Explorations

Came across this video last night from Bryan Johnson, former CEO of Braintree and now founder at OS Fund. I love thinking about the future and what’s possible. As this video shows, we are at an interesting point in history. The next couple decades are going to be really interesting.

What’s Your Superpower Wish?

Melinda and Bill Gates released their annual letter on gatesnotes.com yesterday. The letter opens by asking the question, “If you could have one superpower what would it be?”. Bill chose more energy and Melinda chose more time. The rest of the letter focuses on each explaining how energy and time can help the world, in particular the poor.

Time and energy are resources where it is always better to have more.

The strides we’ve made in clean energy sources have so far been on an exponential path, meaning we actually might be able to realize a future where clean energy is both extremely cheap and globally abundant. Bill thinks we need an energy miracle to reach that future before the planet heats up to the point we can’t do anything about it. I agree we need to make clean energy a focus now but by the power of exponential growth, I actually think we’re already on a path to meet the need. We just have to buckle down and continue the work we’ve been doing on things like solar and nuclear fusion.

Time is a bit more interesting. We are all, unfortunately, limited by our time. We only get so much of it in a lifetime and even then it’s highly variable. It’s also the case that we could all spend the time we have in better ways, like watching less TV, spending more time with friends and family, etc. But in the developed world, we still have it pretty good. Especially when compared to those who live in absolute poverty like Melinda points out. The poor spend a lot more time on unpaid tasks like fetching water and preparing fires to cook. The mundane and tiresome type of work that has little reward.

I thought this was particularly interesting having recently gone to a conference on artificial intelligence were the majority of the discussion revolved around what to do because computers are taking away too much of the work. There is some obvious overlap here. Though most of the work referred to in Melinda’s letter is the type that computers/robots still are not quite good enough to tackle, it is interesting to contrast the call for more free time with the one that says we might have too much free time. It’s the contrast between first-world and third-world problems. While I am aware technology does not solve all problems and the absolute poor currently don’t even have access to said potential solutions, it is possible that in the future our work with automating more and more of the mundane tasks can have a global benefit by giving everyone more time to do the things they really care about.

Melinda also makes an interesting point on the differences between genders and the amount of time they spend on such tasks. In developed countries, while men still spend less time on such tasks as women, the gap seems to be closing. However, in developing countries, that gap is still quite large. So maybe not only can automation help free up more time for all but it might also help bridge the current gender gap. It may be wishful thinking but nonetheless it’s interesting to think about.

As much as I am a sucker for clean energy and energy’s amazing power, I have to side with Melinda on this one and say time is more important. It’s the most precious resource we have and with more time, we could figure out any challenge, including energy.

I encourage you to read the entire letter here (both Bill and Melinda wrote separate letters).

If you could pick a superpower, what would you choose?

What a Wonderful World

In honor of Black History Month, today’s post is on Louis Armstrong. Armstrong was not only a wonderful jazz musician/singer but also a great personality. As the grandson of slaves, he lived and performed during a difficult period in American History for African Americans. But Armstrong showed what the power of music could do. His music drew fans from all walks of life.

Here’s one of Louis Armstrong’s classics to listen to today.

When will medicine catch up?

I have a regular doctor’s checkup today which got me thinking about how far behind medicine seems to be today. It seems a little funny to me that I have to travel to an office somewhere, wait around awhile to see someone, and then have the doctor and nurses ask me questions and take measurements that my phone already has all the information for.   

I understand that medicine has a lot of regulation, and mostly for good reason, in order to protect patients but it also seems like there is more we can do to get the industry up to speed. It seems wrong to me that Facebook knows more about me than my doctor.  

Even the doctor-patient model is outdated. I am only 28 but I’ve already lived in 3 different cities. That has meant I’ve had to find a new doctor a number of times. In addition, insurance plans change when jobs change so sometimes you have to find new doctors even when you don’t move. And if I am traveling in another city, why can’t all my information be up to date and available if I need to get care in that city? 

Maybe it’s just a  “millennial” thing but I find the current patient-doctor relationship to be in need of an update.

Is the game ever over?

