As am nearing the second day of my LIFE SCIENCE Startup Weekend Innovation Master Class at the University of Washington in Seattle, am reminding myself why we make such an effort, and spend so much energy & capital, in order to drive Innovation and Positive Change in our Lives — that in turn can lead to Societal Progress that defines the common Future for all of us.
You can see details here: http://www.meetup.com/AmericanAngels/events/228949636/
It used to be that DARPA, the DoD, and many others like the National Institute for Health, and the Medical Societies and the FDA offered support for Innovation and Change — but not anymore. Today we are “running on the fumes” of public investments from past decades and that won’t carry the US economy very far into the future, because many other nations are stealing our thunder.
We all now recognize that we need a significant increase in federal R&D spending in order to jump-start new fundamental improvements in areas such as health, Life Science, and clean energy.
Over the last several decades, the forces of market led Globalization, the Internet, and the digital revolution have collectively coalesced and changed every aspect of our lives — but now after the rundown of the second industrial revolution — things have substantially slowed down, and our Innovation faltered.
Yes — of course we are an open nation and that is the key word for change and innovation, but others are catching up using this method of Democracy and Transparency too. Yet Innovation eludes them because there is much more that goes into the pot to cook this thing up.
And of course the pace of progress in MIPS, in microchips, and other silicon chips placed inside computers, mobile phones, and smart devices, has been accelerating far more than what we see, because that change is based on Moore’s law, and today computers networks, random innovations, and our social business connections are within every industry, within every government, within every office, and within every home across the world.
Yet now things are jumping and accelerating all over again, albeit in only tiny streamlined areas. These are like veins of gold on sediment rock that need to be carefully followed all the way to the depths of the earth to make the Innovation mine work for all of us. Still many observers first noticed this acceleration with the advent of modern microchips, after the seeming exhaustion of the second industrial revolution, but we can find a number of eerily similar trends in other areas of life, and in all the industries as well.
According to the power law of technological progress — our Innovation leads in a tiny 1% of 1% of our society and yet it appears that it is moving ahead seemingly to meet the progress being made at an exponential rate in science, in technology, and especially in medicine, life sciences, in cybernetics, in nanotechnology, in Artificial Intelligence, in Computer science, and all the information technologies.
Some super optimists speak of a premium offered to the INNOVATORS by the capital markets, based on the law of accelerating returns. Yet this is a good way to obscure the progress in the inevitable backlash of Society against the Innovation that we all see as runaway extremism. And it’s not just the Luddites that kill progress or the Christian Taliban & their Muslim brethren — it is the young people of the extreme right and left wings and the Sanders like movements of weed fueled stoners that hate the AI, or the Gig Economy or the Shared Economy, or anything that subjugates their diminished view of themselves and scares the bejesus fueling their paranoia in light of today’s seemingly exponential progress. We lump them all as NeoLuddites and move on…
Take as an example the illogical fear of people against AI that permeates even the high echelons of the Tech industry like Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla fame. His take on AI as the enemy simply means that today’s best tools of Artificial Intelligence will help us build , but not to be allowed to play out of the ballpark reservation. But in my mind the AI will lead to far better tools today and tomorrow, fueling this acceleration — often times without human input. That is why Unions hate AI because it will supplant a lot of our choices, our jobs, and our morality, and all for good reason … but we have to persevere with progress.
And yet still we all tend to cockblock A.I. in so many ways, some subtle and some not so subtle ways, simply because our brains tend to be incapable of anticipating the future in this non-linear and exotic rampant growth mode of non Darwinian adaptability, and radical change. Or maybe because we are far more comfortable in linear growth spurts, because we like to think of Darwinian adaptation and linear progress as good, instead of the exponential growth as expressed in the Super-Power Law, and the law of accelerated returns.
Still, regardless of our response — the coming years will bring far more powerful technologies and progressive changes, that will arrive far sooner than we can even imagine.
Yet our real enemies are winning the battle against us. Enemies like the cancer cells and the viruses that are killing us every day — need dramatic innovation and the tools that AI brings should not be stopped. Heart disease kills all of us and Cancer comes near second, but instead we are worried about ISIS…
So who is now against this progressive AI that we have such serious enemies that we cannot handle without extreme innovation and engaging in creative destruction, and disruptive change?
