July 21 2008 / by victoria15 / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Environment Year: 2008 Rating: 6 Hot
In the not too distant future cancer will be eradicated, clean and powerful new forms of energy will be the norm and people all across the globe will have access to clean drinking water. While to some such predictions may sound like narrative straight out of a utopian sci-fi novel, according to best-selling author and futurist Jack Uldrich those are realistic possibilities in a world driven by accelerating change.
A global futurist, speaker and proprietor of well respected consulting firm Nanoveritas, Uldrich advises a variety of businesses on nanotechnology developments and, more broadly, how to keep ahead of the curve of a variety of rapidly advancing technologies. On July 10, 2008, I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Uldrich and discuss a host of interesting issues including robots in hospitals, solar panels mixed into wallpaper and paint, and the potential for low-cost solar cells to uplift underdeveloped regions around the world. In the days that followed, Mr. Uldrich announced his bid for the U.S. Senate which, if successful, would make him the first professional futurist to hold national office.
Here’s the full text of the audio interview with the man who could become the next U.S. Senator from the great State of Minnesota, chock full of wisdom and also some great advice for both students and lay persons looking to get a leg up on the future:
M: What do you do and how is that related to the future?
JU: I am a writer and a public speaker and all of my books focus on the future. Really since my first book on nanotech 5 years ago, I have broadened out to looking at all emerging technologies and all of my speaking engagements are around trying to prepare business and trade organizations to prepare for the future.
M: Five years ago was early to begin thinking about such things as new fuel and new technologies, so what made you start that early?
JU: There are still a lot of people who are well behind the curve and I think it is just because of the internet and future scanner, future blogger those of us who are interested have been able to hook up with other people, and there is a sizable community but there is still a much larger community of individuals who are still trying to deal with the day to day problems without understanding how fast and rapidly things are moving. And so what I try to do with my work is not to direct it to the community who understands but to direct to those who do not understand. What I consider my writing and what I try to do is bring the message down to a more user friendly language and use terms which are more accessible to the average person.
M: What do you mean by the phrase Jump the Curve ?
JU: That means that people have to understand all of the exponential advances that are taking place in society and try and graft those out on a plot and you’ll see that they curve upwards and are doing it very quickly. And when you want to think about the future you have to jump up on the curve and if you do that then you will have a much better understanding of how radically different the future will be.
M: Where should people who believe in the power of nanotechnology invest?
JU: I would advise you to stay away from the term nanotech and just look at how this is going to transform a variety of different industries. The first area that I am most excited about is the whole field of solar energy, particularly thin film. The idea that we will print out solar films that will ultimately look like wall paper. My vision is that in 10, 15, or 20 years for sure almost every business will be wrapped in a nano sheet or solar paint that simply collects the photons from the sun to convert it into energy. Next, I would say, what’s interesting about nanotech is that you have to understand how it impacts everything, so the field of robotics will continue to be accelerated and so from an investing perspective try to understand where that field is going. The medical field is a little trickier and at least from an investment perspective, but what I would advise younger people to look into companies other than the companies which treat disease after it has taken root, the future is preventing disease from ever occurring. So in the future I would stay away from companies who are just trying to treat disease.
M: As the field expands, do you believe that we’ll see an explosion in consulting firms such as Nanoveritas?
JU: I think companies will have to go to consulting firms and I think there will be a growth in the number of firms in the field, but what I would advise people to do because the firm is so broad, I think the best firms will have people with different backgrounds or specialities so as to combine all the fields. The best consultancies will be a multi-disciplinary team.
M: How important is it for people to internalize the notion of accelerating change?
JU: I think we are just at the very start of the nanotech revolution. I mean, in just the last day alone there was three articles that really caught my attention. One that was taking place in the field of material science- the catalysts. There was another new advance in nanomedicine that can affect individual cancer articles. You now get a sense of how far along they are already through the FDA process. The last is an advance in solar energy, thanks to nanotech, which could be here sooner than you think.
M: Is there any industry that nanotechnology will not impact or catalyze?
JU: I think it will impact all areas, and one of the things that first attracted me was understanding how pervasive it will be. In my first book I broke it up into industries and I along with some other people made a strategic mistake in just focusing on nanotech as a term and explaining it as a field. It is not, it is a broadbased enabling technology comparable to the internet, that will impact everything. Over the past few years I have become broader based, but my understanding of nanotech provides me with this base.
M: As a professional futurist and bestseller what would you recommend that young people study in college? Nanotech?
JU: It would be a combination of a couple of different things. One I would say try to be a generalist, but a generalist in some scientific fields and as I said earlier, the classical disciplines and the way we structured our education is no longer sufficient and to be prepared for the future you have to have a good basis. We must learn to unlearn some of the things we have already learned as the knowledge we know now will be so different in a really short period of time. To really embrace this idea, that what you think you know might be wrong in the near future.
M: What powerful new technologies or disruptive events that you expect to see over the next year?
JU: Over the next year, well I think that, I’m not sure its in the next year, but there is so much angst over oil, I think they are really misjudging how fast some of these new alternative energies might begin to have a real impact on the way we currently get our existing energy. So I would look at that. In terms of the next year, you know, I guess, in the next year the continued growth of robotics in the health care field. Particularly the surgical application. I think within the next year or other two years, three to five heart surgeries and more. In fact the way I think about it is if I am unfortunate enough to need brain surgery I don’t want a doctor who could possibly twitch, I want a machine who will never miss.
M: Do you believe that these new technologies will make doctors obsolete?
JU: I think we will still need people operating the machines. Today there are great surgeons, average surgeons, and below average surgeons. The machines will put these average surgeons behind the machines and some will go away but I don’t see wide scale change. Only because human behavior are so reluctant to change and there are a lot of regulatory issues that make all change slower to happen then most people expect.
M: What projects are you currently working on? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
JU: I am wildly optimistic about the future because when I look at what the greatest causes of ailment are in society, i think it is a lack of cheap clean sustainable energy, education and so to the extent that technology can address these issues is a real possibility. People aren’t going to change their behavior, we haven’t seen wide scale change and so we will continue to put carbon dioxide into the environment until we develop the nano cell catalysts that can make these emissions cleaner.
This interview was conducted by Victoria Reitano.