The big news last night was Justice Scalia passed away. That’s sad. Whenever someone looses their life it’s tragic. It reminds us of how fragile we all really are. 

Unfortunately, that was far from the reaction to Scalia’s passing. Instead people from both political leanings focused on what it means for them. For Republicans, it was all about the strategy of making sure the next president decides on the next Justice, not Obama. For Democrats, it was showing how Republicans aren’t following their duties but instead pushing their politics, while also celebrating the opportunity to push a Justice of their liking with Obama still in office. 

Is this not a tired act? Can we not have at least a few hours go by after someone passes away to just forget about the politics? Maybe I’m just impractical but this game is getting tiring. Politics should be about bringing people together and coming up with the best ideas for everyone. Instead, we have two parties that won’t stop bickering with each other. 

Both sides of the aisle treat this whole thing as a game. Instead of thinking about how we can help each other out, it’s all about how can we beat the other side. When does the game end? Is it ever over? When do the people matter more than winning an endless game?

2016 – The World’s Actually Looking Pretty Good

My favorite part of the start of a new year is that it gives us all the chance to look at the upcoming year with optimism. Was 2015 the year you lost your job, broke a bone, or started to forget your keys? Not to worry! January 1, 2016 changes all that. 2016 can be the year you finally have the courage to pursue the work that you always wanted to do, brag about how you got that badass scar on your right leg, or tell everyone in your family Einstein also forgot his keys and he came up with the Theory of Relativity! Ok, maybe that last guy is hopeless but everyone else cannot help but feel optimism looking at the year ahead, right?
Unfortunately, many people still don’t look to the future with optimism. With the endless wars, global terrorism, and idiotic politicians, it looks as if the world is only getting worse each passing year and not any better. Turn on the news and you’ll be flooded with headlines that make you want to run into your bedroom, jump under the sheets, and never come out.

But I want to convince you otherwise. So pull yourself out of bed, turn off the TV, and delete every news app on your iPhone. I want to show you the real world (no not that one). The world that exists beyond CNN’s news coverage, beyond the politicians who spend more time pointing fingers then they do with open arms trying to work together, and beyond your Grandpappy who tells you times were better in his day when everyone worked hard and together to make sure white men got exactly what they wanted and oppressed everyone else in the world doing it.

The world I want to show you is not all that hard to find if you just know the right places to look. So where should you look? The first place you should try is right inside your pocket. In the year 2015 alone, 1.2 billion (with a B) smartphone subscriptions were added. That’s 1.2 billion more phones that have more processing power than the computers that ended up sending Neil Armstrong and his buddies to the moon (take that Grandpappy!). Add to that the fact that they also have access to more information than the president of the United States had in 1996 and I should be able to drop the mic and leave right now. But let’s continue.

The next place you should try looking is right inside your own home. I bet when you look around you will notice that you have clean drinking water, a toilet, lights, air conditioning and even a television. Congrats! If you have these things, you are better off than any person ever was before the 20th century. And better yet, I bet those things in your house don’t even cost you that much. In 2015 if you live in a developed country, even if you are below the poverty line, you are likely to have these things in your home. So even those of us with less money than others today still have the ability to have clean drinking water, modern sewage system, electricity, personal climate control, and modern entertainment. Oh, and throw in that thing in your pocket we just talked about…

Finally, take a step outside your home and look at your neighborhood, your city, your country, and the world. We’re now one country away from removing Polio from the face of the Earth. That’s crazy to think about. This isn’t an obscure disease no one’s ever heard of, even an American president had it only 70 years ago. And despite popular media making you feel like it’s not even safe to step outside, there’s less violence now than there ever has been before.

Are there problems in the world? Yes, of course there are. There will always be problems in the world. We don’t live in a utopia and we never will but that shouldn’t take away from realizing the amazing progress that we make each and every year in the world. Sometimes we just need to have things put into perspective for us. I for one am really happy I live today and not 50 years ago. What did they even do on the toilet before iPhones again?

So cheer up. 2015 is history and 2016 is upon us. Let’s keep moving this train forward. And this year, take some time to look around you and realize you live at the greatest time in human history. Enjoy!