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16 February 2018

In praise of audacious technology

Written by: Justin Westcott, General Manager at Edelman

Technology

Technology has made the world a much better place to live. I believe it will continue to do so.

But I get it. Big-tech is in the cross-hairs, and perhaps rightly so. The network effect that the internet has created is certainly seeing a handful of companies prosper disproportionately whilst creating ever increasingly impenetrable barriers for competition. Too big, too brash, yet too unaccountable and quick to shirk responsibility when it matters. The regulators – probably from Europe first – will ride in soon.

But. This is not one of the many hundred blog posts on this subject, or on how robots are going to take our jobs or AI will end the world.

No. I’m an optimist and continue to be so.

I want to make sure that people don’t lose sight of all that is great in the world of technology. The recent SpaceX launch is the latest indication of how we are able to push the boundaries of exploration and innovation. The industry is much more than the Frankenstein monsters that hungry business models have let advertising industries create.

For there is much to excite. The grand challenges of our time will ONLY be solved from the fields of science and technology. Let’s have big-tech take its punishment but ensure it’s not at the expense of the dreamers, the challengers that continue to tackle the seemingly impossible via their audacious projects.

Here are a few:

  • The Earth BioGenome Project; the moonshot to map the full genome of all life forms on the planet. It’s something the team feel they can do within the next ten years. This would be an enormous undertaking of both man and machine effort; something that just ten years ago would have been deemed impossible. Such a valuable body of data will help us better understand life, and our role in the world.
  • Hyperloop. Whilst most of life is speeding up, travel is actually the one area where we’ve regressed – momentarily – being slower at getting from A to B than we used to. This is both due to congestion on the ground, but also not continuing to innovate in air travel with the shuttering of the Concorde (we used to travel at the speed of sound). But the Hyperloop project wants to change this, and for us to go even faster. Within ten years we might be able to travel along a network of evacuated tubes, perhaps underground (through Elon Musk’s Boring Company) at speeds in excess of 1,200km/h. This technology has the power to disrupt the existing rail network for both passenger and freight (more likely initially). This could radically change the way in which we think about commuting – opening up much larger catchment areas.
  • SunGlacier. Wouldn’t it be magic if we could make water out of thin air? And how about being able to do that in the most drought-ridden environments? Well this company is doing just that, turning sunlight into water. It’s an ingenious technology approach that has the potential – if they can scale it – to solve some of the increasing challenges that drought creates; or the impact on the environment that desalination for drinking water has.
  • Sens Research Foundation; a biotech foundation with a simple task – end death by age related disease. The organisation aims to develop a range of early interventions to protect against these diseases when the body is still young, as opposed to current doctrine which is to try and fix us but once we’ve already aged (and therefore less able to respond). They will combine the latest thinking in genetics, nano-technology and bio-technology in an exciting approach that could keep us both productive and alive for longer.
  • Finless Food; maverick biotechnologists who are one of a number of efforts looking to reframe our current approach to food. This team, as the name suggested, are on the quest to create truly sustainable seafood by growing fish meat in the lab.

Remember technology is, and will be, more than the internet and social media. Technology can be audacious. 

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