Predictions usually end up being nonsense. We simply draw a trajectory from what we know today. But innovation is a discontinuity. Things are unpredictable because innovation does not come from consensus thinking. It comes from small groups and individuals with a spark of entrepreneurship, intelligence, and vision.
One of the fundamental tenets of predicting technology is that most forecasters get things spectacularly wrong.
We know political friction, fragmentation, xenophobia, impatience, incrementalism, and ill-conceived regulation get in the way of innovation. Discovery for the sake of discovery is somehow discounted when it is fundamental discovery that brings unforeseen, dramatic, and extraordinary developments — the generation of electricity is only one of many examples.
Queen Victoria famously reacted to seeing Faraday’s electric motor generating an electromagnetic current, essentially the core technology behind the generation of electricity, was, “it looks awfully clever, but what would you ever use it for?”
That is basic science and discovery. A development that changed the world, and the modern world could not exist without the electrical grid, was something completely unforeseen when it was created.
The Faradays of the modern world must be allowed to thrive. Modern-day politicians and regulators are the equivalents of Queen Victoria. If they can’t see what it can be used for, they have no interest in it and don’t see what its value could ever be. It should not be their decision.
Let The Best Do Their Best
Tools exist today for the same scale of innovative development as Faraday’s. Artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, gene editing, quantum computers, and other technological advancements can solve our biggest problems.
Innovation enables opportunity. But how society collectively chooses to use those technologies influences their impact. Large problems of enormous magnitude that are addressed with current thinking will not be solved.
Climate change, access to energy, abundant food, effective healthcare and vaccines, and other global societal challenges will most likely best be solved through technological innovation that cannot be envisioned today. The freedom to pursue solutions is the essential first step. Letting the best people do their best is still the best policy. It will also generate the best outcome.