Bioprogramming, Blockchain, Digital Governance, Energy and Transportation, integrated reality, Inteligent Processes, Neurogamification, Tech and Business

Beyond Digital: 6 Exponential Revolutions – The Book

I have put together my explorations of Exponential Technologies in my new book “Beyond Digital: Six Exponential Revolutions that are changing our world” (en castellano “Más Allá de Digital: Seis Revoluciones Exponenciales que están cambiando el mundo”) which you can find on Amazon both in physical and digital format.

The book is my attempt to give anyone who wants to understand what is happening a window on six new waves of change that are coming our way through an accessible understanding of the technological underpinnings and plenty of real-world examples. The six technological revolutions I cover are:

  1. Intelligent Processes. The application of AI to information processing and the transformation it will represent in software, business, and government processes. How many processes that now require human intervention will be digitalized through AI allowing cheaper, faster and higher quality outcomes. This could be the end of drudge work and lousy customer experience but might bring significant technological unemployment and inequality
  2. Integrated Reality. How IoT, Virtual and Augmented Reality, Robots and 3D printing are blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds. Allowing us to interact with the physical world with the same ease we do in digital, and to embody ourselves in the digital world with the same subjective experience as in the physical world. This will bend our physical world even more to our will but could create alienation and escapism as in Ready Player One or a techno-controlled police state that makes 1984 seem liberal.
  3. The New Energy and Transportation Matrix. How solar, electric and autonomous technologies will change how we produce energy and transport ourselves. Potentially bringing an age of free and clean energy and swift and secure transportation. We could potentially be able to overcome global warming, ecological impact and the toll on human lives and time that our current transportation system takes. At the same time, this new matrix will tear down the energy and transportation infrastructure jobs on which many of us depend.
  4. Digital Governance. How Blockchain technologies together with cryptography and the cloud are ushering a new age of financial markets, trust, and law. Digitising money, trust, contracts and the law to give them the same digital speed and quality we have grown used to in the digital world. Still in its early stages, it holds the promise to make our world freer and fairer, with the parallel dangers a bug or a virus could have if computer code runs our financial, legal, and even democratic systems.
  5. Bioprogramming. Understanding the code in which life has been written and learning to manipulate it is given us surprising power and flexibility in using and changing life for our own purposes. The ability to edit, program and even build from scratch living organisms, allows us to change living beings like we change computer programs. With amazing potential in terms of healthcare, human augmentation, and biofabrication, but unexpected risks as we play Mother Nature at an accelerated rate.
  6. Neuroprogramming. Our understanding of neurobiology and neuroeconomics is decoding how our brain, the most complex structure we know of in the Universe, operates and thinks. Being able to understand our neural circuits is giving us new paths in creating technology that replicates the best design principles of our brain and interacts with it effectively. It will be used to further accelerate our technology, augment human capabilities and cure the human suffering linked to brain disease, at the same time it has the potential to take digital manipulation even further robbing us of free choice.

The book would not have been possible with the help of my wife, my family, my friends, my colleagues in Deloitte and McKinsey, the readers of my blog and some dear readers of the beta version of the book who painstakingly read and help me improve the English and Spanish versions of the book. I am really grateful to all of them. As Mario Vargas Llosa says: “Escribir no es un pasatiempo, un deporte. Es una servidumbre que hace de sus víctimas unos esclavos” (“Writing is not a hobby or a sport. It is a bondage that makes slaves out of its victims”). That bondage is mostly born by those around as the slave happily bangs on the keyboard.

Energy and Transportation, Inteligent Processes, Tech and Business

Move fast and break (other people’s) things: The Uber fatality and Facebook data breach

The Uber autonomous car fatality and Facebook data breach are signposts of Big Tech hubris. Big Techs don’t take into account the broader society’s resources, interest, and rules. They move fast in their race for super-profitable monopolies even if they break other people’s lives or privacy in the process. Big Tech companies should learn from their mistakes and change their attitude to avoid regulation or antitrust action.

