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Bill Gates Picks the Most Beneficial Emerging Tech

It seems appropriate to start a blog about beneficial tech with an interview of tech legend and philanthropist, Bill Gates.

At the moment I don’t exactly have the clout to arrange this, so I’m reading the transcript of an interview of Gates by the chief editor of MIT Technology Review, Gideon Lichfield. It’s just as well, as Lichfield asks many of the questions I planned on asking. The topic is the Ten Breakthrough Technologies of 2019. Gates picks which emerging technologies he thinks could be the most beneficial for the largest number of people.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation continues to lead incredible efforts to raise quality of life for poor countries, promoting and implementing technologies in medicine, education, and sanitation. There’s even a revolutionary new, low-cost toilet that separates solid and liquid waste material for recycling. I’m eating breakfast as I read this, so I skip to some of the cleaner breakthrough technologies.

Gates predicts that an executive assistant AI will be available in the next five to ten years, a super-smart Cortana or Siri. I have mixed feelings about this. I don’t want an AI backed by a huge Tech giant whose primary motive is to subtly manipulate my thought patterns for the purpose of selling me shit (ideas or products), not to mention the privacy and security issues. It seems like Hacker News publishes a story every week about some creepy vulnerability in baby cams and other home devices. It’s going to be very difficult for any Big Tech operation to earn back trust after Snowden and Cambridge Analytica. However it would be so cool (and beneficial) to have a private, trustworthy AI to help with mundane tasks. I’m thinking of SARA, the private AI in my novel TOKYO GREEN. Is there any chance we could get a private AI? How would the technology get smart without having the ulterior motive to persuade, sell to, and control people? These questions demand attention, but Gideon doesn’t go there. I’m marking digital personal assistants as a “maybe” on the beneficial scale.

The most encouraging points of the interview are those about several big-picture efforts to improve the environment and fight back against climate change. Gates has dumped billions into an investment group called Breakthrough Energy. I take a break from the interview and check out their web site. It looks fantastic. “Reliable, Affordable Energy for the World – Investing in a Carbonless Future”. I make a note to follow this blog in the future, along with Gates Notes. Gates is big on nuclear power and so am I. Turning back to the interview, there’s a statement by Gates worth quoting:

“If we didn’t have climate change the quest to get broad acceptance of nuclear power wouldn’t be a priority for me. The general public attitude towards nuclear is a real challenge.”

Bill Gates

Yeah, I totally agree. Nuclear power is the clear answer to the world’s long-term environmental and energy needs. It’s too bad that anti-nuke became part of the environmental movement’s dogma back in the hippie days. Having lived within a few hundred miles of the Fukushima meltdown in Japan, I know first-hand the gripping fear and hysteria that the mere mention of “radiation” brings with it, and how these emotions are stoked and distorted to further a political end.

Gates reminds us that clean energy is good, but not nearly enough. Only about one-quarter of the world’s carbon emissions come from producing electricity. Another quarter comes from the harvesting of animal flesh (cattle). This must hit home with Gates, as he loves eating hamburger. For the world this will only become more of an issue as developing countries become more nutritionally diverse.

“All of that new consumption translates into tangible improvements in people’s lives. It is good for the world overall—but it will be very bad for the climate, unless we find ways to do it without adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.”

gatesnotes.com

Rather than quit eating hamburger or shaming people into eating less meat, Gates picks post-livestock meat as one of the most important emerging technologies going into the new decade. This tech is cool, beneficial, but also expensive. The challenges are in bringing down the costs. I make a note to find out where we are on lab-grown (post-livestock, they call it) meat, and do a quick search. It looks like Gates (along with Richard Branson and Cargill, Inc., a huge agricultural company) invested a lot of money in this stuff.

“Memphis Meats, a post-livestock meat producer, received a new $17 million donation from a slew of major American industrial powerhouses…”

futurism.com, August 2017

I’ve also heard of Beyond Meat, but haven’t tried it. I imagine it’s tough to find in Japan. Is Cargill investing in this stuff because they see it as the future, or because they want to maintain control of the industry?

