Big Ideas That Will Shape the Future

I was visiting a friend, over winter break, who offered me some home made carmel. It was quite tastey but managed to pull out one of my many crowns. I called my dentist on Monday morning to get an appointment to have the crown reglued. I have known my dentist for decades and we often chat for a few minutes at each visit. It was crazy busy in the dentist's office on top of being a Monday. He zipped into the room where I was and said "Say something inspiring." apparently struggling against the Monday morning craziness. I thought for a minute and said "Well, there seems to be more big ideas out there now than I have ever seen before." We talked, I gave a few examples and things perked up a bit. A few days later as I recalled the incident, it occured to me that this was not an idle observation. It was true. A lot of ideas that I have stumbled upon in the past two decades that may have been fringe at the time were becoming mainstream. In addition, new ideas were coming out that would almost certainly have a major impact on the future. If technology has driven change in the past couple decades, I think that ideas will drive change in the next couple decades. Some of these ideas will be enabled by technology. But, the ideas will be the drivers. I mention the story because much of what one discovers is serendipity. Had I not tried the carmel, had it not been crazy in the dentist's office, had I not stumbled on certain books in the library, the notion of these big ideas may never had occured to me. But it did and I find it intriging.

The economist John Maynard Keyes once said:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.

I have always liked that quote and always enjoy warning people about the tsunami of ideas appearing on the horizon. Most people just ignore the warning and wake up one morning in a very different world wondering what happened. But, I enjoy big ideas so I thought I would start a new page to start cataloging them. Following, in no particular order, are some big ideas and what I think they mean.

Positive Psychology

Back in the 1960's people began to realize that what you did with your body, from exercizing to sunbathing to the way you eat, had a major impact on your success, health and well being. Today people are beginning to realize that whay you do with your mind also has major impact on your success, health and well being. The emerging field of Positive Psychology turns away from the traditional questions of how do we fix crazy people to a more progressive question of how can we make the lives of normal people better. Today if you see someone have eggs and sausage for breakfast, a cheeseburge sub with extra mayo and fries for lunch, and then something really decadent for dinner, you think - well that person is heading to an early grave. In the futue we will look at behaviors and habits, beliefs and ideas with the same critical eye. What ideas do you hold that are the cognitive equivalent of a cheeseburge and fries for lunch?

Big Data The future impact of Big Data cannot be overstated. In fact, it is difficult to find analogies that will put it into perspective. An easy analogy would be to compare Big Data with Information Technology. Information Technology has been transformative over the past few decades with the introduction of personal computers, the world wide web, mobile applications and the like. In the next few decades it will be data not technology that transforms the way we live our lives. But, even that analogy fails to explain the impact of Big Data.

A bette analogy is to compare data with oil. Prior to the mid 1800's when oil drilling first began, all petroleum oil was found seeping up to the surface in pools. Once drilling began oil became plentiful and a great deal of what we take for granted today was a result of plentiful oil. Some examples include the internal combustion engine and all its derivatives; macadam to make highways, plastics, oil heating and even lifestyle items like local gas stations, car styles, drive in movies and so on. If you were to roll back the discovery of oil drilling very little of what we see as daily life would be left.

Big Data is similar in that data like oil has been around for a long time, but not in massive quantities. Massive quantities change things dramatically. What will these changes look like? who knows. Imagine someone in the mid 1800's trying to imagine the automobile, the interstate highway system, and drive in movies. But, even if we can't say exactly what will happen, the changes will be massive.

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