The Internet Sparks Accelerated Change for Good

TheStreet.com

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I have been covering the Internet for almost 30 years now, and I am constantly amazed at how people underestimate its impact.

They look at the social changes created by the Internet, at the business churn, at the legal challenges and the threats they perceive to come from human connections, and they forget the essence of what this medium is about.

It's about accelerating the pace of discovery.

Back when I started as a tech reporter, the science fiction author Jerry Pournelle predicted, in some wonderment, that by the year 2000 you would be able to find the answer to just about any question instantly.

In an age of Google and Wikipedia that doesn't sound far-fetched, does it? Yet, in 1985 there was an audible gasp when Pournelle said this.


The rise of cloud computing has caused yet another acceleration. Researchers can now get their calculations done within minutes, and at low cost. They can collaborate with other researchers around the world as though they were across the hall. The great research labs of the world are slowly becoming one big research lab, and the pace of discovery is accelerating yet again.

That's imortant, because we need that to happen. An aging population, a warming planet, and the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs are today's day-to-day reality. Because of these new resources, answers are coming thick and fast.

Consider the problem of health. A unit of UnitedHealth recently worked on a report for the Society of Actuaries predicting health reform is going to bankrupt the country, raising the cost of individual health policies by a third.

It's as though they had never heard of prevention. Prevention does lower costs and the rate of medical inflation has been declining in the last few years as more preventive work is done and more data are collected -- just as the cost of car repair goes down when you do the recommended maintenance.

Plus, we're getting breakthroughs like this, a simple blood testing lab that can be implanted under the skin, detecting changes in chemicals like troponin that are released hours before a heart attack, and that can also make chemotherapy more personalized. It can be made for less than a dollar.

Or consider the problem of energy. MIT has combined quantum dots and nanowires to both increase efficiency and use a wider spectrum of light. An Israeli company called 3G Solar has developed Dye Solar Cells, built with low-cost materials like glass and carbon powder.

This means a whole new generation of lower-cost, higher-efficiency solar systems will be heading to market within a few years, taking solar costs well below grid parity, creating a new abundance of power.


Or consider the problem of global warming. Here in Georgia, Michael Adams has been working for a decade with a microorganism called pyrococcus furiosus, first found in geothermal vents in the deep ocean. He has now tweaked it to feed on carbon dioxide from the air and turn that fuel into an industrial chemical that can be used for power. It's true carbon-neutral fuel that doesn't even require a feedstock like corn or pine or algae. It's an entirely organic process.

With scientists around the world now connected to one another, to the world of knowledge, and able to handle complex calculations from their desks that used to take expensive mainframes, the pace of change is accelerating at an unbelievable rate. The same network can bring these changes to the market faster than ever before.

It's not an April Fool's joke. It's all true. How can you remain a pessimist in the face of it?

At the time of publication, the author was long GOOG.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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