medical diagnostics based on images.
- Eventually we will connect our brain to the cloud.
- Implementation today – enabling a paralyzed man to walk and helping a blind woman see again using camera lens that communicate directly to the visual cortex.
- Neuralink is building an integrated brain-machine interface platform that is already implemented in animal models – humans are next.
- Of course, an ongoing concern is security. Someone can hack into your phone, and maybe one day, the concern is someone can hack into your brain or your pacemaker.
CRISPR + Gene Therapy
- This can be used to fight cancer and genetic defects, in addition to being used as antibiotics or anti-aging solutions.
- An example of how far we have progressed – it took less than a year to sequence the gene of a child, get FDA approval, and create a personalized treatment for a rare disease.
- The potential issue – people will want to use gene therapy for cosmetic or non-health critical reasons, such as a desire to make their kids taller, stronger, smarter.
Increasing Human Longevity & Health span:
“Making 100 Years old the new 60”
- Diamandis’ take on our current healthcare system in the USA – it’s sick care. Soon we will be able to have a comprehensive idea of what is going on with our body and mind (metabolomics, genetic sequencing, microbiome, full-body MRI, phenotypic data) and we can anticipate or prevent diseases before they progress, which is what we also think at yet2 (see the Future of Health and Nutrition blog post by Anne McLaren).
- He also mentioned that our stem cells stop renewing after a set period of time, because we have evolved to reproduce at a younger age. His solution to that – 3D printed organs, which are already progressing quickly.
He quoted Dr. David Sinclair: “Aging is a disease, and that disease is treatable.” And that’s exactly what many companies are doing, looking for a way to treat or prevent aging.
The story of how Dr. Diamandis came up with the XPRIZE is a startling one. He learned that Charles Lindbergh didn’t just randomly decide to fly across the Atlantic one day – he did it to win a $25,000 prize. However, Dr. Diamandis claims that if you dig into how much these teams and engineers spent to develop the technology for the flight, you’d be surprised to learn they spent on a scale of $400,000 dollars to win a $25,000 prize. And it brought about breakthroughs at a rapid pace after.
“We use large-scale global incentive competitions to crowdsource solutions to the world’s grand challenges.” – Source: XPRIZE
Concerns with the evolving technology landscape:
And last but not least, Dr. Diamandis mentions a couple of concerns that are coming with the exponential technology growth that we should address now:
- The rich-poor divide is growing; the hope is to bring the base up, so everyone at least has access to food, housing, education, and health care.
- The ethics and morals of gene editing (not to mention aging in the context of a resource-limited earth)
- The increased rate of depression, teen suicide and isolation (our brains are not built for this connected world)
- The concentration of wealth and power
- The danger of AI (I love Dr. Diamandis’ comment here – “I think humans are more dangerous!”)
- Technological unemployment/jobs
- The loss of privacy
One quote from Dr. Diamandis struck me: “The world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest opportunities.”
What a thoughtful way of approaching a world full of concerning issues and failing optimism. If we treat massive global problems that way, then we can work together to find a solution.
*Dr. Diamandis mentioned there were only 4 patents published in 1920, but based on this chart, there were 37k+ utility patents + another 2500 design patents. It could be he meant life-changing patents from that year.
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