4G Networks will Most Influence the World Over the Next Decade

Here is reprinted from his Facebook note, Alex Lightman’s writing about why 4G networks deserve to win the first ever The Economist Innovation Conference Readers’ Award.

Why 4G Networks Deserves Your Vote as the Innovation that will Most Influence the World over the Next Decade

The Economist magazine is, for the first time, having a Reader’s Choice awards contest. I believe 4G Networks deserves your vote because it is the innovation that will be the most influence the world over the next decade, from 2011 to 2020.

Here’s the list of candidate technologies, which was selected out of hundreds (thousands?) suggested, as written by The Economist.

Full disclosure: I wrote the first book on 4G, and I’ve been invited to give the equivalent of the Oscar acceptance speech if 4G wins. However, even if I wasn’t in this happy position, I would still write this note and still say exactly the same things.

  • 4G networks Fourth Generation wireless networks will bring broadband to the developing world and make it ubiquitous in the rich world, by enabling people to have broadband internet access on mobile devices.
  • Electric cars Electric cars have the potential to change the automobile industry and make an enormous contribution to efforts to reduce pollution.
  • Geoengineering Efforts to engineer desired changes to the earth’s climate will help to counterbalance or reverse the potentially catastrophic negative effects of climate change.
  • Graphene electronics The properties of graphene open up possibilities for superfast electronics.
  • Personal genomics Analysis of a person’s genes has the potential to drive personalised medicine, showing people what diseases they may be prone to and even preventing these before they cause problems.
  • Private space-launch services Opening up space to the private sector will help enable ambitious space missions like a manned mission to Mars and make the dream of commercial space travel available to more people.
  • Randomised trials of aid and development schemes Rigorous experimental testing of interventions could promote development and make aid delivery far more efficient.

Here is my candid and personal view of why 4G Networks should get your vote and win, and why the others do not deserve to beat 4G Networks.

* 4G networks

Fourth Generation wireless networks will bring broadband to the developing world and make it ubiquitous in the rich world, by enabling people to have broadband internet access on mobile devices.

1. Ubiquity – ONLY 4G networks could possibly be in use by EVERY single adult on earth by 2020. There could be seven billion 4G devices in use by 2020.

2. Utility – 4G networks (which I define as those that will provide 20 Megabits/second wireless broadband Internet including Internet Protocol version 6 support), can allow for MILLIONS of applications and MILLIONS of videos to be made available to EVERY human being.

3. Communication never reaches saturation. We have a nearly infinite desire to reach out and connect with people. As my 4,500 or so friends on Facebook indicate, and other people in a similar position, we are experiencing an EXPLOSION in the number of people we are able to keep in touch with.

4. Presence – with 4G devices, people will know whether you are available to talk, text, video chat, do an Augmented Reality tour, or anything else you can think of.

5. Empathy or “Walk a mile in another man or woman’s moccasins” – with 4G wearable devices that have cameras looking out and looking at where your gaze is directed, you will be able to see and hear things almost exactly as someone (anyone, if they also have the device) does, enabling us to better develop what Jeremy Rikfin calls, “The Empathic Civilization”. None of the other innovations proposed is an empathy amplifier.

6. Shareable – as the Grameen bank has proven in Bangladesh, an entire village can share one mobile device. With a 4G device, many people can be doing parallel sessions because of all that extra bandwidth.

7. Cost – the Boston Consulting Group cost curve rule of thumb (heuristic) is that for every doubling of aggregate production volume, marginal cost of production falls by 10%. 4G is new, but it actually can build upon the massive experience curve of 1G, 2G, 3G, and the unlicensed band technologies, etc. to have cost fall asymptotically towards zero. With subsidy or with innovative business models, the cost actually WILL be approximately zero.

8. Social Superorganism – 4G is the only technology of the seven up for a vote that can transform humanity into something different, something I call a Social Superorganism, in which we have so much bandwidth with so many people in use so much of the time that we effectively become, from multiple objective, quantifiable measures, one single united being.

9. Health – 4G will enable massively expanded sharing of high resolution 3D medical scans and other medical records so that any doctor anywhere in the world can in theory offer treatment and advice to any sick or injured person, or even for preventative care.

10. Peace – It is my personal vision and prediction that if the entire world were provided with 4G communicators that there would be so much interconnectivity that the world would experience an unprecedented era of peace, even as we experience “peak everything” (oil, uranium, fresh water, population, etc.)

I hope I’ve made the case for 4G and that you will go to http://www.economistconferences.co.uk/innovation/readersawardcastyourvote

and vote for 4G!

But what about the other candidate innovations? Here’s my (admittedly subjective) take on these:

* Electric cars

Electric cars have the potential to change the automobile industry and make an enormous contribution to efforts to reduce pollution.

1. Old news – Electric cars are a 110 year old innovation. I’m not even sure what they are doing on the list. There are new technologies, such as batteries, software and chargers, but these are not what’s being voted on.

2. Not ubiquitous – There are between 660 and 880 million cars out in the world, and 50 million new ones each year. Of these fewer than 1% are electric. While this will grow, over the next ten years, we will  have tens of millions of electric cars not billions or even hundreds of millions.

