Machines generate waste heat when they do work for us. And this year, seven billion of us will use twenty-five trillion kilowatt hours of electricity. An awful lot of that will end up as waste heat. So, we treat waste heat as a problem. We see it as a challenge to design how we can manage it. We don’t think of it as a resource. If we thought of it as a resource, that would be results we are just throwing away.
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Our bridges, motorways, tunnels, and dams, and all the buildings that make up our infrastructure are vital to our society and economic growth yet we take them for granted. The shocking truth is that our infrastructure is crumbling beneath our feet. And this is costing us dearly, both in terms of money and carbon.
Our connectivity not only spreads good ideas, it spreads bad ones too. Our connectivity not only allows us to make finance travel around the world and help people, it means that a cascading risk that originates in the South of the US can be everywhere within a matter of hours. And this hyperconnectivity, this butterfly defect of globalization, requires new management.
The question that philosophers have asked since antiquity is how should you live? What is the good life for a human being? And the two answers that have repeatedly come back time and time again are that there are two things that matter. One is agency. That’s to say being in control of your life, actively, creatively engaging with the world. And the other is community.
One of the ways that industrial revolutions are interesting to think about is that they look differently depending on how and where you see them from. They look different whether you see them from Europe or Asia or Africa. But regardless of time or place, economists and historians generally tend to look at industrial revolutions through the lens of innovation. And in my short talk today I want to encourage a different way of thinking about this.
Why do we do the things that we do? Why do we sometimes choose to be loving parents and other times engage in irrational self-destructive behaviors? What drives us to sometimes be altruistic and other times make decisions that really threaten our very survival? Well, the answer lies in our brains. Our brains evolved to ensure that we repeat behaviors that will lead to our survival.
Over the past century, we’ve been to the moon, we’ve split the atom, we’ve sequenced the human genome, but were still only at the very beginning of our understanding of the human brain. This is one of the great challenges that we face. If we can understand the brain, we can develop better treatments for brain disorders, we can design better robots, better computers, and ultimately we can better understand ourselves.
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.
The key molecule of optogenetics is a light-sensitive protein called channelrhodopsin, which is extracted from green algae. Scientists can insert channelrhodopsin into memory cells. Subsequently, scientists can even activate these with blue light which they deliver deep inside the brain with optic fibers.