I Don’t Want Tweets, I Want Flying Cars (4 min read)

Speech given to the management team of a global multinational earlier this week. I’ve left out content that I covered in a previous speech

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of Paypal with Elon Musk, famously said that we were promised flying cars and we got 140 characters. This touches on the dichotomy between the world of atoms (the physical realm) and the world of bits (the digital realm). The tech revolution of recent decades has focused on evaporating physical products from books to music to films into the digital ether. This has transformed those industries in terms of content generation, distribution and the ability to scale, but our physical worlds still kinda feel the same.

Think back to the  1960s – we had the first moon landing, the 747 jumbo jet was launched for commercial travel, and we had the Mustang, Porsche 911 and Mini Cooper hit the roads. Imagine how that era must have felt. The biggest test for me is the kitchen. After the Second World War, the kitchen steadily increased its tech – toasters, coffee machines and fridges in the 1950s, automatic washing machines, freezers and dishwashers in the 1960s and microwaves in the 1970s. Today, kitchens are not too different. So where’s the revolution in the “atoms” world? Don’t worry, I’ve been digging and I’ve found three that look interesting:

1) Elon Musk world. If there is one person that symbolises the “atom” world it is Musk. He’s pushing for self-driving electric cars, space travel, solar power and high-speed inter-state travel. His Tesla has sparked a massive race to switch cars from petrol to electric and to introduce self-driving capabilities. While autonomous cars in urban areas are unlikely in the coming years, we could easily see cars and trucks switching to autonomous mode on highways (no pedestrians to deal with). His ability to massively reduce the cost of launching rockets into space is also opening the possibility of a Mars landing and space tourism. Then there is his vision of using solar power as the primary energy source. Already, he has triggered a switch to electric cars, but he’s also pioneering cool looking roof tiles that contain solar cells – no need then to have ugly black panels of glass on your roofs.

2)  Plant-based meat. Around 30%-50% of the Earth’s land is used for livestock grazing or feeding. The removal of natural forestation puts a huge pressure on our eco-system, especially in terms of carbon removal from the atmosphere and hence climate change. But there could be a solution. Stanford Professor Patrick O. Brown has found a way of creating meat from plants. This is not some veggie burger, but rather something that looks, tastes and feels like meat. He found that a molecule called heme makes meat “meaty”. All plants contain this, but at much smaller quantities than livestock.

He’s found a way of creating lots of heme from soy roots. He’s gone even further and launched the “Impossible Burger” that is now available across the US. Apparently it’s hard to tell the difference between a “real” burger and his plant-based one! If livestock were replaced with this approach then only 5% of land would need to be used, which would free up around 25% to 45% of the Earth’s and to return to its original lush forestation.

3) Living forever. Humanity has made great strides in defeating diseases, but what about defeating ageing itself? It  may seem like the deluded wishes of the rich and powerful, yet our understanding of the ageing process has improved dramatically. So we could be at the cusp of finding ways of at least meaningfully extending the duration of healthy life-spans. Somepromising areas for extending life include:

a. Diet. Reducing calories, ketogenic diets and even eating Turmeric (an anti-inflammatory that helps reduce the risk of chronic diseases) have all been found to possibly extend lifespan

b. Insulin. Oddly, drugs that are used to treat Type 2 Diabetes appear to affect ageing. So there appears to a link between good insulin production and living longer

c. Parabiosis. This is all the rage with tech billionaires, replacing old blood with young blood. Apparently, the proteins and cells from younger people can help.

d. Senescence. As you age, your cells age as well, but some cells age more than others. These are called senescent cells. Companies are finding ways of killing these cells.

e. Autophagy. Our cells accumulate junk, which in turn causes ageing. There could be pharma methods to get rid of this junk. Fasting also appears to do this.

f. Others. Changing brain tissue, removing reproductive organs, and using sirtuins to change DNA are some other possibilities.

Imagine, eating a plant-based burger in your self-driving car on the way to the launchpad to your holiday on the moon. Oh, and you’re 120 years old. Sounds great, no?!

Bilal

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