When futurists predict that technology X will be developed, there is a common reply from people who do not know the history of technology. The replies are variations of “Technology X will be developed after we solve Y”. Y can be another technology or a societal problem.
Ridiculous to Not Start Getting a Technology Win While X Remains Unsolved
People usually have liked saying we need to solve world poverty or world hunger before we get technology X. Solutions for those problems are more important for humanity but developing new technology are not slowing down the pace for addressing those problems. China started industrializing in a major way about 200 years after the US and UK. Note: China’s industrialization lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and reduced world hunger but increased air pollution and environmental impacts. There were steps forward and steps backward.
Is it reasonable to demand Google should not develop its search engine until after the Department of Motor Vehicles solved its long waiting line problem?
Is it reasonable to demand that large companies should not upgrade their data centers until after vaccinations are provided to every child in Africa?
There are 7.7 billion people in the world. There will be people who get things first and people who get things last. There will be people who solve a problem first and people who solve a problem last.
70% of the US enrolls in college after high school. 49% graduate with a college degree. Should there be some restrictions on who is allowed to attend college until college enrollment reaches 100%?
One less problem for one person is progress. The fact that many others still have many problems should not limit each person getting their own solutions as fast as possible.
Public sanitation increased life expectancy by several years. Vaccines and antibiotics increased life expectancy by several years. AIDS drugs boosted life expectancy by several years for those with HIV. Should I not get new heart medicine until after everyone gets AIDS treatment?
The range of life expectancy for different people goes from about 50-90. Health is unequal. Access to technology is unequal.
Centuries to Millenia Delays in Solving Problems or Adopting Technology
In the 1880s, coal was first used to generate electricity for homes and factories. Whale oil and kerosene were burned for lighting lamps. Wood was used for cooking and heating. Wood was also used to power some steam engines. Coal is still the major source of power for the world.
There has been over a century of overlap where the world still uses a lot of wood and coal while at the same time oil, nuclear power and renewables are developed. The world’s main biofuel is still wood.
Petroleum did not pass coal as the dominant global energy source until the 1960s.
Here is the history of US energy from 1775.
The US is using a lot more natural gas than the rest of the world and the US transitioned in a major way decades before countries like China and other countries in Asia and Africa.
Nuclear fission power was first used for commercial power in 1956.
The first successful drug for the treatment of the disease AIDS was approved in 1987. In 2017, 21 Million people receive drug treatment for AIDS out of 37 million people with HIV. In 2017, 1.8 million people became newly infected, and 1 million died of HIV-related causes.
The antibiotic penicillin was developed in 1928. There are still countries in Africa that have poor medical treatment.
Public health and sanitation systems were first developed by the Ancient Romans. Romans had latrines and systems for delivering clean water. Flushable toilets were invented in 1596 by Sir John Harington, an English courtier and the godson of Queen Elizabeth I. The first public toilet was in 1852. In 2017, 2.0 billion people still do not have basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. 673 million still defecate in the open, for example in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water. At least 10% of the world’s population is thought to consume food irrigated by wastewater.
Technology development did not stop after ancient Rome developed aqueducts while we waited for the world to adopt public health and sanitation.
China mostly industrialized from 1980 to 2010. There are countries that still have not industrialized.
Africa is still adopting cellphones, the internet and bank or financial accounts.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.