Apparently, the Uber autonomous car fatality and the Facebook data breach do not have much in common. However, on closer examination, they are both indicative of the Big Tech companies hubris and arrogance that make them think they are beyond working together with the broader economy or following regulations. Breaking things is ok as long as you move fast to win the race and other people are hurt with the breaking. Let’s examine each incident in turn.

Uber autonomous car fatality

March 20th, 2018 might pass on to history as the first time an autonomous robot killed a person without human intervention. It was not the Terminator or Agent Smith, the footage looks like many other traffic accidents. A badly illuminated road at night, when suddenly a figure appears too fast for the car to stop. All is over in less than a couple of seconds.

First, my condolences to the loved ones of the pedestrian. Traffic accidents are a sad and sudden way to lose someone. A single second can make the difference between life or death. According to the WHO, there are more than a million traffic-related deaths per year, one every 25 seconds, a large number of which are in the developing world. Even in the US, traffic injuries are the top 1 or 2 accidental causes of death for almost all demographics.

The causes of the accident are clear and seem to exonerate Uber from the traditional perspective. Looking at the video the accident, it seems it would have been hard to avoid for any human driver. The failsafe driver in the Uber only saw the pedestrian approximately one second before impact and could do nothing. The pedestrian was crossing at night in the middle of a busy road with no illumination within 100m of the closest pedestrian crosswalk. A human driver would have probably have ended with the same outcome, and likely not considered at fault based on the police chief statement.

However, from another perspective, the accident is inexplicable and inexcusable. Given the power of technology for focused and precise action with all available information, it seems negligent to have this type of accident occur. The investigation will ultimately determine if the systems didn’t pick up the signal or there was another deeper failure. However, it is clear that there are simple ways in which the pedestrian could have been detected. Couldn’t Uber be informed of what smartphones are nearby? The pedestrian was most probably carrying a smartphone and her carrier could have relayed that information to the Uber car, at least making it pause and slow down due to the undetected obstacle. Hasn’t some glitch like this happened before to some of the other autonomous car companies? It probably has, but each company is developing the technology in secret to try to outmaneuver the others so best practices are not shared putting lives in danger.

Big Tech companies are competing amongst them in a race to make autonomous vehicles possible. The goal is laudable as it could drastically reduce the more than 1 million deaths a year and the untold suffering traffic accidents cause through death and injury. However, the race is being run for profits, so there is little collaboration with other players that could help like telcos or with the other participants in the race. Given that human lives and human safety are at stake in the race it should be run with society in mind. It would take a change of attitude, from Big Techs being focused on winning and creating super-profitable monopolies, to being focused on winning against traffic deaths and drudgery to create a better world. Their current attitude will be self-defeating in the long run, and the win-win attitude would be rewarded by regulators and the public at large.

The Facebook data breach

Mark Zuckerberg is famous for having a poster in the Facebook offices that says “Move Fast, Break Things”. That is an embodiment of the hacker and agile culture and something very commendable when you pay the breaking your own money. However, when you move fast and break things with your users’ data and trust “Facebook made mistakes” sounds like an understatement. Especially, when that data breach was allegedly used to change the results of a US election (admittedly not in a way that Zuckerberg or most Facebook executives would have wanted) and was kept secret and happening for almost 4 years.

First, let’s understand what is the data breach. Apparently, Facebook app developers could download and access detailed information about their users and their friends. As usual, it required user permission for the app to access that information. That permission was construed to mean that all the information could be downloaded and mined without limit and outside the context it was originally granted. Cambridge Analytica, the company at the center of the scandal, created a seemingly innocuous personality test app called “thisisyourdigitallife” that promised to read out your personality if you gave it access to all the data. The company then downloaded all the information from the users and their friends and used it to fuel its different data mining campaigns.

The data breach was really no data breachas Facebook willingly handed the information wholesale to their developers. Facebook afterward took no responsibility for what the developers did with the information and didn’t audit or police it in any way. Cambridge Analytica has gone out in the open because of its signature role in the US election, but there are probably hundreds of other developers that were mining personal information from Facebook less high profile direct marketing and sales efforts.

