What the Future Holds

It was a warm October evening, back in 1957, when we heard the news and began looking anew toward the night skies. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had just launched a satellite that they called Sputnik into orbit; an event that changed the world forever. A whole new concept; actually, a couple, maybe more, new ones. Thenceforth everyone knew what a satellite was; well, most everyone. Took us awhile longer though to wrap our heads around the orbit bit.

That launch into orbit started a space race that pretty much defined the next 12 years. Actually, it was more of a technology race, a how to do and how to do it first race. How to get a rocket with a man onboard into orbit and on into outer space; how to do all sorts of things in a weightless, atmosphereless, environment? One small step for man, lots of giant leaps for technology. Care for some silicone grease on that silicon chip? How about a wafer with your eggs? All in all, not all that much was learned about space itself that we didn’t already know.

We wouldn’t have even been able to get into the race without William Shockley’s little head start. In his own way, Shockley gave Gordon Moore, Sheldon Roberts, Eugene Kleiner, Robert Noyce, Victor Grinich, Julius Blank, Jean Hoerni, and Jay Last their start. These guys had a new product, silicon transistors, and, now, they had a hot new market for their new product. Convergence had landed.

Some of us were quicker to see the future, the possibilities. The future fast forwarded us to the integrated circuit. To Santa Clara County’s pear orchards becoming Silicon Valley. The Nationals and the Fairchilds birthed the Intels, Ataris, then the Apples. The rest, as they say, is Microsoft, Apple, …, Amazon, …, Google, …, Facebook, …; mRNA vaccines. It has been one heck of a ride.

Back in the early days of Silicon Valley, of Microsoft, new things began getting old faster than most of us could keep up with. System design had to provide for possible changes to technology, for certain changes to Windows, and that was back before things started to speed up. What lies ahead for the next generation?

Yes, computing power was also key to another great advance, biotechnology applied. CRISPR (an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) is a family of DNA sequences found in the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. Something they teach in 8th grade science these days; if not, will be doing so soon. CRISPR is probably a bigger something than either the transistor or Sputnik. Here, we’re talking the stuff of life. From mRNA vaccines, to a way to take out a virus, to a way to treat genetic disorders, … . No end in sight.

The Amazon earthquake that is shaking the world of commerce, too, was triggered by the increase in computer power. This earthquake, too, is far from being played out. From books, to clothes, to groceries, to pharmaceuticals, to healthcare, …; again, with no end in sight.

Commerce, and beyond: The world of manufacturing is about to see some long overdue changes, again, thanks to computers, cameras, …, nanotechnology, and … . The world of bulk processing, big tank farms is fading fast, has been since the 1980s (some of these processes were more than one-hundred years old). Going forth, we are sure to see more and more inline processing. This combined with artificial intelligence (AI), and more technology. The mRNA vaccines are being produced inline with two streams (lipid nanoparticles and mRNA material) continuously and accurately being blended together.

Companies have had to build equipment from scratch, including machines that shoot two streams of solution — one containing mRNA and one containing lipids — into a high-speed collision to fuse the nanoparticles and encapsulate the genetic payload. moderna

There’s nanotechnology, carbon nanotube technology, nanomanufacturing, … . From these smallest of acorns grow ? Again, all going back to the increase in computing power.

Speaking of smaller, today’s smartphones are many time more powerful, many times more reliable, than the ‘computers’ that were used for the moon landing.

Now we wrestle with Climate Change, our greatest challenge. We will need to be at least as bold as Shockley, et al, as Gates and Moderna, as Apple’s two Steves, as Elon Musk. First we need a few Shockley types to provide the acorn for alternatives to internal combustion, to fossil fuels. Remember, Edison foresaw the transistor. A few big breakthroughs in the area of things like fuel cells would be most timely. The curves for solar and wind, and for batteries, are all of the right slope; slopes just need to be tilted up a bit more.

Beyond the exhaust emissions from internal combustion engines, it is the burning of fossil fuels themselves that is the problem. Solar panels, wind turbines, tidal and wave energy capture, …, need to replace coal and natural gas power plants. It may well take the world village.

Beyond commerce, and manufacturing and production, most, if not all, other facets of the economy are in for a change. Labor: The way we work, where we work, how many hours per day/per week we work. What say let’s just skip the 32 hr week and go straight to the 24 hr week? It’ll save loads of time in the long run.

Wealth distribution: A course correction is long overdue. For far too long we have listened to the phlebotomists telling us that the solution is to draw yet more blood and all will be well. Enough of this bleeding of the working class. Turns out: That the Government wasn’t the problem. That it doesn’t trickle down: That it all was but a ruse to transfer wealth upward. Surely by now, we’ve seen enough systemic failure to know that there needs to be some form of guaranteed living wage/income and retirement. This is not your grandfather’s economy.

Infrastructure: Now, in arrears since when. This is the 21st Century, the concept of essential government services needs be greatly expanded to meet that reality. infrastructure

Yes, these are indeed interesting times. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 is one for the history books. Trump, too, no doubt. Both have exacted a dear price. Both have forced the nation, the world to take stock. Both have brought to the fore things too long ignored; both have forced us to look into the abyss of possible collapse. While it is possible that the nation, the world will again try to muddle through, as some amongst us are asking; we have fallen so far behind; to continue to muddle would be catastrophic. Change, too long now restrained, is coming. There are some things that are going to happen, whatever we do; things that must happen. There are some other things demanding that we act. Going backward was never the solution; going backward is how we got this far behind. Has there ever been a more clarion call to change course? May we, the nation, the world, be bold enough to meet this challenge.