Accelerating Intelligence and technology is powerful but persistent stupidity has proven to last for the ages

Steve Jurvetson (super-venture capitalist) addresses Peter Thiel (billionaire investor) argument that there is no Moore’s Law of exponential technologies. Steve point is that there are exponential technologies and they do generate accelerating benefits and returns but that it is creating winner take all in each of the markets.

Legendary CEO of GE Jack Welch indicated that company should be either #1 or #2 in a particular industry, or else leave it completely. Welch’s strategy was later adopted by other CEOs across corporate America. This is because all of the profits flow to the the #1 or #2 in a particular industry.

As a consumer, you are usually not going to have a reason to look for products and services from the #3 to #n player (unless they define a niche where they are #1 or #2.)

Steve then muses on whether the Bill Gates model of having two modes would be a solution. One mode build the wealth, then in the second mode give it away in a way that helps humanity. He also notes the difference in thinking between the billionaires who think they had quite a bit of luck in getting superwealthy versus those who became wealthy over a longer period of time and attribute it more to hard work and skill.

He also notes that China and other developing countries have been able to raise per capita income and wealth and that there have clearly been technological benefits to all people with things like smartphones.

There needs to be a system where there are still incentives and feedback systems to develop the new technologies as quickly and efficiently as possible but there also needs to be mechanisms and policies to broaden the distribution of gains or enhance the participation.

There are 3 billion people in the developing world joining into global economic competition and contributing to the idea network. However, there are also too many people who are disconnected from the technologies and changes that are driving the new world. The drumbeat of civilization and national change used to be in centuries. Countries (like in Africa or Asia for many years before some catch up) could miss the industrial revolution for a century and then end up ten times poorer by staying static as others moved ahead. Now shifts are happening in decades or every 5 years, where those who fall off the leading edge pay a price. Nokia and other mobile phone companies missed or grossly mishandled the smartphone shift and go from winners to losers in 5 years.

There are other major reasons why great technologies vastly undershoot the societal impact that is feasible. Nuclear fission should have been enough to give a world of clean energy that is 5 to ten times cheaper than it is today. However, irrational fears, bad policies and stagnation of development derailed what should have been. The development of modular reactors should have happened in the 1970s. There were small reactors going into submarines and aircraft carriers. There should have been deep burn reactors by the 1980s. The first commercial reactors were staffed by dozens to a couple of hundred people and were operated safely other Chernobyl. The rigid policies and regulation also enabled Fukushima. A dynamic and rational regulation system would have had rapid fixes to known design flaws. 80% of the cost of the reactors is from the build costs and financing which are made larger by policies that multiply the build times and costs without increasing real safety. Electricity costs should be in the 1 to 2 cent per kwh range and it should be without air pollution (which kills 2 million per year) and the nuclear fission fuel cycle should be closed.

There are many other examples of vastly superior technology and systems losing out or not getting more deployment. Another example is inflatable space stations and space launch systems. This did not have to stagnate for over 40 years.

The world should be at least 3 to 4 times richer based on solvable problems not getting available solutions over the last 50-70 years. This situation is more obvious when there are other countries to compare to who do not have the same degree of problem. We can easily compare African countries or North Korea to countries that did not screw up so massively and the ten to one hundred times wealth differential leads to clear policy problems.

The “leading countries” underperforming is more easily denied. Europe shooting itself in foot with their economic policies (the current euro crisis) and the US with its financial woes (debt crisis, banking crisis) and Japan with its screw ups (debt crisis, decades of recession/stagnation) but all of them with about equal per capita GDP. The screwing up at the same time over decades and none successfully developing the next level of truly great technology or systems leads to analysis of how maybe it is a technology problem.

China has not risen past these leading countries on a per capita basis. So the fast GDP growth that they have had can be dismissed as just catching up. However, not enough of the successful methods that China employed were adopted. For example, special economic development zones were used, where different pro-development policies were experimented with. The developed world has gone the other way to lock out development with more and more restrictive policies and more and more policies that add delays.

* Decades to replace bridges
* tens of thousands of bridges needing repair and not getting it
* decades to build buildings
* decades to change infrastructure

Java and C did not kill Cobol and Fortan. Python did not kill Java and C.

Newspapers and magazines are still around.

Fiber to the home is taking decades.

Internet connections cost ten times more than they should and are one hundred times slower.

Smoking, obesity, unhealthy lifestyles, and slowed deployment of medical advances costs has cost ten years on lifespan for the past decades.

There are better public health, medical and educational systems in other countries so it is possible. Even those systems should be better.

So I am confident that the great technologies are possible, I am pretty sure they will be developed and used by some but I am certain that they will not be fully utilized and the vast majority of the benefits will be unrealized.

Accelerating Intelligence and technology is powerful but persistent stupidity has proven to last for the ages.

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