Braille Monitor                                             November 2015

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Pushing the Limits: Changing the World through Big Ideas

by Eileen Bartholomew

From the Editor: One of the most exciting presentations made by someone from outside the organization occurred when Eileen Bartholomew from the XPRIZE Foundation took the stage on Friday morning, July 10, 2015, to address our seventy-fifth convention. We often tell people that success is primarily about attitude, so it was interesting to hear the words of another organization that holds this view. Here is what Ms. Bartholomew said:

Eileen BartholomewThank you for that welcome, and I'm so glad to be here. At XPRIZE we like to say, "The day before something is a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea." You know, the world needs a lot of crazy ideas, and never before has the world been poised to take individuals and empower them to make those crazy ideas the breakthroughs we need. The reason behind that is because of exponential tools, business models, and a mindset that I know you all have in this room.

I'd like to share a little bit about what we think is possible in the coming years and decades ahead of us. But first, to do that, I want to talk about a big problem with all of us. That is that we are pretty linear in how we think about things. Our brain hasn't had an upgrade in about 50,000 years. We get up every morning, and we think that tomorrow is going to be pretty much like it was yesterday, only that's really not the case. The brain that we have is limited in our ability to understand that. There's even a famous number called Dunbar's number, which is really the number of relationships that you can keep track of and that's about 150. So for all of you who have more than 150 friends on Facebook, you really only know about 150 of them.

But the world and technology is exponential and global, and to give you a sense of that, the world created more information in the time the last speaker from Google spoke then we really have had in almost all of human history. That is exponential.

What does exponential feel like? Well, I'll give you a brief exercise to think about this. If you took ten steps linearly, you'd go about thirty feet—one, two, three, four. If you took ten steps exponentially—one, two, four, eight—you'd be all the way to the moon and back. Technology grows exponentially, and it's really hard sometimes for us to know about that and understand about that.

I want to give you an example of what exponential looks like. All of you probably know Kodak, the famous photography company. In 2012, when it was about a $26 billion dollar company employing one hundred thousand people, it declared bankruptcy—a hundred year company gone basically overnight. Its competitor in the same year, Instagram, a company that captures moments and images and memories all over the world, had an IPO, and it was worth $1 billion and only employed thirteen people. That is exponential change. Kodak was known for creating the digital camera, but it didn't take advantage of that, and it was instantaneously usurped overnight. That is exponential change and exponential technology's impact.

As a result, the average lifespan of most companies today has gone from about seventy years in the 1920s to less than fifteen today. What that means is that in ten years about half of the Fortune 500 companies we know today won't be around. Innovation is going to happen at the corporate level; it's going to happen with individuals.

Why is this happening? I want to talk about some new, amazing tools, many of which you may have heard about to help realize this future. There is a little-known but important fact that is driving all of this: Moore's law, the idea that every eighteen months the processing power of computers will double. We've all seen the benefits of this; that's why we're all carrying around small phones and not ginormous contraptions. But the world is now going to see the impact of this, and what's going to be happening is going to take us in an amazing direction.

Today we can process things at about the rate of a mouse brain. In about ten more years we'll be able to process information at the rate of a human brain. But in ten more years after that we will be able to process information at the rate of every human brain on this planet, and, when that happens, brilliant new things will occur.

So what is driving this? We are seeing advances in things such as biotech, robotics, artificial intelligence, energy, medicine—changing what it means to be human every day. Companies like: HLI (Human Longevity Institute) are going to be taking every piece of medical data that exists and trying to find a cure for individuals, not for groups of people; companies like Rethink Robotics that are making humanoid-like robots that have facial expressions and arms and legs—robots that you don't have to program that you can simply train—you teach them to do things by showing them how to do it, just like you would teach a child or teach a friend; things like synthetic meats—we may no longer have to grow meat, we will craft it in factories and breweries all around the world; things like advances in healthcare. You know about five or six years ago the only product you had to help you understand your health was a thermometer and a telephone to call your doctor, but now we have millions of devices—Fitbits, iPhones, Pulse oximeters, bringing health care to individuals. That is going to be the patient of the future, not just the clinician of the future. Companies like Matternet that are taking drone technology and are able to craft the last mile of logistics in a space of just a few months’ time—in other words, getting things to remote villages in Africa can now be a matter of delivery by drone, not by having to build roads and infrastructure to do this. And, most importantly, things like 3-D printing that are changing the way manufacturing happens and even personalized development—cooking in your home.

