From today’s FT, Garry Kasparov and Peter Thiel weigh in on the grand challenges of our times here.
Our culture has not caught up with the reality of stagnation. Our institutions are addicted to incrementalism. The only huge leap proposed is a leap backward: to slow down for the environment’s sake. But the only means for humanity to consume fewer resources is through new technology.
Seems that there are two huge elephants in the room here: geoengineering as a response to climate change and private-development of space travel as an alternative to NASA-like approaches. Why? Because these are examples of individuals funding and supporting radically new technology as an alternative to current incremental approaches.
From Newsweek Magazine, it’s here. My sense is that colleague Tyler Cowen would agree with him and that Peter Diamandis and Steve Kotler would disagree.
My own take is that we are definitely not condemned to reliving the 1930’s and that technology does have the potential to really change things for us in a positive way.
But I’m far from sure that there are engineered solutions to our profound problems and I remain convinced that human beings are flawed enough to really screw things up for the future.
The debate between Peter Thiel and Eric Schmidt is summarized over at Marginal Revolution. Alex’s conclusion is that Google’s cash hording is the best evidence there is for The Great Stagnation. I see it as more as evidence that Google has no faith in the stability of the global economy–it’s best to hoard cash if you think the deluge is almost upon us….
PETER THIEL: …Google is a great company. It has 30,000 people, or 20,000, whatever the number is. They have pretty safe jobs. On the other hand, Google also has 30, 40, 50 billion in cash. It has no idea how to invest that money in technology effectively. So, it prefers getting zero percent interest from Mr. Bernanke, effectively the cash sort of gets burned away over time through inflation, because there are no ideas that Google has how to spend money.
Colleague and friend, Tyler Cowen’s book, The Great Stagnation, is reviewed by one of my favorite FT columnists here. I don’t find TGS nearly as depressing as Martin Wolf: when the next version of the Industrial Revolution comes along, things will get better.
It’s The Great Stagnation and the Amazon link is here. The basic thesis is that during the 19th and 20th century we (meaning the US) plucked virtually all of the “low hanging fruit” that would increase GDP and we’re just stuck until some serious innovation takes place–innovation that can actually produce revenue and get people jobs (the Net doesn’t do particularly well at either of those).
I’m still reading the book, but couldn’t help a blogpost about one of his prescriptions for fixing things: increasing the status of scientists. Tyler knows full well that I’m biased on this point, but I couldn’t agree more.
I believe that if we’re to see innovations that will make a difference, they are going to come from our investments in basic and applied science. And, to some extent, they will be serendipitous. But, like electricity and railroads, they will get us on the move again.
My top guesses:
- Public health
- Privately funded exploration and exploitation of the solar system