And as the pace of progress and change continues to accelerate, we simply have to think of what surprising and powerful changes are in store for us… and perhaps embrace them. Maybe you can go read some Physics books from Richard Feynman, or the seminal books from Sagan, Einstein, and Stephen Hawkins, or even the Science Fiction books, from Asimov, or Aldous Huxley, or Shelley, and C S Lewis…
This experience of reading advanced thinkers and evolved human beings, and thus instituting new software into our heads, will positively affect and dominate our thinking, while we explore the top ten technological areas that are poised to change our world in the most amazing ways during the next decades and all the way to the middle and the end of this century.
Just for us to think about this and to understand the coming future fully, we simply have to think openly with unfettered data and transparency without morality and fear — just in order to better see the patterns that define the future, let alone visualize the coming future. And am saying “visualize”because we cannot predict the future in the ways it will change our lives and ourselves.
Yet still we have to focus on bringing this Innovation forward in a thoughtful and concerted manner. So let’s start with the Ten Big Ones: Life Science, Medicine, Computers, Internet, BioTechnology, Genetics, Nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence, Cybernetics, and Robotics, because Innovation is truly America’s “Not so secret” weapon. And as a Society it is investing in research and development that offers the Nation a tremendous opportunity to help all people both in America and around the world.
The case for Innovation spending and effort comes with the backing of America’s historical capacity for innovation. This is nothing new, but the case that our Open Democracy, our Transparency and our drive against Corruption is nothing new. As an immigrant nation attracting the best brains and talent from around the world and inviting everybody to THINK FREELY AND OPENLY — we have been inventing greatly for more than two centuries. We are after all a nation of Revolutionaries. Just think of Benjamin Franklin, Margaret Knight, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, and so many more. By the end of World War II, the United States led the world in physics, nuclear energy, particle acceleration, automobiles, computers, radio-signaling, aerospace, electronics, medicine, warfare, military technologies, life sciences, and other areas. We know how to do it. The formula for success is not complicated either. Yet we tend to forget that Government funding for our world-class research institutions is what truly produces the new technologies that American entrepreneurs then improve upon and then commercialize and take forward to the markets.
Still we face headwinds and competition today. Because more countries than ever are competing for global leadership, and they know the value of innovation. As an example, since the Millennium year of 2000, South Korea’s R&D spending measured as a percentage of GDP, has gone up more than 90% percent. China’s R&D spending measured as a percentage of GDP has more than doubled. Yet the United States’ R&D spending measured as a percentage of GDP, has essentially been flatlined.
It’s great that the rest of the world is committing more capital, energy and talent, to the Innovation Game, but if the U.S. is going to maintain its leading role, it needs to up its game right now. And this is some of what we do with American Angels building our Accelerator to make Innovative Change for our Lives an everyday affair.
Sure am a believer, and am the “Pope of Innovation and Disruption” but the verdict of why we do this or even why we need it, is far from unanimous amongst our legislators and our leaders — on why we even need Disruptive and Radical Innovation.
And as with virtually everything else in today’s America, we’re divided on this too. The decades-long consensus on federal spending for science and research, which received boosts from both the Cold War and the space race, has fallen apart. Finally we have to go it alone. Private industry and Innovation Leaders like your truly — have to fight alone to bring the future forth…
So we have to perform triage and choose where we apply our not inconsiderable resources. In the interest of brevity, and expediency let’s talk of the first tier of all the technologies that are riding the wave of the future [FFP]. Fast Forward Progress, is where we have to single out and identify genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics as the three overlapping revolutions which will define our Life Science and consecutively, our lives in the decades to come.
But I ask this: In what ways are these technologies revolutionary?
The genetics revolution will allow us to reprogram our own biology.
The nanotechnology revolution will allow us to manipulate matter at the molecular and atomic scale.
The robotics revolution will allow us to create a greater than human non-biological intelligence.
While genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics will peak at different times over the course of decades, we’re experiencing all three of them in some capacity already. Each is powerful in its own right, but their convergence will be even more so.
Let’s take a look at what’s happening in each of these domains today, and what we might expect in the future.
The Genetics Revolution is all about the Intersection of Information Technology, Computing, Big Data, the Internet-of-All-Things, BioTechnology, BioEngineering, and Biology. By understanding the information processes underlying life, we are starting to learn to reprogram our biology to achieve the virtual elimination of disease, dramatic expansion of human potential, and radical life extension.
We’ve been “reprogramming” our environment for nearly as long as humans have walked the planet. Now we have accrued enough knowledge about how our bodies work that we can begin tackling disease and aging at their genetic and cellular roots.
Yet we must start from the beginning by answering the why, the where, and the what is the state of Biotechnology today…
We’ve anticipated the power of genetic engineering for a long time. In 1975, the Asilomar Conference debated the ethics of genetic engineering, and since then, we’ve seen remarkable progress in both the lab and in practice. Today for example, genetically modified crops are already quite widespread — although rather controversial.
Since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2003, with Craig Venter’s scientific entrepreneurship — enormous strides have been made in reading, writing, and code-hacking our own DNA.
Now, we’re reprogramming the code of life from yeast, to viruses, cancer cells, bacteria, and all the way to beagles and humans. Bio-hacking is already a fad amongst the cognoscenti.
The ‘how,’ ‘when,’ and ‘why’ of genetic engineering are still being debated, but the pace is quickening, to do it first and ask questions later. Morality and Bio-Ethics have not come into it at all, as of yet.
Major innovations in biotech over the last decade include fancy sounding things like the Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPSC). Human Genome Editing (CRISPR). 3D Bioprinting. $1,000 Genome. Lab Grown Tissues. DNA Storage. Rise of Citizen Biohackers, and so much more…
Still many challenges need to be overcome before these new technologies are widely used on humans, but the possibilities are incredible. And we can only assume the speed of progress will continue to accelerate. The surprising result? Kurzweil proposes that most diseases will be curable and the aging process will be slowed or perhaps even reversed in the coming decades.
The Nanotechnology Revolution, is the very Intersection of Information and the Physical World…
Nanotechnology has given us the tools to play with the ultimate toy box of nature atoms and molecules. Everything is made from it. The possibilities to create new things appear to be endless.
Many people date the birth of conceptual nano-tech to Richard Feynman’s 1959 speech, “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” where Feynman described the “profound implications of engineering machines at the level of atoms.” But it was only when the scanning tunneling microscope was invented in 1981 that the nanotechnology industry began in earnest.
No matter how successfully we fine tune our DNA-based biology, it will be no match for what we will be able to engineer by manipulating matter on the molecular and atomic level.
Because at the molecular level we’ll start using nano-bots to complete the job of the immune system. Our immune system is great, but it evolved thousands of years ago when conditions were different. It was not in the interest of the human species for individuals to live very long, so people typically died in their 20s. The life expectancy was 19. Your immune system, for example, does a poor job on cancer. It thinks cancer is you. It doesn’t treat cancer as an enemy. It also doesn’t work well on retroviruses. It doesn’t work well on things that tend to affect us later in life, because it didn’t select for longevity.
Nanotechnology, will allow us to redesign and rebuild molecule by molecule, our bodies and brains and the world in which we live. Let’s start with genetics, which is now called biotechnology. It’s beginning to revolutionize clinical practice and will completely transform medicine within one to two decades. We’re starting to reprogram the outdated software of life—the 23,000 little programs we have in our bodies, called genes. We’re programming them away from disease and away from aging.
For instance, at the Joslin Diabetes Center, they turned off the fat insulin receptor gene that tells you to hold on to every calorie in your fat cells. That was a good idea 10,000 years ago when our genes evolved, because the next hunting season might not work out so well. But today it underlies an epidemic of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. We’d like to turn that gene off. They tried it in animal experiments. The animals ate ravenously but remained slim. They didn’t get diabetes. They didn’t get heart disease. They also lived 20 percent longer. And that’s just one example of 23,000 genes.
