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Google just hosted a series of super high-level talks and invited about 50 entrepreneurs, innovators, and scientists to the deluxe CordeValle resort in the mountains south of San Jose.They were going through some pretty radical ideas. The kind of stuff that could change the world.
It was called Google’s “Solve For X” conference, a series of talks where some of the smartest people in the world tried to tackle some of the world’s biggest problems.
Google invited them to introduce radical ideas for solving the world’s most complicated problems, like water scarcity and recycling electronics without creating hazardous waste.
So what were they talking about? We’ve assembled a full digest for you.
Speaker: Mary Lou Epson, founder of Pixel Qi Corporation
The Talk: It's fine to display an image on a screen from a computer -- but what if you could display an image that shows up in your mind?
Well -- there's a good chance we might be able to do that before too long. Parts of the brain light up when someone imagines seeing an image that's 'remarkably similar' to parts of the brain that light up when seeing the same image in the real world.
Now we can use scanning technology like MRIs to 'visualise' what you are seeing in your mind's eye.
Speaker: Omri Amirav-Drory, Ph.D. is the founder & CEO of Genome Compiler Corp
The Talk: You can create tools from a computer program. There's no reason we can't create synthetic products from living objects with the same approach, right?
Nowadays, we've become so efficient at mapping genetic code, that we can 'write our own software' using a genetic code and use living cells to read that code and create synthetic plastics, energy sources and other types of 'synthetic tool kits.'
Speaker: Babak Parviz, McMorrow Associate Professor of Innovation at the University of Washington.
The Talk: A huge percentage of the population doesn't have perfect vision. Lots of people use glasses, lots of people use contacts.
Well, that's all wasted real estate. You should pack those contact lenses with a heads-up display and more data, according to Parviz.
And we are pretty close to being able to do that already.
Speaker: Adrien Treuille, assistant professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon
The Talk: The world is full of experts. How do we get them in the same room?
Well, collaboration programs have changed so much that there are new channels to get a bunch of smart people in the same 'room.' Knowledge creation was dominated by big universities and corporations, but it's shifting to ad-hoc networks of people on the internet.
Crowdsourced education, research, invention and innovation. Sounds pretty sweet.
Speaker: Nicholas Negroponte, founder of MIT Media Lab, Wired Magazine, and One Laptop per Child.
The Talk: It's got to be possible to put on a helmet and put a book into your head without reading it.
Well, that's pretty far away, but there's a more reasonable goal. What would it take to create a powerful, rugged piece of technology that anyone can access -- and use?
That was the mission behind the One Laptop per Child program -- create a way for people to educate themselves and have the tools to learn on their own. Hundreds of millions of schools can't go to school, so build tools for that audience.
Speaker: Kevin Dowling, VP of R&D at MC10
The Talk: Technology isn't just limited by Moore's law (which governs how much faster processing can become over time) -- but how it's packaged, too.
Computers today come in boxy systems that are made up of circuit boards. They even started on wafers.
It's time to break away from that, and we finally have the tools to 'etch' silicon in new ways that can create 'stretchable' electronics. That opens up the use for a lot of electronics in medicine, wearable electronics and other kinds of technological advancements.
Speaker: Rob McGinnis is Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Oasys
The talk: Not everyone has immediate access to fresh, potable water. But one way to having the water you need to survive is finding ways to desalinate -- to remove salt -- from salt water.
Suddenly, the tiny fraction of water that's potable suddenly grows by a huge amount and is even more accessible. But it's even more important to desalinate water that's used with crops -- which is becoming more saline the more its used.
And we have access to the technology to desalinate water now -- all it takes is making it scale.
Speaker: David Berry is a Partner at Flagship Ventures and CEO of Essentient
The talk: The world is already pretty exhausted in feeding 7 billion people -- so we have to increase the amount of fuel every person consumes and the amount of food every person consumes.
How do you do that without using more water that's already on the planet or wrecking the environment?
Berry's answer is to understand the molecular nature of food and create a food source that converts the basic components of food directly into calories and nutrition, instead of having 'intermediate steps.' Creating nutrients directly at less than a tenth of the cost we see today.
