Musings from George

Technology and people
November 22, 2005, 1:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Some of the latest news is about MIT’s efforts to create a $100 laptop, a step towards closing the digital divide between the technically connected developed world and the financially strapped developing world. I believe that the definition of poor varies from place to place in the world, but I also know that most of those places don’t have electricity either. Isn’t a $100 laptop about as useful to a starving poor person as a down jacket to someone living on the equator? The annual income of many people in Africa is less than $400 per year, and that is where so many people die each year of water-borne diseases (no electricity, no pumps, and no insect control… leads to real problems). So why do we think that a $100 laptop is going to benefit anyone other than the same people who are today buying them for $1000?

Love to see an arms race on alternative energy. Imagine if the same amount of energy and funding given to the Cold War was devoted to creating tools that would eliminate the pollution and corruption that arise from our fight to access and utilize resources that exist under other countries! We could perhaps have kept our 150,000 troops out of Iraq, and no one would have ever heard of Valdez. I realize only too well that many small entrepreneurs are trying to change the future, but I wonder why the government gave up after Jimmy Carter left office? Is it really such a stretch to think that the government could lead the way from the front, like they did with nuclear weapons and nuclear power? Why did they decide that the best approach was to outsource to underfunded individuals and schools? It seems a poor use of the next Enrico Fermi to teach him Powerpoint and to send him on a road show to meet with twenty firms to get $1M…

Is global warming real? I think most of us think that there is something logical about the theory that we keep burning stuff that has been unburned for 1000s of years, and expecting that overall it’s going to get a little hotter. The problem is that we won’t pay for whatever damage results, and as much as we doth protest, we are more than willing to leave the biggest problems for the next generation. Malthus was wrong — we didn’t starve to death or overpopulate the planet like rabbits and wolves. The green revolution and birth control helped to change the course of the world, and people proved that when there were too many people we make fewer people. My guess is that we will adapt similarly to expensive energy, and we will learn to make better use of the free power we’re getting from distant fires in such a way as to reduce the overall temperature of the planet — imagine a great big solar cell as big as the earth, sitting between the earth and the sun, generating all the power we could ever use and beaming heat / light / power to us as we each turn our little thermostats…about as hard to believe as it is that our cable TV is coming to us from little versions of that same dream, and those solar panel powered satellites have been up there for thirty years without major issues.

Last thought (yeah, I got up early today :^) is about the role of government in business today. Why can’t the US government just BUY Toyota, mandate hybrid technology in every vehicle, and put Ford & GM out of their misery? Do we really enjoy having four failed companies competing to build second-rate imitations of the best hybrids in the world? Are we not clear that most foreign automakers are building their cars here in the US for us, selling them to us in dollars, and paying US employees? JetBlue and Southwest have done to the air travel industry what Honda and Toyota are doing to the automobile industry, and southeast Asia appears to be ready to do to much of our information industry. Why can’t we figure out how to benefit from the whole trend, rather than fighting Pyrrhic battles against foes with different (and advantageous) investment strategies and cost structures?



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