Facebook has only apologized when the pressure has mounted and the proposed solutions are to clamp down on developers. Maybe Facebook is not legally at fault and has all the necessary legal permissions from its users. However, this highlights that the current system gives unregulated powers to firms like Google and Facebook’s in terms of handling information. Their business models are predicated on capturing untold amounts of data about their users and then turning back and selling it to advertisers or however is willing to pay. Should they be able to accumulate information without regulation or responsibility? Do we want information that can turn an election to be sold indiscriminately and unaccountably to the highest bidder?

Facebook is another example of a big tech that needs to mend its ways. It needs to take at heart its users interest and not just the amount of advertising dollars. Information should only be sold with user consent and with the utmost care. Users should be informed about the economic transactions that are happening with their data and maybe get a cut from it. Data portability should be available, making sure the data belongs to the user and the user can migrate to a different service without losing all his or her history. Number portability was necessary to create a competitive telecom marketplace and user data portability will be necessary to limit the internet monopolies.

Energy and Transportation, Tech and Business

The Self-Reliant Homestead

Thomas Jefferson was enamored of the yeoman farmer. The pillar of democracy who sustained the republic by independent thinking and hard work. The idea of an independent citizen who had relative autonomy is more difficult to entertain nowadays. After all, most people are deeply enmeshed in the web of modern civilization and couldn’t live independently even for one week. The most poignant sight in disaster movies is always the empty supermarket, as soon as it is thoroughly looted there is no more food or modern life.

This could change significantly over the next decade, especially as the new energy matrix comes online and other technologies are fully developed. Solar and storage hold the promise of energy independence for the household. It would take more panels and storage than the optimal grid-connected setting, but it is totally feasible to have an isolated home that is energy independent in most latitudes. As we will see energy, in the form of electricity, is the basis for all the rest.

With electricity, you can have lighting, electronics, cooking, heating, and cooling. This forms the basis of current modern life.  Each of those would require specialized equipment, but with that equipment, the home could be completely self-reliant.

On top of that, you would need water and sanitation. As we have seen in the New Energy Matrix Facts and Speculations water is also feasible without unduly burdening the power system, and that could also have water and organic waste recycling. Achieving a relatively circular management of materials and water will be increasingly important as we look to reduce our impact on earth

Next, we would go for the part that would be more alien for Jefferson: the computing, storage, and communications infrastructure. While huge datacenters seem to be the norm now, there is actually less and less reason to go for massive scale a. Many are heralding the return of “personal storage”. A cloud node with the requisite computing and storage power, along with radio connectivity capability in a mesh network style wouldn’t tax the energy capabilities of our self-reliant homestead much.  A fiber or satellite link would take care of the connection with the outside world.

With electricity, cloud, and communications in place we would be able to add a number of very important amenities for modern life with the right electronics and cloud content:

  • Education and entertainment by leveraging cloud storage and communications. We can think of the equivalent to OTT content consumption services, but with the contents stored in the homestead cloud. Storage costs are falling so quickly that the cost of having an almost limitless library of film, games, music, books, and educational content would be almost zero. You would need the electronics to consume such as screens, loudspeakers, and gaming consoles.
  • Creative work could be performed from the homestead. Today an increasing array of professionals can work almost fully from home: writers, content creators in general, coders, customer support, inside sales, some healthcare professionals… With the right hardware and software, you can have the setting you need for your chosen profession. Collaboration tools will help you interact with your teammates when needed.
  • Mobility through an array of electric vehicles, fully rechargeable in the homestead thanks to the electricity and cloud. These vehicles could have a substantial range and allow for both passenger and goods transport. It doesn’t need to be only cars and motorbikes. We can think also of drones and flying vehicles, completely autonomous and electric.
  • Social interactions through messaging and transport to other homesteads or social settings. Many social interactions are now electronic, with more to come with Integrated Reality. The homestead would also allow transport through the mobility capability to other locations.
  • Digital governance technologies would allow the homestead to participate politically and economically in the broader republic effectively at all levels. Each homestead would be running a full Blockchain node giving it monetary and voting sovereignty.