3. Required Smart Grid upgrades will slow adoption: Even if governments gave them away for free, the electrical grids need to be upgraded for charging. An electric car on a 4 hour charge uses as much electricity as three average households in San Francisco. SF has about 333,000 households. Adding 111,000 electric cars could potentially double the peak electricity usage, which is not so easy to do in a short period of time. And SF is powered by Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility that is so progressive that it gets more of its energy from renewables (40%) than any other utility. Try doing electric cars in Africa, South Asia, or Latin America in places were the electric grid can be down for large parts of the day.

4. It’s just driving. Driving is itself not an innovation.

* Geoengineering

Efforts to engineer desired changes to the earth’s climate will help to counterbalance or reverse the potentially catastrophic negative effects of climate change.

1. Vaporware. Where’s the conscious geoengineering that does what the descriptive line above says? Doesn’t exist. 4G actually exists.

2. It does exist, as humanity’s big environmental damage. The only geoengineering in the world today (and likely to be during the years 2011-2020 in question) is related to environmental problems: deforestation, desertification (think Sahara doubled), climate change. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s an innovation. I think that’s a catastrophe in the making, and not worthy of an award.

3. Law of Unintended Consequences – how do we know that a massively expensive geoengineering project won’t make other problems worse, even if it works as advertised.

* Graphene electronics

The properties of graphene open up possibilities for superfast electronics.

1. Computational closure – do we need higher resolution on our paper maps? How about the maps on Mapquest or Google maps? I don’t. I think maps are pretty much finished. I also think that where we are going without graphene electronics is fast enough. There is a limit: the speed of light. And fiber optics and computers are already up against the light speed limit right now.

2. Too far upstream. Graphene electronics is interesting and relevant for, say, Samsung or Intel or Cisco, but it’s not going to actually make a big impact for the end user. It’s an innovation limited in relevance, for the most part, to manufacturers, and not to other stakeholders.

3. What will it actually change? Not that much that wouldn’t have changed anyway.

* Personal genomics Analysis of a person’s genes has the potential to drive personalised medicine, showing people what diseases they may be prone to and even preventing these before they cause problems.

1. I have two words for this innovation: Terry Grossman. Grossman, the co-author with Ray Kurzweil of Fantastic Voyage and Trascend, runs a medical practice and longevity clinic in Colorado. He wrote a very interesting piece in H+ magazine this summer, which more or less debunks the idea that personal genomics will have a significant impact on health care.

http://hplusmagazine.com/editors-blog/rethinking-promise-genomics

2. This is a very narrow area for a minority of people who will make use of it a few times a decade, at most. 4G, in contrast, will be used by most of the people in the world most of the time for most of their activities.

* Private space-launch services

Opening up space to the private sector will help enable ambitious space missions like a manned mission to Mars and make the dream of commercial space travel available to more people.

1. Doesn’t really change anything. I want to go into space as much as anyone. I even have said that I want to die on Mars. But will spending millions of dollars on me to get to Mars actually impact life on earth all that much? Will having your rich friends in Beverly Hills who took Virgin Galactic out into space, and took pictures, and came back, actually change your life? I don’t think so.

2. It’s for rich people. It will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to go into space. This means, from 2011 to 2020, that we are talking about tens of thousands of people who will be able to go on joyrides.  I want to do it. I plan to do it. But I don’t kid myself that flights into orbit and back will actually make a difference to the entire world.

3. It’s not for poor people. Gandhi said, “Consider the poorest person and ask yourself whether your next action will make any difference to that person.” We could spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a few trips to Mars, or a few hundred trips outside the earth’s atmosphere. A few thousand people could join the 100 mile high club or whatever it will be called. But this would not make a difference to the billions of people who are poor, and possibly illiterate, starving, ill, injured, and just want to get a slightly better price for their cucumbers or otherwise want or need to communicate.

* Randomised trials of aid and development schemes

Rigorous experimental testing of interventions could promote development and make aid delivery far more efficient.

1. I don’t even get why this is here, since we’re talking on a planetary scale. We’ve had hundreds of countries trying thousands of different aid projects over a period of centuries, and we have mountains of data, information, knowledge, and expertise about this. I don’t see this as an innovation, unless you imagine that the US and UK or other nation that is supposed to do the randomized trial as a nation with blinders on, that does not simply look at what other nations have tried. If you are in the US, and want to know what works with health care, look at what Cuba has done in 126 countries over the last 50 years, and see what has worked, and what hasn’t. This is not an innovation, this is common sense.

2. A wise person learns from the mistakes of others. A fool doesn’t even learn from his own. This is another way of saying the first point.

In conclusion, I think that 4G is not only better than any of the other innovations proposed, but it’s better (given the criteria of most impact over the next decade on the entire world) than all of the other innovations (or purported innovations) COMBINED.

I hope that I’ve sung for my supper, and given you objective grounds to vote for 4G networks

http://www.economistconferences.co.uk/innovation/readersawardcastyourvote

Thanks for your support for 4G!

Respectfully,

Alex Lightman

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