Want to drive a lot of traffic to a blog? Get angry. Vent against the injustices of the world. Lambast the causes of the issues that are being overlooked or marginalized. The media and the politicians are caught up in ideological combat taken to such an extreme that the results of their debates are trivial. A senator was censured for concealing hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal finances. The Senate spent precious months of their time getting around to slapping his wrist. I imagine their time was worth millions, and I suspect that the more important issues affected billions. We have bigger issues for our elected officials to deal with, and people better equipped to prosecute criminal actions. See, it’s easy to find something to get angry about. I spend more of my time watching the problem solvers of the world. For some reason, the media considers them to be less worthy of news time. For some reason they are unpopular.
Here’s a list of gifts given to the world, in no particular order though I’ll start with the companies I am most familiar with, some of those from my portfolio.
Electric cables that do for electrical power what fiber optics did for electrical signals – American Superconductor (AMSC) is building and shipping superconducting cables that incredibly efficiently flow electricity at 100 times the power density of old cables. That’s very handy for replacing old and overworked copper cables that run under our cities. Fewer losses means less power has to be generated. The cables are also self-limiting. If a cable gets too hot, it shuts down itself instead of the whole grid.
Cancer vaccines that train the body to fight its cancers – Dendreon (DNDN) is the first company to receive FDA approval for a cancer immunotherapy. Their prostate cancer vaccine, Provenge, is a treatment, not a drug, that retrains the body’s immune system to recognize the cancer’s markers. It isn’t a panacea, but it is as effective and frequently better than chemo and radiation, but without their side effects. It looks like it might work on other cancers too.
Stem cells to regrow damaged body parts, including nerves – Geron (GERN) is already testing a stem cell treatment to help paralyzed people regain motor control, or as I hope, walk again. Simple enough to say, hard to work within the science, harder to work within today’s ideological climate. And they are making progress despite the hurdles.
Wall-sized displays that fit in your pocket – Microvision (MVIS) is building and selling a projector (ShowWX) the size of an iPhone that makes a display as large as you like, well as large as you con see considering the surrounding lighting and its current 10-15 lumens. I use it to watch movies after sunset. But the projector isn’t the size of an iPhone. The real unit is much smaller. Most of the volume is battery and electronics, so any electronic device that can use a display that already has power and a circuit board is a candidate for using Microvision’s components. That’s not a big deal until you consider the materials and transportation involved in every laptop, monitor, and television display.
The most interesting things are happening outside my portfolio.
The Space Race is begun anew – SpaceX just celebrated the first private orbital launch and recovery. Finally we can get back into space without worrying about the government. The military-industrial complex has competition, and I suspect that the private companies will win. Lots of the Space Age dreams from the sixties weren’t fantasies, but they weren’t going to succeed when they had to be funneled through NASA and the Air Force. Any agency that relied on Congress for funding while also fearing Congressional review wasn’t going to be able to truly innovate in ways that more directly benefited private citizens.
Lasers against malaria – Intellectual Ventures, a firm founded by Nathan Myrhvold, loves to invent stuff. Now, that’s a place I’d love to work at. They’ve invented a laser that can track, identify and kill malarial mosquitoes while avoiding the rest of the insect world. It may sound bizarre, but they bought the components on eBay. Now they are trying to make it economical enough to deploy where it really matters.
Electric cars that aren’t dull – Tesla (TSLA), okay this one is a cheat because maybe you have heard of them, but come on, an electric car that is actually desirable. The age of making fun of electric cars with really long extension cords is over. Tesla’s cars take advantage of electricity to be powerful and simple. They are an elegant and fun solution rather than an exercise in grudging acceptance of scarcity.
Repurposing, or as I think of it mining our second hand mountains – There isn’t only one person to mention, but I’ll pass along one example. Dan Phillips built a house, then he built houses, and he did it with stuff that people had thrown aside. Many people have very little money, or see no reason to spend what they have; but, they are making houses, windmills, lives out of stuff that normally ends up in the landfill. Their ideas and attitude can pervade the planet and have a greater impact than any corporation, but they only make the news as human interest stories. They embody my greatest hope for our future. That’s real human interest.
This is a season of hope, and I find it fascinating that it happens amidst winter (at least for half the planet). To me, innovations are gifts, tiny unexpected packages that lighten my world. The media may not find innovations as popular as ethics panel debates, but innovations and innovators are popular with me.