July 01, 2009

How Innovative is the Human Race?

  1. A recent article by the ever-articulate and engaging Tom Friedman got me thinking about this ...

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/opinion/24friedman.html

    Friedman says that once America gets cured of its addiction to oil, price of oil will go down forcing the regime in Iran to reform. There's excellent/impeccable economic reasoning behind this — attested to by historical events as mentioned by Friedman.

    However, I am wondering whether people of Iran will welcome a drop in oil prices leading to a lower national income and lower standards of living for themselves. Would Americans be willing to compromise on their standards of living for a different reason — climate change. Would Americans forego many of the amenities that they have become used to for the sake of aiding the environment. One random example that comes to mind is this: would Americans be willing to go back to an earlier era of hanging their clothes out to dry on a clothes line — something one has seen in old Hollywood movies. Indians still do that but Americans have moved on to using electrical power to dry clothes. Seems an weird idea, doesn't it?

    Friedman wrote another important article about the importance of innovation:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/28/opinion/28friedman.html

    Successive bosses of GE have bemoaned the decline in the standards of science and maths education among American kids.

    Friedman stresses how important it's to produce the next Edison/Steve Jobs/Bill Gates.

    That led me to think in general about how innovative we are as a species. Consider this.

    What are the key technologies and technical innovations that have radically empowered humans and enriched our lives?

    Here are a few things at random:

    telephone/cellphone
    electricity
    automobiles
    airplane
    computers
    TVs/Flat Screen TVs/Plasma
    modern medical science
    genetics
    medical imaging
    electronic gadgets
    microchips
    rocket technology
    spacecraft technology
    modern physics/nuclear fission and fusion
    cloning
    Now, think about the people behind these innovations in thought and technology.

    "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself," as Robert Kennedy had said. Among such great human beings include innovative thinkers/scientists/technologists such as Einsterin, Edison, Tesla, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell, Alexander Fleming, Jonas Salk, Watson and Creek, Richard Feynman, and countless others.

    In the second half of the 20th century, the Japanese have often been the leaders in engineering innovation. Think the latest flat screen TV and the name that comes to mind is Sony/Panasonic/Toshiba. Think digicams/handicams and the names that flash are Nikon/Sony/Canon. Think photocopiers. Perhaps computers continue to be the 'honorable' exception. Think microprocessors and the luminaries are ... not Japanese, but American! ...

    Think automobiles ... Toyota, Honda, Mercedes, BMW, etc.
    Think airplanes ... Boeing, Airbus, ...
    Think cellphones ... Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, ...

    The point about this laundry list is that innovation on this planet is being driven by a few companies in the present age and the key ideas and inventions are the products of the fertile imaginations of a few individuals. These individuals invariably belong to a few nations such as Japan/America/Germany, etc. And the innovative companies tend to be from Japan/America and a few European countries.

    How big is the planet?

    The planet is home to 6.5 billion human beings at the moment and there are more than 200 countries and territories (at least according to CNN ...).

    Keeping these enormous figures in mind, it seems there's a huge innovation deficit on the planet ... indeed, a pandemic of lack of innovative people and nations ...

    There's scope to increase the innovation quotient of the human race about a hundred times.

    Imagine what would happen to the human race if that were to happen!!!

    Perhaps, humans would have spread to the Moon and terraformed Mars by now rather than hoping to do that someone in this millennium ...

    Perhaps, the human species would have ventured beyond the narrow confines of the Solar System and explored at least nearby regions of the Milky Way galaxy.

    Beyond our own Milky Way with its 100 billion star inhabitants, there are a hundred billion galaxies out there we can explore spread over the 15-billion-light-year expanse of the visible universe.

    I hope I’ve managed to convey some of my thoughts regarding how innovative our race is …
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