Speaker: Mike Cheiky is the President and Founder of CoolPlanet Energy Systems
The talk: Plants have a carbon-reducing phase, which removes carbon from the atmosphere. Every summer, the CO2 level of the planet goes down, but then it goes up.
There is much more land in the northern hemisphere, so when the sun heats up the northern hemisphere, the planet grows trees and reduces the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. When winter comes, the carbon level goes up.
Plants only absorb carbon when it's in sunlight and when it's growing -- at night, plants are still living, so they give off carbon.
So what if you can cut off that point where the plants release carbon? What if you could convert that agri-waste into fuel?
That's the mission for Cheiky.
Speaker: Mir Imran, CEO and Chairman of InCube Labs, a life sciences research lab
The talk: Some treatments for diseases are dangerous -- even more dangerous and toxic to the human body than the actual diseases.
It's time to find a mechanism to accurately deliver the right pharmacological agents at the right time, according to Imran. That kind of mechanism would help treat difficult conditions like Alzheimers and depression.
We have the tools, thanks to advancements in wireless tech and sensors, to create a kind of device that knows when and what to deliver and is built right into your brain.
Speaker: Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet
The talk: Road infrastructure is so weak in undeveloped parts of the world that it's impossible to get goods and products from one side of a country to another.
But instead of building a bunch of freeways like in the developed world, we should use a system of unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver goods from one point to another.
That cuts the delivery process down from hours or days to just minutes. That could be enough to save lives, even, when you're talking about medicine.
Speaker: Anthony Sutera, entrepreneur in communications, specializing in radio, satellite and wireless communications systems
The talk: Imagine having a mobile device that can transmit a wireless signal twice as far at the same power consumption today -- or the same distance at half the power.
Well, its totally possible, thanks to some new technology created by Sutera's firm -- which specialises in spray-on nanotechnology.
The best part? It was discovered by accident, Sutera says.
Speaker: Neal Stephenson, author
The talk: Some of the coolest ideas ever created started in a sci-fi novel.
Those kinds of crazy sci-fi ideas inspire the top entrepreneurs and scientists in the world to build real-world results.
Stephenson says it's time to get back to the basics. Time to get the horse back in front of the cart.
Start writing sci-fi novels, folks.
Speaker: Privahini Bradoo is the Co-Founder and CEO of BioMine
The talk: The explosive proliferation of smartphones and powerful technology has created two problems -- a shortage of new components and a lot of electric waste.
We need to find ways to recycle all our old iPhones and iPads to re-use those raw materials moving forward. The obsolescence rate increases as technology improves, and we'll reach a critical point where there aren't enough raw materials left over to build new products.
That's what companies like BioMine are working on.
Speaker: Juan Enriquez, Managing Director of Excel Venture Management
The talk: What happens when you create a technology that lets you assemble simple, standard, interchangeable parts in a living cell?
It's a big deal. You get the chance to create off-the-shelf parts -- like at a radio shack -- to build some synthetic piece of biology.
Like organs. You can build it just like a circuit board.
Speaker: Daphne Preuss, founder of Chromatin
The talk: The world bank puts the value of food production at about 10 per cent of global GDP. It impacts a huge number of industries and it's a foundation of the economy.
And it's chronically mismanaged. About 2 billion people are malnourished, Preuss says. It's time to improve agricultural productivity worldwide.
That means managing at a very technical level the days that you plant crops, to make sure the first plant shades the next. Or you can plan for birds that are migrating in by planting cheap stuff around your important crops.
It's a big data problem, and once you can crunch that data, you can create some powerful decision-making technology. That solves the problem.
Speaker: Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University
The talk: Michael Crow has been trying to re-imagine universities from a publication and patent factory to a place that inspires radical thinking.
That's a pretty radical notion, considering where universities and schools have been for a while. All the best ideas come from individuals who stand out as 'spikes' -- but the universities aren't able to create more of those types of ideas.
You can solve that problem by reshaping how universities run -- away from a bureaucratized machines to spots that inspire innovation.