Right from the beginning, we’ve been a strange species of animals. In a hunt or be hunted climate we built shelters to hide in, swords to fight and fires for warmth. Survivors evolved. We stopped running, settled down to farm instead. Building communities, and walls around them for protection. Communities grew to create civilizations, eventually forming countries; soon to launch expeditions to go in search for others like us, for stranger lands. For more resources.
All that as a symptom of intelligence; captured through thousands of years of evolution.
Unlike other species, our ancestors changed natures cycle. We didn’t simply consume the resources available to us. We farmed the crops we preferred and herded the animals we needed. For the most part of human history, we always had a bold will and a wild imagination.
In almost every other species of animals, the weak, disabled and sick fall behind. We humans mix up nutrition for the weak, create prosthetics for the disabled and medicine for the sick. From artificial hearts to the internet our species always changed the game to suit us.
Our greatest cultural and technological achievements took place between the 1940s and 1970s. In 1941 we built the first computer. In 1969 we set foot on the moon. These pushed science and technology forward at an unprecedented pace; undoubtedly making it the golden age of innovation.
But now we’re slowing down, taking fewer risks and becoming far too consistent.
Looking back most of what we’re doing now have had their roots embedded back in this golden age of innovation. Everything after has been incremental improvements to what we had imagined then. Look around — most of what we see (planes, cars, buildings, electronics) are updated versions of what we had then.
Think of it like this: The 1940s thought of ‘flying buses’. The 1950s imagined ‘farming the seas to feed a hungry world’. The 1960s called for the ‘Electronic cars of tomorrow’. They actually imagined the future — and then tried to build it.
*Today most innovation is consumer driven — if the survey predicts better sales we fund it!
As Peter Thiel once said, “We wanted flying cars, we got 140 characters”.
We’re far too consistent these days. Too few people try to go against the mainstream trends of innovation. And no one is willing to risk too much — especially governments. Most of what we hear about are small paced advancements built around the internet in some way or other, and then in medicine. Nothing too ground breaking.
Don’t you think if people and governments rallied behind putting the first man on Mars like we did in the 60s, it’d already be done? And we would certainly have had some great innovations along the way too.
Now, this is not to say that today’s innovations are any less important. They can certainly pave a slow, steady and predictable path to the future. But don’t you think we could do something bigger and better. Create something beyond our imaginations that could cause a paradigm shift for our future?
It’s understandable though. Everything from the world wars to events such as the Chernobyl disaster has shaped our attitudes about technology and science, we risk far less to avoid mistakes. But it also hinders progress.
Although one thing to appreciate about today’s widely publicized innovations is the fact that they are built with a larger audience in mind. The internet and better communication systems help most of our newest innovations reach people around the world faster than ever before.
As of now, we have just over 3 billion people using the internet — we’ve still got a lot more to reach. But while we focus on getting the next billion users online, we shouldn’t forget to dream bigger and different.
We should make the 2010s the years we land a man on Mars. The 2020s the years we master a carbon-free energy source. The 2030s the years we build the first community on Mars and the 2040s the dawn of the singularity (I’ve got mixed feelings about that though… — maybe for another time).
Answer this question for yourself: Don’t you believe that if we had kept up with the pace of innovation from the 1940s – 1970s that today could have been so much better?
We could have mastered cures for cancer, clean nuclear power, and maybe even colonized a few planets! Would it have been worth the risk?
Now. What if we hadn’t mastered fire just because it could burn the forest down?