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Technology and Business save the world

Not the headline you typically see.  We usually hear that our technology is the source of all our problems.  Business is also the villain in most of the stories we hear today.  While it is true that we have a number of new problems that have come from our social experiments involving business and technology, they both have done marvelous good in the world while having their share of headaches.  More important than what they have achieved is what they can do to help us solve the problems we face today.

What are the problems plaguing the world today?  Poverty, Hunger, War, Climate Change, Water Shortage, Trump?  Whatever the problem is, the solution involves driving change, a change of habits, a change in perspective, a change of action.  Business and Technology have been successful in getting people to change.  The telephone got people talking who you couldn’t see.  The mobile phone made it so that you could talk to another person anywhere that they went. Now the smartphone has teenagers not talking to anyone.  While the changes may not be exactly what we wanted, the changes in technology have instigated the changes in our behaviors. It is through the business model that we have access to that new technology.

The thing about business is that it creates value. We decide to buy something because what we are buying is more valuable than the cash in our pocket. A business sells something for more than it costs to make it.  The difference between the cost to produce and the selling price is the value created by the business, we also call that profits.  A business is, selfishly, motivated to create more and more value by continuing to produce those products. Imagine if businesses decided not to keep creating value. No food in the grocery stores, no products on Amazon, no restaurants, etc.  The thing is, businesses are encouraged to keep on doing what they are doing, and that is a great thing.

The simple point is if we want to fix the problems we see in the world today, we need to start businesses that have solutions to those problems. Take water shortage as a problem.  Water shortage is something that hits us on multiple fronts as water is needed for a range of things.  As water gets more expensive we will become more concerned about how we can use less water.  We’ll be looking for devices that reduce the amount of water used or eliminate the need for water entirely.  Businesses that make those devices, and creatively sell them will be how this problem is solved. While it may seem odd to solve a problem by profiting off the solution it is the way that we ensure that the solutions continue to come.  Businesses that forget that they need to continue to provide value in new ways will be overcome by the upshot company that sees where the market is not working. Maybe not the perfect solution, but it does work.

If you have been wondering how you can make a difference with all the problem in the world, maybe you could consider starting a business to provide a solution. It takes tremendous courage to get started and it is not without risk. You don’t have to go it alone and usually, you will need help. What is great is that help is available to those that look for help. If you have an idea but no money, start searching for ways to finance your idea.  If you have money but don’t know where to start, look around and find a cause you can get passionate about. I started my company, Transcend Innovations, to help turn those ideas into profitable businesses to try and make this a better world.  We help to shape the idea into a product that will add value to the market.  There are so many problems looking for a solution, we just need people willing to take the leap and bring solutions to the world. Are you one of those people?

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Our Economy’s Productivity Plateau

I’m of the age where we have bridged the digital divide. I saw how computers have made seemingly slow inroads in more and more of our lives. As a child, if I wanted information, I had to go to a book, maybe an encyclopedia or perhaps a knowledgeable adult. When we traveled, there was always a navigator who was looking at a map and keeping the driver informed of the next turn. Complex calculations required a piece of paper and a calculator, I even remember using an abacus. Phone calls were only made from fixed positions and text messages were notes written on a piece of paper and hand delivered.

While there is a sharp contrast in the convenience of the technology we have today, what is interesting is with that convenience, we don’t really get things done any faster. Having an easy to access GPS navigator may eliminate the need to occasionally stop and ask for directions, we still have to drive at roughly the same speeds. We can find information faster, but we don’t seem to do anything better with that knowledge.

As an engineer that saw both hand drawings and computer-aided design, I anticipated that designs would come dramatically faster with computers. I was really surprised to see that designing with CAD did not decrease the design time. We are able to get more detailed models, solve issues before they are manufactured and usually reduce the hard cost of development, but it still takes about the same time. Some would even argue that it takes longer now. Why is that?

This, of course, isn’t limited to just engineering, it goes across the entire economy. We do have more data, and we are learning a great deal from that data, but that data isn’t making us more productive. Productivity is the value that is created in a given timeframe and we still generate roughly the same value in the same amount of time as we did 50 years ago.

I would propose that the industrial revolution and our ability to innovate in that toolset hit the optimal point half-century ago. The machines that humans use to do things faster and better have stabilized and the improvements have not significantly increased outputs. Cars, tractors, factory automation, shipping, distribution, etc. each of these areas is only marginally better than they were a half-century ago. Add to that, the cost and effort to make those improvements may have outweighed the productivity gains or just evened them out.

How do we improve productivity, if we still think that is the goal? The answer seems to be rooted in how productivity is measured, the output per person over time. The limitation is in the person. A person seems to have a finite ability in augmenting the machines that they control. We need to eat, sleep, and engage in a range of activities to keep our minds sharp. Study after study has shown that increasing a human’s time on the job, doesn’t improve productivity, especially when thinking is the primary requirements. How do we get past the human? We need the machine to start thinking!

The idea that the machine can think, or should think has been around for a long time. This has been both anticipated and feared. To have our machines prepare our food, keep our environment tidy and take care of the menial parts of our life is very compelling. We could end up becoming slaves to our machines is what is feared. For us to be more productive though, we need the machine to discriminate at a level that we would call intelligence. For the car to drive, it needs to be able to react to unforeseen changes in the road. For a good haircut from a machine, it needs a sense of style. For a machine to design a building, it needs to make countless decisions that are subjective in nature.

With the many ideas about how this future looks, I see the same potential for good and ill that technology improvements have made throughout my life. I don’t see the machines primarily looking like humans as has permeated our vision of the future. I think most of our smart machines will continue to look like appliances. I think that we will see new machines that tend to look and act more like insects or small animals, machines that can move, monitor and react to the world around us. Machines that are cheap, efficient and specialize in specific tasks. Productivity will then happen with the machines directing themselves without the need for humans to direct every step of the process. The wheels are already in motion for this change to take place, how long it takes to move to this economy is now the question.