Friday, February 10, 2012

"PayPal Founder Talks Technology"

From the Harvard Crimson:

Peter A. Thiel, founding CEO of PayPal and Facebook board member, discussed education, innovation, and the role of government in solving major societal problems at the Institute of Politics on Monday night.
History professor Niall C. D. Ferguson moderated the discussion, which focused on the relationship between technology and economic growth in the U.S.

Thiel addressed the uncertain future of technological development, an issue that he explored in a 2011 article entitled “The End of the Future,” published in the National Review Online.

Thiel argued that innovation in fields such as agriculture and transportation has become dangerously slow, leading to economic stagnation around the world.

“I think that we’ve seen progress in the virtual world, but not in the world of stuff,” Thiel said. “The U.S. has produced a ton of innovation in computers and finance over the past 30 years, but we have to ask if that implicitly twisted innovation in other areas.”

Thiel attributed this lack of innovation to structural defects in politics and education today....MORE
I agree that the advances to come in the "real" world will be more exciting than those in the virtual but it's already happening.
As a partial counterpoint see Canadian Geographic's "SPACE-AGE FARMING":
The Indian Head Research Farm “checkerboard” as seen from above (Photo: Tim Smith)

We enter the Indian Head Research Farm headquarters, a small, well-organized village of buildings, Quonset huts and grain bins arranged around a main yard. The complex is surrounded by a dense grove of shelterbelt trees. Beyond the treeline, grain fields stretch to the horizon. The farm, located 75 kilometres east of Regina, is busy this April day, as people and machinery come and go. Spring has arrived late to Saskatchewan; a ferocious blizzard halted everything for a few days, but now seeding is in full swing.

Guy Lafond leads me over to a large Quonset where a tractor and seeding drill are parked. An intense and engaging agriculture scientist, Lafond is one of the veterans of Indian Head who has made his mark during his 25-year career. While Lafond chats with a colleague, I take a look at the business end of the seeding drill. I recognize the furrow openers that cut a path in the soil. Just behind them are separate seed and fertilizer delivery tubes and, behind those, hydraulically controlled packer wheels. The top of the machine is a complex maze of bins, delivery tubes, air compressors and electronic sending units.

There’s something else that’s out of the ordinary: a Global Positioning System (GPS) monitor, similar to what you’d find in a passenger vehicle, is mounted in the cab, and the tractor features hydraulic steering cylinders that I’ve never seen before. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that someone did a “Pimp My Ride” job on this dusty farm vehicle. Lafond picks up on my curiosity. “That tractor you’re looking at is a good example of precision-farming technology,” he says with a smile. “It’s equipped with auto-steering.”

A tractor that drives itself is GPS wizardry not normally associated with farming. But as I am about to learn during my visit to Indian Head, this is only one application in the constellation of space-age farming tricks with far-reaching potential. “Precision agriculture” is helping farmers change how they work and learn things about their land they never thought possible. GPS and Earth-observation satellites are offering both navigational know-how to farm machinery and a treasure trove of data on soil and crop health, down to a few square metres, to farmers. With this new knowledge and tool kit, farmers can tailor their practices to the varying conditions of the land, which means lighter applications of fertilizer, higher crop yield and more effective soilconservation practices. Indian Head, it turns out, has a lot to say about the future of Canadian farming....MORE