The Wall Street Journal has finally reported on the real driver of change around the electrification of the world's auto fleet: Manufacturing.
Reframing the Problem Our insights into the crossroads of energy and the future of the auto industry have reflected a very unique tone when compared to all major media outlets and bloggers.
We have been alone in pushing a few disruptive ideas about the future of energy and the auto industry:
Kill the Combustion Engine While others focused on the problem of oil, we said it was the manufacturing legacy of the combustion engine. We have argued that it's how you build the car, not fuel it that matters most.
Spurred in large part by Barack Obama's unprecedented and extraordinarily successful new media campaign, other national politicians are quickly following suit by embracing YouTube's new dedicated channels for U.S. Senators and House Representatives.
Here's the official word from the YouTube blog:
As the 111th Congress kicks into gear, many of your elected leaders are starting their own YouTube channels. They're posting videos direct from their Washington offices, as well as clips of floor speeches and committee hearings alongside additional behind-the-scenes footage from Capitol Hill. And in conjunction with both the House and Senate, we're launching two new platforms that will help you access your Senator and Representatives' YouTube channels: The Senate Hub (youtube.com/senatehub) and The House Hub (youtube.com/househub).
Though this may not seem like something altogether world-changing considering the explosive use of YouTube, even among politicians, this transition to web content is a rather big deal for several reasons:
1. Selection of the Savvy: Just as the transition to television helped bring telegenic communicators like Kennedy to power, the transition to web video and social media will negatively impact those politicians that are slow to understand, adopt and maximize the use of new technologies. Suvival of the fittest politician will now require new media aptitude and staff atmposphere.
2. More Powerful Communities: National politicians have already figured out how to take advantage of fleets of interns (last time I visited The Hill on a video shoot Blackburn seemed to have 20+ interns at his disposal) that will work for reputation. Now imagine how that will scale online. Candidates who figure out how to build large communities of powerful supporters, idea generators and viral content drivers will have a big edge in campaigns and also in the governing process. Those that can grow the largest, most effective team (we're talking thousands of hard core supporters and interns) will first win the media wars and then the overall effectiveness wars.
A couple of weeks ago I pointed out a new trend that was exemplified by the creation process of the Twitter application Twittority. Where big social media influence blogs like Tech Crunch, Mashable and others have the power to effect what gets created by defining a pain point. This trend was further confirmed a couple of days ago when Rachel Cunliffe's post on Mashable predicted ways in which Twitter would evolve over 2009. In pretty much the same time frame as the Twittority example (overnight), Dan Zarella designed a solution app in response to one those predictions.
Mashable was quick to recognize this effort and tout their status as a product cycle influencer the following day.
The power of web 2.0 is on full display here. The conversation aggregating nature of influence blogs is a major driver and the incipient response of hackers augurs enormous potential. This growing community of "first responders" are enabled by a developing toolkit that facilitates quick and inexpensive solutions.
Byron Reeves is a man with a vision: using video games to teach and to help mold behavior. When we get a smart grid and smart devices that track and report on their energy consumption, we'll have the data we need to understand our energy usage in the home. But will we really take advantage of that information?
"Games have the potential change behavior," says Reeves a professor at Stanford University and co-founder of Stanford's MediaX; he conducts research on the emotional and social effects of immersive environments including complex online games . "I became interested in building a game platform that could change behavior around energy usage," he says. To that end, he's been showing a vision video he created with Millions of Us in which he brings to life a game where homeowners compete with each other to see who can become the most energy efficient.
This week Garry Golden, Jeff Hilford and I had the pleasure to participate in the latest of The Speculist's outstanding Fast Forward Radio series (audio below the fold). Hosts Phil Bowermaster and Stephen Gordon led us through a comprehensive exploration of the year ahead of us and then (of course) encourage a bit of speculation about events 10-30 years out.
Garry shared his energy and transportation policy insights and predictions for 2009 (a must listen), and ventured some suppositions for the future including the possibility of converging on a space-based Dyson Sphere.
Jeff discussed the ongoing rise of social media and the future meme, then offered up a longer-term prediction concerning Actuarial Escape Velocity, aka the point in time that medicine becomes capable of extending the average lifespan quicker than nature can take it from us.
After kindly facilitating our output :), the hosts also got into the speculation game, with Phil tackiling issues including Global Quantification and Cancer Containment (very cool conept), and Stephen venturing the prediction that the first generation of life extension technologies are much closer to reality that we may suppose.
All in all, it was a wonderful brain-fest that I encourage you check out whenever you've got a spare hour on your hands. And be sure to add The Speculist to your RSS as they've got a steady stream of great future content, including their weekly podcast, flowing through regularly. -- (Audio is below the fold.)
Most startup energy companies don't expect major media attention when they announce their second commercial deal.
Unless of course, your technology is reported to generate energy beyond the scientific paradigms of combustion and nuclear reactions.
This is why Blacklight Power has little trouble attracting press and controversy from paradigm bound scientists.
Earlier this Fall we reported on the indepdent verification of the company's novel method of capturing energy released when powder containing hydrogen atoms reacts with a catalyst to drop its energy state into hydrinos. Then in December Blacklight announced its first commercial agreement.
Now the company has Customer No. 2: Farmers' Electric Cooperative, Inc. of New Mexico for a 250 MW power system which could in theory power 250,000 homes.
Related Blacklight posts on The Energy Roadmap.com
In his 2005 book FAB, author Neil Gershenfeld introduced the world to the possibilities of our potential near future.
