I returned recently from an intensive, energizing three days at Singularity University, a unique educational concept founded in 2008 to, as the school’s mission says, “assemble, educate and inspire a new generation of leaders who strive to understand and utilize exponentially advancing technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”
I experienced several “aha” moments in the company of a very well-informed faculty and a very technology-aware audience. Perhaps the biggest “aha” was this: Contrary to the popular idea that we are in an era of scarcity, Singularity University argues that we are actually entering an age of technology abundance. The barriers to abundance in this decade are not lack of technology solutions, but the reluctance of society – and of our political infrastructure – to adopt them.
In the last several years, I have focused my efforts on some high-tech start-ups that have the potential to meet many of the challenges of providing quality health care to American families . . . and, at the same time, to reduce the outrageous $2.5 trillion dollars that we spend each year for not-so-good health care. My experience at Singularity confirms what I have long suspected: that while the sky’s the limit for high-performance, low-cost technologies, we are grounded in the skepticism and ignorance of not only the public, but of our political leaders.
Health care is just one example of a public policy issue just begging to be partnered with technological innovation. This week, I learned that we are at the threshold of moving from analog biology to digital DNA, ultimately leading to designer cells that can address our planet’s scarcity issues of potable water and fossil fuel energy alternatives. So the tools are developing exponentially, but as a society, we are still on a linear track, taking baby steps one after another.
One of the causes of the Grand Canyon divide is the mismatch of technological development and marketing trends. I know first-hand that the best marketing anticipates where society is going, not where it’s been. Marketing firms conduct surveys and focus groups asking folks what they think, and then fashion messages based on what is already in their heads. Instead, we should be educating consumers, filling their heads with new ideas, sharing with them the excitement of systems and devices unimagined in even the 20th century.
To accomplish this, of course, techies and marketers must wriggle out of their safe cocoons and engage in conversation. The media needs to shuck the trivia of political gossip and Hollywood romance and tell us how innovation and technological advances are changing the global game. Most important, our political leadership needs to lead by applying new technologies to fiscal and social problems instead of recycling the same old inefficient, high-cost tools.