These are the tools and technologies that are driving changes, and they're pretty exciting, but they are only one part of the equation. The next real piece is the new type of business models that are happening because we are all connected online. What does that mean? Well right about now there is about 25 percent of the planet that is connected to the internet. Only a quarter of the possible minds are actually connected online, but in the space of the next five or six years, that number is going to grow to about 70 percent. That equates to about 3 billion new minds coming online that have not had a voice in what we consume, create, desire, demand, and legislate; when those minds come onboard, they are going to want to be engaged and connected in really amazing ways, and we're already starting to see that.

We have new business models like crowdfunding, crowd labor, and crowd knowledge that are taking problems that before used to have to be solved by governments and now are solved by individuals. You probably have all heard of something called Kickstarter. [Applause] Kickstarter is democratizing the way companies and individuals get access to capital and resources. Companies like Oculus that have developed the Rift virtual reality goggles that are going to be crafting the virtual worlds of tomorrow: they set out to raise $200,000 on Kickstarter. They ended up raising $2.5 million. Less than a year after that campaign, they were acquired by Facebook for over $2 billion. No longer will companies and individuals need to wait around for financial markets to invest in their ideas. Individuals can now ask other individuals to give them the resources to make this happen.

What about the future of work? There's a new model out there called crowd labor, where individuals are asked to help participate in small tasks. Consider a company called Gigwalk which is based out of San Francisco, that pays people anywhere from one dollar to ten dollars to perform tasks that used to take staffs and staffs of researchers and companies—things like, go and see if a product is at the end of an aisle at the local CVS. Or perhaps the assignment is to test out this new application. Today almost $1 billion worth of gigs that before were the responsibilities of companies are now happening on a one-to-one basis. Individuals are now the new movers and shakers of the business economy.

What about creativity? Here is a great story from only two years ago: the Super Bowl ads—those ginormous, expensive, frustratingly difficult, and sometimes non-comical ideas—in 2013 the number twenty-four placed commercial, which, by the way, was an advertisement for Speed Stick Deodorant, was developed by a team of four people, not by a multi-tiered corporation or a big advertising agency, not on a $500,000 budget or even a $5 million budget. It was done for $14,000 by a group of four kids. That's the new type of creativity and creation that's being allowed to happen because of the connectivity of these exponential tools and technologies.

Even really hard challenges, things like finding Genghis Khan's tomb, which, by the way, we haven't been able to figure that out for about 800 years—we're closer than ever before because a famous National Geographic researcher realized that the research and archaeology community couldn't find the answer to this. He turned to the entire collective crowd, and almost 30,000 people helped him sift and sort through data to identify fifty new sites that had never before been determined. They think that they are pretty close to finding something that has eluded the experts for almost 1,000 years.
 

These are the types of tools and technologies and business models that are changing what's possible, but these are only just a start. Because the third ingredient for making this new world possible is something that every one of us has; it is so simple and yet so hard; it is a new mindset. Most of the world looks at the world today and sees a lot of problems, sees things that feel like they can't be fixed—and trust me, every major media news network out there loves to talk about that. So whatever you call it (CNN, the constant negative news network or whatever else it might be), they are always talking about how bad things are, how difficult things are, how it's harder than ever before to do that. But you know what's funny? Our brain—the one that hasn't had an upgrade in 50,000 years—we're actually wired to think and pay attention to negative news. We are wired to pay attention to it almost ten times more than positive news. We've all experienced that, right? You pay attention to a negative comment much more often than you do a positive comment in your life. An abundant mindset needs to be thought about today because the biggest problems we talk about are actually the world's biggest business opportunities. A billion people on the planet can't take a drink of water without risking their lives. That's a great business opportunity. How can we bring tools and technologies to make that not a reality?

