One of the challenges of building new technologies is that we often want them to solve things that have been very socially difficult to solve. Things that we don’t have answers to, problems that we don’t know how we would best go about it in a socially responsible way.
The smartphone is the ultimate example of a universal computer. Apps transform the phone into different devices. Unfortunately, the computational revolution has done little for the sustainability of our Earth. Yet, sustainability problems are unique in scale and complexity, often involving significant computational challenges.
The United States plants more than 170 million acres of corn and soybeans a year, more than any country in the world. And the primary mechanism in the US that we use to subsidize agriculture is actually called the Federal Crop Insurance Program. So, the crop insurance program in the US is also the largest such program globally, with over $100 billion in liabilities annually. So it’s a very big program.
I come here today because I’m excited about data but also because I’m terrified. I’m terrified that we are having progress without culture in the world of data. And as we’ve seen with these failed industries before, progress without culture does not work.
From vast data centers to mobile phones, the power of computers continues to transform our lives. But there are some problems across artificial intelligence, in the design of new materials, pharmaceuticals, and clean energy devices that they will simply never solve. So even if we turned our entire planet into a giant supercomputer we wouldn’t be able to solve these and many other important problems. The good news is that if we could build a computing device based on fundamental quantum principles, we could.
Almost a year ago, I put my heartbeat online, and along with my heartbeat an accounting of all the days I’ve lived, and the days I statistically have yet to live, along with my average heartbeat for each day. So I was playing with the idea of privacy. Here’s this very intimate measure, in a way. But I’m not worried about sharing it because there’s not much you can learn about me from my heart rate.