For real independence, we would still need to go beyond and leverage the surrounding environment with Integrated Reality (robots, IoT, and full sensing).  This would be mostly for extracting, processing, and recycling needed resources:

  • Food and supplements through precision automated farming. This would probably require more energy for self-driving tractors and irrigation, so we could have a separate industrial-scale solar panel and storage array.
  • Basic materials mining through scanning and robotic miners. To be able to extract from the environment whatever materials are needed in the least invasive way possible. We could target the specific elements that could be reprocessed as needed.
  • A healthcare station, in which automated stations can diagnose and treat basic illnesses. More serious conditions would probably still need hospital care. A great example of this is the Tricorder X Prize. Launched in 2012 and finished in 2017 it has awarded 2,5 million USD to two teams for creating a handheld device that can be used by a normal person to diagnose the twelve most common diseases.
  • Security and surveillance, with the sensing mesh allowing a detailed view of what is happening, and reaction capabilities to natural or human-made disasters and threats.
  • 3D Scanning and Printing capability to create new objects adapted to all needs, including basic ones like clothing or home decoration, but also more advanced ones such as the servicing of all the electronics. This would include the capability of actually duplicating all the homestead’s components. Here, the unsolved problem yet is how to deal with the different materials. Current 3D printing is very reliant on plastics and as such on oil. It would be critical to find an alternative material base and way to deal with complex fabrication such as electronics or robots.

This would create a really self-reliant and autonomous homestead. Humans could live independently of broader society in these settings for a long period of times and with almost no impact on the environment. Of course, we might choose to continue living in cities, I for one, prefer the hustle and bustle of a modern city (especially once we get rid of ICE vehicles). However, the self-reliant homestead would be open for those who prefer at least partial solitude.

It could also be used as a way to colonize other worlds, which apparently is Elon Musk’s main goal with all his technology developments. You can imagine these homesteads, with additional pressurization and air processing components, dotting the Moon or Mars.

Anything you would be missing in the autonomous homestead? Who would you take with you in a long self-reliant seclusion?

Energy and Transportation, Tech and Business

Exponential Revolution #2 – The New Energy Matrix Facts and Speculations

There is no better way of understanding Exponential Revolution #2, the New Energy Matrix, than looking at the real-world examples. Here we cover the facts of the case, in which the evidence clearly shows that the Exponential Revolution is already taking place and will continue to advance. We also look at speculations, the areas in which the change is not so well established, but that already show significant progress, either through real changes or large investments by credible players.

Facts: Change is already happening

Solar and renewable power. Clean and endless energy

Solar and wind, and some other forms of renewable energy are reaching and surpassing grid parity. This means that their cost is starting to be cheaper than that of fossil fuels for generating electricity. Many experts link this declining cost curve with the impact of digital on renewable technologies, although it represents a combination of many factors.

The history of solar and wind energy goes back to the ancient world, with the Greeks. Chinese and Romans already exploiting these sources of power to a certain extent. However, it was only in the late 19th Century that solar and wind energy for electricity production started to develop. The first solar array was a 1% efficient selenium based cell installed on a New York rooftop in 1884. Over the next century, solar power was confined to specialized uses such as satellites, but the technology slowly developed.It was in 2000 when concern over climate change started a drive to increase renewable energy and feed-in tariffs were introduced.

Initially, Wind Power had the advantage and enjoyed an important boom, from less than 10 GW of installed power in the late 90s to over half a Terawatt today according to the Global Wind Council. Overall usage of Wind in the global electricity grid is near 5%, with many countries over 10% (e.g. the US) and some over 40% (e.g. Denmark). The global wind industry has developed significantly and installs over 50GW of power every year.

Wind Power has important limitations, as it requires large favorable sites which are severely impacted by the deployment of wind turbines. Its cost progression seems to have peaked at 4-5 cents per KWh, which is comparable to fossil fuels (even when we don’t factor in the environmental advantages) Consequently while wind will continue to grow and it is an important part of reducing dependency on fossil fuels, it will not change the nature of our energy matrix.

The technology with the opportunity to be the real game changes is solar. After all solar input to the Earth is orders of magnitude greater than our current energy consumption, and solar panels can be installed with limited environmental impact in small quantities. Consequently, solar has the opportunity to transform our energy matrix and make electricity virtually free.