We’re involved with a company where we add a gene to people who are missing a gene that causes a terminal disease called pulmonary hypertension, and the treatment has actually worked in human trials. We can subtract genes. We can modify stem cells to have desirable effects such as rejuvenating the heart if it’s been damaged in a heart attack, which is true of half of all heart attack survivors.
The point is health care is now an information technology subject to the same laws of acceleration and progress we see with other technologies. We’ll soon have the ability to rejuvenate all the body’s tissues and organs and develop drugs targeted specifically at the underlying metabolic process of a disease rather than taking a hit-or-miss approach. But nanotechnology is where we really move beyond biology.
But what exactly is the State of Nanotechnology Today?
While we can already see evidence of the ‘genetics revolution’ in the news and in our daily lives — for most people — nano-tech might still seem like the stuff of science fiction. However, it’s likely you already use products on a daily basis that have benefitted from nano-tech research. These include sunscreens, clothing, paints, cars, and more. And of course, the digital revolution has continued thanks to new methods allowing us to make chips with nanoscale features.
In addition to already having practical applications today, there is much research and testing being conducted into groundbreaking, even-though still experimental nanotechnology applications like: Smart Contact Lenses. Tiny 3D Printed Batteries. Cancer-killing nano-particles. DNA-based Computing, and so much more…
And although we continue to improve at manipulating matter on nano-scales, we’re still far from nano-bots or nano-assemblers that would build and repair atom by atom.
That said, as Richard Feynman pointed out, the principles of physics do not speak against such a future. And we need only look to our own biology, in order to be able to see an already working model, in the intricate nano-machinery of life.
The Robotics Revolution, is all about building strong Artificial Intelligence…
It is hard to think of any problem that a super-intelligence could not either solve or at least help us solve. Disease, poverty, environmental destruction, unnecessary suffering of all kinds: these are things that a super-intelligence equipped with advanced nanotechnology would be capable of eliminating.
The name of this revolution might be a little confusing. Robotics is embodied artificial intelligence —- but it’s the intelligence itself that matters the most. While acknowledging the risks, the the AI revolution and it’s co-operative to humans impacts, is the most profound transformation human civilization experiences. Perhaps this is the biggest change to come in all of modern history.
And this is because this revolution is characterized by being able to replicate human intelligence as the most important and powerful attribute of human civilization.
We’re already well into the era of “narrow AI,” which is a machine that has been programmed to do one or a few specific tasks, but that’s just a teaser of what’s to come.
Strong A.I. will be as versatile as a human when it comes to solving problems. And according to Kurzweil, even AI that can function at the level of human intelligence will already outperform humans because of several aspects unique to machines: Machines can pool resources in ways that humans cannot. Machines have exacting memories. Machines can consistently perform at peak levels and can combine peak skills.
Now we should all look at the State of Artificial Intelligence as it stands today:
Most of us already use some form of narrow A.I. on a regular basis — like Apple’s Siri, and Google Now, and increasingly, Watson. Other forms of narrow AI include programs like Speech and image recognition software. Driverless automobiles. Drones. Pattern recognition software for autonomous weapons. Programs used to detect fraud in financial transactions. Google’s AI-based statistical learning methods used to rank links.
The next step towards strong A.I. will be machines that learn on their own, without being programmed or fed information by humans. This is called ‘deep learning,’ a powerful new mode of machine learning, which is currently experiencing a surge in research and applications.
And we have to know A.I. well enough in order to be able to succinctly explain it to all and sundry, along with the why and the importance of this disruptive change and all the value of Innovation to the life of this mortal coil.
Because today many conservative politicians [especially Republicans] who control the money appropriating process of Congress and Senate — have pushed an agenda of austerity against innovation and disruptive change. But they have never levied their “austerity” voices and votes against the hugely wasteful military industrial complex. These Conservatives say that they want smaller government. They say that they want a smaller role of the government in the real economy. They engage in hugely wasteful foreign wars and always want to bail out the Banks while at the same time, they support generous tax cuts for the super wealthy and the upper crust of society’s earners. At the same time they see Research and Development spending in Science and Technology as an enemy tantamount to “general debt” and lump it up with our biggest challenges, and forget about the Future and what it holds for all of us, and for the U.S.