The two big winners in this interview are nuclear power and post-livestock meat.

There was a time in the late nineties, around the time of Microsoft’s anti-trust suit, when my impression of Gates was not so good. Now, given his philanthropic impact, he’s a total bad-ass. Gates is my personal prototype for being a beneficial person. I haven’t watched too much TV lately, but the Netflix special “Inside Bill’s Brain” is on my list of things to see.

The Interview posted on MIT Technology Review

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Breakthrough Energy

Gates Notes

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Beneficial Tech

It’s a bright and sunny morning here in Greater Tokyo Metro on the first day of a new decade. My family and I are happy and healthy and I’m conscious of how fortunate we are. I can’t think of a better time to start a project that will allow me to give back to the world.

My goal with this blog is to promote, understand, and use beneficial tech. I’ve been a problem-solver and solution-provider in Tech for the past twenty-five years, making tech work for us so that we don’t have to work for it. My work has been beneficial to a variety of organizations, but it would be a stretch to say that I made a positive impact on the greater good. This blog is a tale of my own personal journey toward putting my skills to better use. So this blog is about being beneficial with a capital “B,” as in better quality of life. Beneficial to whom? Everyone. That’s right, baby – all of us, the human race.

How do we measure whether tech is beneficial? I’m tempted to dive deep into philosophical quandaries about what’s beneficial and what’s not. It’s possible for seemingly negative tech to have a far-reaching positive impact. For example, what if civilization is driven by some collective hive mind that we can’t comprehend, driving us to create tech that does short-term harm to quality of life while leading to a major metamorphosis of our species in the distant future? Think of a caterpillar that builds his own coffin (cocoon), only to transform into a butterfly. Think of the charcoal skies of the early industrial age and how this would pave the road to a better overall quality of life for the human race. Even something as potentially horrific as nuclear weapons has had a positive effect, having reduced worldwide conflicts with the power of deterrence. In general I remain optimistic about tech, but resist wishful thinking and the status quo.

There’s the old trope of humanity versus technology. Some would say that “beneficial tech” is an oxymoronic term. I’d say such an assertion is moronic. It can be fun to entertain the Unibomber’s no-tech utopia, but there’s no going back. All we can do is form a solid idea about what it means to live a good life, and then focus on that vision during what’s sure to be a bumpy ride.

For now I have a few starting definitions for beneficial tech, though I expect this to expand and retract as time goes along.

  1. Tech that elevates all of us up the hierarchy of needs.
    I’m referring to Maslow’s theory of human motivation. It starts with meeting physiological needs, and moves up the pyramid to safety, belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization. These things mean different things to different people and cultures, but it’s a good start.
  2. Tech that protects and cleans (or at least doesn’t harm!) our natural environment, including space.
  3. Tech that allows for a more creative, productive, and humane work experiences. What is work these days, anyway?
  4. Tech that protects Tech (hackers & cybersecurity).
  5. Indoor gardening, DIY endeavors, and community projects that encourage a more connected, cost-efficient way of life. At the moment I don’t know anything about indoor gardening, but this idea is a key part of my concept of better living, and I intend to learn as much as I can.
  6. Storytelling with data. Wake up! This is important. Okay, maybe not to most people, but for me this is where the rubber hits the road. Big data (or really any size data) is the main thrust of what I do. I’ve heard “Big Data is the new oil,” and even “Data Science is the sexiest career”. Neither of these statements make any sense to me, but there’s no doubt that data can add real power to decision making and efforts to improve the world.
  7. Space! The final frontier. I’d like to see some real progress with space exploration in my lifetime. Space unifies us as a species. It feels like a natural destination, and it’s just flat-out cool.
    To be clear, “beneficial” can be cool, but not all cool tech is beneficial. I’ll explore this concept, too.

That’s it for now. The new decade is waiting. Let’s go.