Of course, solar has held this promise for the last decades and the changes haven’t happened yet. So why is it going to happen now? Basically, the reason is two-fold: grid parity for utility-scale systems and for home based systems. Improvements in technology and especially in the installation and management process have reduced the cost significantly, with favorable locations already below the 3 cents per KWh.

In terms of utility-scale projects, we have seen impressive projects well below grid parity cost in many locations. In the US in May 2017, a Tucson utility inked the deal for a system to power 20.000 homes for under 3 cents per KWh. In Chile, there was a bid in 2016 for 2,91cents per KWh. Finally, the record holder as of this writing is in the UAE at 2,42 cents per KWh. Obviously less favorable locations in terms of irradiation are still at higher costs, but 2,42 cents per KWh still represents about half the typical cost of utility-generated fossil fuel electricity, even without considering full environmental impacts.

The price of home-based arrays has also been improving systematically, especially reducing the installation and financing costs that now account for most of the cost. Cost for installing solar power in the US are as of 2017 3 USD per Watt. Considering irradiation, which changes significantly depending on the specific geography, and the useful life of residential systems, the cost of electricity can vary significantly. Some estimates place it between 5-10 cents per KWh for a high irradiation zone. This compares to an average cost for a consumer of 10-15 cents per KWh for residential users, making it an attractive proposition in many areas.

Thanks to this, solar capacity has been growing dramatically and it has reached over 300GW according to the IAE, representing ~2% of electricity generation in the world. Most of this capacity is Photovoltaic and has a good mix of utility-scale and residential. While it is catching up with wind quickly, it still has a lot more runway thanks to its lesser environmental impact and resource requirements. So it could continue to go down the cost curve as new technologies come online and production and installation become easier and cheaper.

Solar has two key problems to fulfill its promise. The first is regulation. Spain was the country that pioneered the renewable boom in the 2000s. However, utility protecting regulation has left us lagging now. Home solar has been made uneconomical in Spain through regulation, by forcing consumers to pay for the grid costs and peak power costs even if they use mainly solar. This is stopping solar in several countries. This is a political limitation, and as such will only be able to reduce demand temporarily. At the same time, it pinpoints a real problem, as the grid and backup power generation capacity need to be paid for, at least until it is totally substituted. The second is storage, the sun doesn’t shine at peak consumption so we need a way to store solar-generated power for use when it is really needed. That is why storage is a key element of the new energy matrix.

Storage and batteries. Making energy independent of time.

I am an electrical engineer so I have a deep understanding of electricity. However, I didn’t really understand the critical role of the lack of economical storage for electricity until I started working for electric utilities. The whole system is designed to overcome this limiting factor, this requires incredible expense and engineering in terms of the grid and the generating plants that contribute to it. The first utility I worked with had some huge plants operating at 20% capacity, they were the so-called “peaker plants” which are only activated in peak demand.

The sheer waste of the whole system is obvious to any engineering mind. Why build a huge capital expenditure plant in the billions and then have it operating at 20% capacity? The answer is that economical storage of electric power has been uneconomic since industrial electricity was born. We still operate a system that is very similar to the one Edison created with his first power plants at the dawn of the 20th century. It hasn’t been very necessary either, as fossil fuel powered plants can be easily turned off and on providing the peaking power needed.

This has changed as renewables enter the grid, as they depend on sun and wind to determine if they are “on or off”, and as batteries become more important for other applications. Namely consumer electronics and electric cars. Battery costs have been plummeting over the last decade, from more than 1000 USD per kWh of storage to around 200 USD today. They are expected to go even further and break the 100 USD barrier soon.

Mobile phones were the first devices to really jump start battery technology development. However, even smartphone batteries are small affairs by industrial standards. It has been the introduction of electric vehicles that has really accelerated battery development, at anywhere from 25 kWh to 80 kWh battery sizes are significant affairs. The increasing volume of electric car production is leading to being able to manufacture them at scale

In turn, this has lead to home batteries, like the Tesla Powerwall. At around 10kWh these batteries allow a home with solar panels to source most of its demand from its own generation capability. The battery cycles from charging mode during the initial daylight hours in which there is low consumption to contributing to the grid or to the home during the peak evening hours. There are many examples in the web of hobbyists. Some of the extreme ones manage 75% self-sufficiency even with two electric cars in not so sunny England.