Partly as a result of the political impasse, and the political and social divisions, and because of the demise of the technological progress competition from the old foe the Soviet Union — the Federal government Research & Development investments have fallen from more than 1.2 percent of gross domestic product in the late 1970s to less than 0.8 percent in fiscal 2016. And the non-defense R&D is far less than 0.4 percent.
Yet let us consider the longer time view, because as a share of the federal budget, total R&D leapt to nearly 12 percent in the mid-1960s and trailed off later under leadership of both parties. In the latest fiscal year, it was less than 4% percent.
This aggregate data come from the National Science Foundation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Granted the microchip revolution, was made possible by government funding. The same was true of the Internet. The Feds spearheaded numerous health breakthroughs, too, but today they have been sidelined thoroughly.
One could argue that lately we’ve been running on the fumes of these public investments. The future offers many possibilities for new ones, such as health and clean energy.
Yet we all know that investing in R&D isn’t about the government picking winners and losers, because that’s the job of the markets who will do that rather well as they have been doing for millennia… It’s more about doing what we know that works, and making limited and targeted investments to lay a foundation for America’s scientists, free thinkers, entrepreneurs, and for Society in general.
This optimism runs up parallel to the Second Industrial Revolution in the decades from 1920 to 1970, since then it was the agricultural revolution, the Fossil fuel developments, the internal-combustion engine, alloys, advanced metals, and factory automation that all came together to produce plentiful electric lighting, indoor plumbing, home appliances, motor vehicles, air travel, air conditioning, television, medicine, specialized life sciences, bearing a much longer life expectancy — and those were the one-time gifts we received from progress…
But then we thought that Progress and Innovation were easy and we stopped. Hype became our main food. And we failed. Our competitors and copycats are stealing our dog food. And we are left with the rampant hype to explain ourselves. And indeed, we should always be wary of techno-hubris, but we shouldn’t be confused between the two either. Because although much “innovation talk” in recent years has been been dominated by the Luddites who scream about Innovation and Automation killing jobs and widening inequality, whether through factory automation, “gig” employment, or dangerous “financial engineering” on Wall Street, or Artificial Intelligence in home and office…
We need Innovation but we also need to remember that we have limits to what we can do. Because we can’t simply innovate our way out of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change, or inhuman war mongering and ideological destruction or religious strife.
We’ve got to come up with other smarter arrangements to our lifestyles and doing business differently by utilizing Innovation will be urgently required.
And now we have the double jeopardy of falling investment in education and research that are among the harshest headwinds facing the U.S. economy, society and People’s Life. Other problems include the rising division, the rampant inequality, and the fast aging population, along with the diminishing immigrant inflows.
Methinks that this US Presidential election cycle needs to be far more about innovation and Radical progress, than about ideology and old brain software that was invented a couple of thousand years ago and is masquerading today as Religion. I should also emphasize the importance of infrastructure. Let’s at least use current fast forward technology to repair the awful inventory we have (we earned a D-plus by the American Society of Civil Engineers) and at least use new epoxies and advanced materials to mend our bridges and freeways and all of our damaged infrastructure elements before we start building new. And we do have to build anew for the 21st century, and that includes some form of high-speed rail, hyperloop, an advanced electrical grid, and new extensions of railways, internet hubs, high speed level three internet to all the cities with wireless endings of the network, and many more things along with repairing our aging physical infrastructure.
And if the bean counters object to this — let me say that in all cases — history shows that these public infrastructure investments will be pay back their worth many times over, and will result to a far greater economic growth stimulus than the currently employed Quantitative Easing, or the refueling of the Banks with “non existing surplus capital” in the form of cash injections to save them from themselves.
Our general federal and state Infrastructure works have the greatest potential to stimulate employment, create wealth through jobs in construction, in fabrication, and in operations, and maintenance. These are permanent & good paying jobs to be created both at home and abroad. The resultant growth and distributed incomes can also result in refilling the “demand hole” left by the contraction of the last Great Recession of 2008.
