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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Anonymous said...

If you want something even more impressive, look at what Virgin Galactic is doing. Their design can lift a payload quite far out of the gravity well using the same amount of fuel as a one hour plane flight.

Kimberlee Stiens said...

Yayay!!!! A post!!!

That is pretty cool. There are many who believe that space exploration is the only way the human race will ultimately survive. I don't know if I'd go that far, but it's comforting to know that it's becoming more and more realistic.

Shadox said...

Kim - yeah, it's been a while, hasn't it... forget about species survival (not that I'm knocking it), I'm just in it for the fun.

Anon - Virgin Galactic uses a design by a company called Scaled Composites - a pioneer in their own right. The issue there is that the Virgin Galactic flights are suborbital. This means that they follow a ballistic flight pattern (think of a ball being thrown in the air, touching space and falling back down). By comparison, the SpaceX rockets hit true orbit - meaning the payload can circle the earth indefinitely without falling back down. The speeds (and energies) required are truly mind boggling. To achieve that with a payload weight equal to a fully loaded Boeing 737 - which is SpaceX's plan - is amazing. The rocket is almost large enough to take humans back to the moon, and this is from a private, for profit company.

Elon Musk is the Howard Hughs of our age. Truly incredible.

settlement cash structured for flow said...

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.