If I could talk to TED, I would remind them of this and point out that there is likely to be a longish wait for whole-object fabrication technology to be affordable and reliably available to the general public. And, that it isn't really necessary to wait for that happy day either. We humans are long established tool users already, so how unreasonable is it to seek to develop the fab technology to create replacement parts for our existing technology and simply replace the worn bits as necessary? The technology already allows for the used parts to be de-constructed on-site for re-use in later fabrications as well.
If I could talk to TED, I'd remind them that guys like me, in our 50's now, along with our wives and children are the initial target market for this technology to achieve ultimate universal acceptance and application. I would suggest to my fellow TEDsters that a useful mechanism for achieving that goal would be a video campaign that visually demonstrates the technology and its application process to any potential additional user. I would also point out that there is a wide-spread lack of understanding of why adoption of new scientific advances takes so long to come to market; watching as the early attempts fail, and explaining the complexities involved, will be an express objective of this video campaign also, with the eventual objective of showing ultimate success of course.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg today announced that "150 million people around the world are now actively using Facebook and almost half of them are using Facebook every day."
This brings Facebook to just over 2% total global penetration in just under 5 years time (the company was founded in February 4, 2004) and, based on the shape of this diffusion curve, confirms its status as a major Interactive Communication Technology, as defined by communication scholar Everett Rogers.
Furthermore, it lines up nicely with the history of ICTs, as demonstrated by business and comm professor Vijay Gurbaxani, in which the diffusion of subsequent ICTs gets steadily sharper (telegraph, telephone, web connections), which supports the conjecture that either Facebook, a mirror technology (MySpace, Linked In, Microsoft Live, Orkut, iGoogle), or a combination thereof (most likely) will quickly attain much greater adoption. Obviously this ongoing trend has some serious deep-rooted consequences for the near-term accelerating future.
Equally as interesting is Zuckerberg's observation that, "If Facebook were a country, it would be the eighth most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia and Nigeria."
While I'm sure the statement was carefully considered and is meant to innocuously communicate the significance of the milestone, it also reveals the immense power inherent in social networks. These structures are among the primary drivers of a flattening world, exerting change on existing culture as they permit a new form bonding across distances, generations and (in just a few years) across language barriers. As such, they are in fact a new type of Massive Meta-Nation that transcends borders and increasingly affects law-making, behavioral norms and personal identity (just as international companies have done for many decades).
Enter Serious Value Creation/Facilitation: If you think the Facebook and social networking phenomenon is just peripheral to real culture and business, you are dead wrong.
Is Asia's expanding middle class closer to reaching a tipping point where modern notions of 'environmentalism' become a key component to improving quality of life factors? Maybe!
The Korean government is pushing forward on a massive 'Green' New Deal style investment package could create more than 900,000 jobs.
The $38 billion investment plan includes: waste to energy power plants, support for 'Green Homes', transportation infrastructure for rail and bicycles, cleaning up polluted river systems, and investments in energy storage technologies used for electric vehicles.
Real story = Values Shift up Maslow's Hierarchy The long view implications of this story go far beyond any actual investments that may or may not turn Korea's attention towards 'cleantech' industries. These projects might already have been planned long before the recent global economic slowdown. And $38 billion is not a lot of money for a 'New Deal'.
The real story is the media spin on 'green' and underlying values statement that shows widespread support within Korea for cleantech and eco-friendly ventures. The ripple effect of modern notions of environmentalism (able to address impacts of large scale industrialism, not traditional forms of agricultural living) could begin to challenge the notion of 'growth at any cost' that dominates economic policies around the world in all nations, but especially in emerging economies.
Values are very important when it comes to 'cleantech' policies, and there is no evidence that 'environmentalism' as it is viewed in American and European life is a current global phenomenon. There are still several billion people in the world who see 'quality of life' factors as related to jobs, education, home ownership and upward mobility, not planetary health.
What is driving this value's shift? Economic Growth, not Traditionalism
A variety of thinkers have converged on the notion that humans rely on what is essentially "software" to build our simulation(s) of the world around us.
Abstractions Driving the Flynn Effect: Cognitive historian James Flynn attributes the steady rise in IQ over the past 100+ years (known as the Flynn Effect) to better human abstraction abilities, not to any significant increase in physical brain power:
Our brains at conception are no better than they ever were. But in response to the evolving demands of society, we can attack a far wider range of problems than our ancestors could. It is like the evolution of the motor car in the 20th century. Are automotive engineers any brighter than they were 100 years ago? – no. But have cars evolved to meet modern demands for more speed and entertainment while we drive (radios, tape decks, etc) – yes. Our brains are no better but our minds have altered as dramatically as our cars.
In other words, the abstract thought frameworks that we drill into our children during critical periods, including math, science, biology, maps, businesses, social networks, new language, etc, are in fact a form of software that affects our IQ and ability to navigate the world.
This simple yet powerful abstraction (npi) is a critical paradigm shift in our definition of what it means to be human and opens the door to additional metaphors for social, economic and intelligence studies.
Particularly intriguing is the question of how quickly and/or regularly we (individuals, groups, societies, nations) experience software upgrades, akin to loading the latest Windows or Linux versions.
The University of Michigan announced recently that they had made artificial bone marrow that can continuously make red and white blood cells. According to Nicholas Kotov, the PI of the lab, it uses 3D scaffolding that mimics the tissues that support bone marrow in the body.
In addition to possibly providing an inexhaustible source of blood for transfusions, which in and of itself would be great, it has the potential to simplify the pharmaceutical drug-testing process. As the world of discovery speeds up, the process of safely testing and bringing to market drugs and treatments in less than the standard 7-10 years is a difficult obstacle to overcome and one which is in great demand.