Friday, May 13, 2011

Black Swan Technology

Vinod Khosla's answer to the question "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?":

The Black Swan Technology
Think back to the world 10 years ago. Google had just gotten started; Facebook and Twitter didn't exist. There were no smart phones, no one remotely conceived of the possibility of the 100,000 iPhone apps that exist today. The few large impact technologies (versus slightly incremental advances in technologies) that occurred in the past 10 years were black swan technologies...I believe "black swan technology" is a conceptual tool that should be added to everyone's cognitive toolkit today is simply because the challenges of climate change and energy production we face today are too big to be tackled by known solutions and safe bets.

So what are these next generation technologies, these black swan technologies of energy? These are risky investments that stand a high chance of failure, but enable larger technological leaps that promise earthshaking impact if successful: making solar power cheaper than coal or viable without subsidies, economically making lighting and air conditioning 80 percent more efficient. Consider 100 percent more efficient vehicle engines, ultra-cheap energy storage, and countless other technological leaps that we can't yet imagine. It's unlikely that any single shot works, of course. But even 10 Google-like disruptions out of 10,000 shots will completely upend conventional wisdom, econometric forecasts, and, most importantly, our energy future.

To do so we must reinvent the infrastructure of society by harnessing and motivating bright minds with a whole new set of future assumptions, asking "what could possibly be?" rather than "what is." We need to create a dynamic environment of creative contention and collective brilliance that will yield innovative ideas from across disciplines to allow innovation to triumph. We must encourage a social ecosystem that encourages taking risks on innovation. Popularization of the concept of the "Black Swan Technology," is essential to incorporate the right mindset into the minds of entrepreneurs, policymakers, investors and the public: that anything (maybe even everything) is possible. If we harness and motivate these bright new minds with the right market signals and encouragement, a whole new set of future assumptions, unimaginable today, will be tomorrow's conventional wisdom.

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