Sunday, April 24, 2011

Inflection Points

There are certain times in human history when the world seems to change all at once. What once seemed to progress at a slow evolutionary pace suddenly shifts into warp speed and humanity never looks back. With the advent of agriculture the number of humans on the planet, stable for millennia started to grow dramatically. With the invention of the printing press the number of books began to grow exponentially. With the invention of the Internet the volume of data exploded. Human social and technological progress is filled with such discontinuities.

These inflection points are often unexpected and the changes they produce appear disconnected from everything that went before. If you were an auto industry watcher before the Model T, would you expect to see such dramatic growth in demand for cars? There were many smart phones before the iPhone, but no one expected to see the category explode with the introduction of one key device. I, for one, completely wrote off the idea of tablet computers before the iPad came along. It just didn't seem to be a brilliant idea.

It takes just one key innovation, and often one charismatic leader to get things moving in a whole new direction. Someone needs to get the recipe right, but they only need to get it right once.

This is why I am not stressing out about global warming ("not stressing out", not to be confused with "do not care about"). Looking at the current trends and current technologies one would tend to project continuous temperature rise and global catastrophe. However, a far more likely scenario in my mind is a technological solution to the problem. Artificial trees harvesting carbon from the atmosphere? Cold fusion removing dependence on fossil fuels? A price on carbon giving folks a financial reason to de-carbonise? Who knows. I just know that there are a lot of people looking for solutions, and one of them is bound to find one. We're a pretty creative species.

All that aside, however, what brings me to write this post is a press conference I just finished watching on the web. This conference was held by Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX (also CEO of Tesla and Co-Founder of Paypal). This is a guy who is single handedly revolutionizing the world we live in. In the press conference in question, Musk announced a new rocket design, capable lifting twice the load to earth orbit of any other rocket currently on the market, and doing so at one third of the cost. Meaning, the cost of sending a pound of payload to earth orbit just got reduced by a factor of six. My friends, we are all going to space. This is the inflection point we were waiting for since Sputnik launched.  

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