Today of course taxpayers do need assurances that these investments don’t fall into unproductive or self-serving hustles. That’s why incentives need to discourage so many stock buybacks and outrageous executive compensation, rein in the financial sector, bring the corporate cash back in the country and tax it, and also get the SEC ready to act and ensure more vigorous prosecutions for the health of the liquidity markets and also to focus the agencies on antitrust and fair trade rules.
The reality is that modern America has always been a mixed economy, with private enterprise and government tightly intertwined, including research seeding, development funding, business growing, and in general exploiting innovation. This practice of huge support for Innovation Technology and Science was truly the case under FDR’s leadership, under JFK’s hand at the helm, as it was under Reagan and Bush elder time in office.
But that is not the case today.
So is it too much to hope that this nascent reality will seep into the presidential campaign debates and questions asked of the candidates?
Life Science, Medicine, and Biotechnology all make use of genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics comprising an overlapping revolutions because we will continue to experience all of them them simultaneously in our Life Science and Medical/Pharmaceutical and BioTech industries, as each one of these technologies matures to a greater degree than the entropy deviance of the subject matter at hand.
These and other older technologies will likely converge with each other and impact our lives in ways that are very difficult to predict accurately, but we must be wary of each technology that will have the power to do great good or great harm; as is the case with all great technologies.
Today we should consider the extent to which we’re able to harness the power of all of these technologies to improve our lives and to change our world in many positive ways.
And that impact will depend entirely not only on the scientific progress we are making today but on the very conversations we have here and elsewhere on the subject and then on the policy actions and the Social Ethics we cultivate and make today — in advance of the widely seen as imminent implementation of these manifest destiny technologies…
Medicine, Life Science, Biotechnology, Genetics, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Nanotechnology, will provide the means to overcome age-old problems such as illness, pain, and poverty, but they will also empower destructive and hateful divisive ideologies and sickening practices.
Yet because breakthroughs in genetic engineering, 3D printing, cloud-based science experiments, A.I. and machine learning technology, robotics, nanotech, general biotech, and so much more — have created a weird and cool new kind of cutting-edge biotech that goes beyond pharma into what just a few decades ago seemed like magical thinking. And there is a whole lot of people out there that simply do not like the Harry Potter stuff… So they turn against us…
Some years back we stopped all Stem Cell Research in the U.S. because the religious Christian Taliban so decreed to a small minded President and he declared whole branches of BioTechnology and Medical Science off limits like a New Holy Inquisition. And that nonsense took place in the New Millennium around the year 2000 — if you can believe it. Many “revolutionary researchers” fled to advance Stem Cell Research in other countries to escape the wrath of the High Priesthood. People like myself continued funding and finding progress in this vast area of medical research in the old UK, while many others found freedom to research stem cell biology in Japan, China, and Greece…
So some of us, know that we have no choice but to continue doing our work and to strengthen our defenses, while we apply these quickening technologies to advance our lives, societies and our commonly held human values, despite the obvious lack of consensus on what those values should be. That is why we have to employ the best minds around to develop BioEthics and BioMorality Laws to combat Hate and Division amongst people, nations, and Peoples — until such time that it all becomes useful and accepted by Society and thus a strong utility value becomes visible.
This is what consensus will look like in the future…
Because the more we anticipate, launch, and debate these magically powerful technological revolutions, the better we can guide their development toward outcomes that do more good than harm.
So before we start howling at the moon and at each other — let’s have a reasoned discussion and a debate, about the kind of future we want; because it will arrive regardless of our best efforts at howling, or shouting, and chest thumping.
Still methinks that we can sort this thing out amongst ourselves without resorting to fighting, and wanton violence. We use Markets and economics to value the business potential and the upside to our life, in order to see how quickly we all coalesce around the Harry Potter BioTech stuff…
So let’s go listen to some classical music and sort this thing out as friends. Friends in commerce, doing deals amongst friends. Simple as that.
We are the bathing apes after all — aren’t we?
And as it turns out the most intelligent amongst us, like to read, and sing, or listen to the music, while bathing.
So am sure we are capable of getting innovative ideas while bathing too…