In reality the world isn't getting worse; it's getting better, and the data show it. There's a recent article in The Economist called "The End of Poverty." In the last twenty years the number of people who have lived below a dollar and a half a day, which is the international poverty line, has been cut by half. Access to things like connectivity, energy, and water is happening, and it's happening through these tools and technologies. Right now your world is pretty darn safe. In primitive society almost 20 percent of the people died because of some form of violence. Today that's down to 1/500th of what it used to be. We are safer than ever before; the world isn't worse off; it's way better off. As a result, we need to think about these problems differently.

I want to tell a little story about an abundant mindset, something that I think really resonates with me and maybe something you'll take home with you as well. Back in the 1840s when Napoleon III had a very important diplomatic event happening, the King of Siam was to visit him, and of course the entire kingdom wanted to layout its finery. So at the dinner where the King of Siam was to be greeted, Napoleon's staff was to eat off silverware. The King of Siam's staff was to eat off gold, but the king himself was going to eat off aluminum plates—aluminum plates—because in 1840, aluminum, although very plentiful, was extremely rare in its purest form. In fact it was so rare that it was reserved for the most royal of Royals. Today, because we've invented a simple system that separates aluminum from bauxite, which naturally occurs in nature, we throw it away. Aluminum foil is a throwaway substance. Something that in decades past was scarce, impossible, and rich is now available, plentiful, and in fact throw-awayable.

The idea of changing your mindset about what is scarce versus what is abundant can really happen through simple technological breakthroughs, and it is that type of mindset that we have to bring to all of the world's problems today.

So what do all of you think about scarcity in your lives or in the world today? Do you think about diamonds? Diamonds are now being crafted in the lab for about five dollars a carat. What about energy? A lot of people talk about a lack of energy all around the world. More energy hits this planet every day in solar rays than we can use in any given year at our rate today. All we need to do is figure out how to tap into that solar power, and we're seeing these changes happen—solar power's cost has come down 50 percent in the last year; it's almost on parity with diesel generation, and, when that happens, we will unlock a future of abundant energy that will free us from a lot of issues around environmental concerns and access to energy. It is a simple change that we need to have, and that changes the mindset that we bring to it.

What about water? We know that water is not necessarily available where it needs to be, but there are breakthroughs that are happening right now in osmotic technologies, and things like Dean Kamen’s SlingShot, where you can literally put a SlingShot into a pool of anything that looks like water and, for about the voltage required by a hair dryer, in a few minutes you can have completely drinkable water—simple, simple things that are changing the mindset of what's possible.

Again, we think that the day before something is a breakthrough, it's a crazy idea, but we need to think exponentially, abundantly. We can't think linearly and statically.

At XPRIZE we've crafted competitions to help try to change the mindset of what is possible. A great example is that everybody knew in 1996 when we launched our first prize that only governments go to space, but we didn't think that that was right, and we thought exponentially about what was possible. In 2004 the first privately built spaceship went a hundred kilometers up in the air. That is underpinning the Virgin Galactic technology that may one day allow all of us to buy a ticket to go to space.

We ought to think exponentially, abundantly, to craft the future that we think we can create. There are others around the world using prizes to help do that. We think that's a great idea. One simple example: right now, today, the Christopher and Dana Reeve foundation says there are about 7 million individuals who are paralyzed, and in a hundred years the only thing we've been able to develop is a wheelchair. We think that should change, and there are a lot of robotics companies around the world that think that should change too. They are launching a Paralympic competition in the fall of next year to take formerly paralyzed individuals, strap prosthetics, bionics, and all kinds of great new advancements on them to try to change what we think of in terms of disability. That type of exponential and abundant thinking is what we need.

In closing I would like to ask all of you: where are you thinking linearly, where you should be thinking exponentially? What do you think of as scarce that, with a simple mindset, could be looked at as abundant, and where are you attempting crazy ideas? Thank you.

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