The ability to put batteries in parallel or series to add them up one way or the other makes it feasible to add them up to utility scale. So a couple of million electric vehicles at 50kWh and five million homes at 10kWh could add up to a 150 GWh capacity for the grid of a medium-sized country like Spain (150GWh are equivalent to 30 billion USD in storage investment at 200USD per kWh). With a consumption of ~700GWh per day (Spain example), this is enough to smooth the peaks and avoid peaker plant operations.

This would totally change the way in which electricity works and bankrupt most electric utilities and grid operators as we know them. Consequently, we can expect a bumpy road to the storage economy in terms of regulation and special interests. However, it would make for a much more efficient and cheaper electricity production which would use probably just the renewable and nuclear capacity base.

For this to happen we not only need homes to have batteries but especially cars to change to electric and be plugged into the grid in an efficient way. So let’s look at electric vehicles now

Electric cars and motorbikes. Nikola Tesla’s revenge.

The first electric vs. combustion motor showdown happened in the early 1900s. Electric’s advantages were the same as today, cleaner and more direct transmission of power (i.e. higher acceleration and efficiency) and doing without controlled explosions within the vehicle. However, the phenomenal energy storage efficiency of gasoline won out. After all, gasoline still packs 100 times the power of LiOn batteries (although an electric battery would only need ~30% of the capacity of gasoline to be comparable) and has a global infrastructure to pour it in seconds into vehicles.

The second coming of the electric car is premised mainly on improved batteries, global warming, smog and Elon Musk. Let’s tackle each one at a time.

Batteries have improved very significantly since the early 1900s. Not only in terms of price as discussed in the previous reality, but also in terms of weight ratios (already beyond 200Wh/kg compared to the 30-50Wh/kg starting point for lead batteries). The large gap against gasoline could be bridged over the next 30 years or so according to Argonne lab report. However, with today’s batteries start to be competitive and the drop in prices could make them functional soon enough.

Global warming and smog are two significant reasons to move to electric vehicles. Transportation is about a fourth of greenhouse gases, so it is a great place to start reductions. Air pollution in cities is becoming a top concern in many cities. Its link with lung disease and even cancer is increasingly being proven, so it is becoming a priority to reduce by many governments.

Finally, there is the “great person” factor. In this case, we were lucky enough that someone as gifted as an engineer and communicator took it on to transform the transportation sector to electric. With his company Tesla he has captured the imagination of the consumers and galvanized the rest of the sector into action. He might have sped up electric car development by at least 5 years, whether Tesla ends up being the powerhouse it looks to be or not.

All of this has increased electric car penetration, with over 2 million electric cars in 2016, and the most advanced countries such as Norway selling one in three cars as electric. There has also been a boom in electric motorcycles, very relevant in the development world, with more than 200 million electric two-wheelers just in China in 2016 according to the IEA. Some countries are already planning the phase-out of internal combustion engine based vehicles with several dates announced either for new sales or for all vehicles. The closest date is Norway (2025) with other more longer-term commitments (e.g. France 2040, UK 2040, and India 2030).

Probably the area in which electric vehicles are moving the fastest is shared transportation, so let us turn to it now.

Shared transportation. From 5 to 50% usage.

Electric vehicles are also powering another swifter revolution that is being played out in many of the world’s biggest cities. More than 60% of the people of the world live in high-density settings such as cities, at the same time cars in those same cities stand idle 95% of the time. It was only a matter of time until someone put two and two together and used smartphones to rent out electric cars.

To me, shared transportation was introduced in a very personal way. I had the opportunity to discuss it with the global CMO of Car2Go who had just launched in Spain. For me that discussion was enlightening. I hadn’t heard much of shared cars until then and everything started to click.

