We Need More Tech Visionaries

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-07-06 Email Print this article Print

We need more people who are blazing a path to innovation and progress—and fewer who are serving up gadgets and gizmos that wind up in closets and landfills.

The unfortunate byproduct of technology is an ability to produce mountains of useless devices. I'm guessing that 99 percent of the gadgets currently available will quickly vanish into the digital dustbin of history.

What's more, with the Internet of things (IoT) steaming ahead, the situation is deteriorating rapidly. I mean, really, do we need connected liquor bottles, diapers, toothbrushes and belts?

In an era increasingly defined by mind-bending triviality (think Kardashians, Facebook memes and Justin Beiber's latest "significant other"), it's refreshing to see that a few visionaries still exist. (RIP Steve Jobs.) You should count Richard Branson and Elon Musk in this category.

These men are among a handful of people who continue to dream—and to look to technology to build a better future. This approach to life is a throwback to the 1960s and the NASA space missions that redefined our sense of identity and the way we think about our world.

Both Branson and Musk are tossing piles of cash and resources toward revolutionary technologies. Branson is hoping to open the heavens to private space travel with Virgin Galactic—at US $250,000 per flight! Musk's SpaceX is reportedly looking to deploy low- flying satellites that would provide high-speed Internet around the globe.

But Musk is also blazing into new territory with his Hyperloop high-speed ground transport system and Tesla automobiles. It's not so much that he has pushed the envelope on electric vehicles—though he has clearly taken these vehicles where they haven't gone before. It's that Musk has redefined the idea that it's necessary to make trade-offs for power and performance. Tesla automobiles rock.

To be sure, Musk is radically changing the underlying technology that drives cars, as well as the ripples that now extend throughout the entire automotive industry. For example, updates and recalls have always required vehicle owners to drive to a dealer and have a technician perform the necessary work.

Tesla, however, has already performed updates over the air. Analysts say that updatable software on vehicles will change the way we think about and use cars.

More than anything else, Branson and Musk are changing the way we think. They have established themselves as innovators.

We need more people who are blazing a path to innovation and progress—and fewer who are serving up completely forgettable gimmicks, gadgets and gizmos that wind up in closets and landfills after only a few months.

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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