First, the famous 5% number in terms of the percentage of time a car is used. Next, the fact that the car manufacturers know what is coming and are leading the charge themselves. I was really surprised to learn that Car2Go was part of Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes and several other brands. Third, the strong involvement of city halls which were intent on pushing shared vehicles as a way to reduce air pollution, traffic and parking problems. Finally, the proven business model that had already deployed in many cities, and was starting to accelerate further.

After cars came motorbikes and now in Madrid, we have three brands of cars and another three of motorbikes. I am sure it is not the densest network in terms of development, but still, just with this, it is life changing. I am a shared vehicle power user. I live in the city and commute often in it. My wife and I have a single car and I can’t get the business case to buy another one now. I can pick up a car or motorbike usually within less than 500m of where I am and take it to exactly where I need to go. All for the price of public transport. With the motorbikes, it reliably takes me half the time to get anywhere. They are all electric and really painless to use. I can also be multimodal, maybe I need to go in a hurry but then I can get back by walking leisurely. A mobility revolution.

We can expect Shared Transportation to continue to gather pace and merger with the taxi-cabs and Ubers once autonomous driving is a reality. Going from 5% utilization to 50% could reduce the number of cars on the sidewalks and parking by an order of magnitude. It will also make transportation easily accessible to much more and encourage us to use multimodal transport rather than be bound to the car. Obviously, it won’t work everywhere, as it requires a certain density but in cities, we will see a quick transformation making us wonder how did we survive before.

Water. Taking control of water.

We are more than 60% water and we can’t live, or our civilization function, without fresh water. However, water is one of the scarcest utilities we have. Less than 1% of all water available on Earth is fresh, with another 1% if we add the polar caps. Global warming is also making droughts and water shortages an increasing problem in many parts of the world, both developed and developing.

Can humanity liberate itself from its water dependency? Apparently yes, it’s a question of energy. If we have enough energy through solar we have the technology to generate as much water as we need. The most obvious solution is desalination, and some countries like Kuwait already source 100% of their water from desalinization plans. The advantage there is that desert habitats combine extreme drought conditions with great insolation levels for solar power generation.

According to the American Membrane Association desalinatization, energy costs are now around 2,5-3,5Wh per liter, with a theoretical minimum for membrane-based desalinization of 1Wh per liter. Considering average water usage ranges from 100 to 300 liters per person we would have a consumption of 0,25 to 1kWh per person for water per day. For a year of a three-member household, this would represent a maximum of 1 MWh per household per year. This is significant but manageable given household energy consumptions in the developed world from 6 to 15 MWh and could be incorporated into the solar footprint of a home, especially in a desert area.

Speculations: What is coming

Autonomous vehicles. AI drivers.

I will always remember how he introduced the conversation: “I am very worried. Our company is doing something great technically but we will disrupt the 5 million truck drivers in the US. What can we do to help these people?”. That was my first realization that autonomous vehicles were much more serious and close than I thought. When someone so smart and thoughtful as my friend started to worry about consequences then it was really coming.

Six months later I saw him again. This time another phrase struck me. “This is a race, we haven’t taken a vacation for the last year. It is all about who gets it right first”. This was about speed, if days counted we couldn’t be far away. If so much was hanging in the balance of getting the technology right, there was more to it than I thought.

The third foundational experience was going to Mexico DF for a friend’s wedding with my wife. One of the megacities in Latam, I had been to DF a number of times. Moving around had always been a pain. Taxis are not totally safe and are not comfortable or easy to find. This is quite a thing in a city with the famous hour-long traffic jams. This time around my friend suggested we use Uber. It was an amazing experience, that changed my perception of the value of the service.

In the developed world, especially in European cities, Uber or Cabify are marginally more convenient than taxis. They might be cheaper, maybe even slightly cleaner and it is cool to be able to hail it with your mobile. But by and large taxi companies have increased the level of service and convenience, and high labor costs maintain prices at a relatively high level, so its no big deal (at least for me, I know others who are extremely excited even in Europe).

Uber in Mexico DF has changed the experience of the city. DF must be one of the cities with most Ubers in the world, so it’s rare to have one more than 5 minutes away. Labor costs are so low that the price is really cheap. This changes your way of experiencing transportation and makes you use it a lot more. Apparently, high earning power Mexicans are even dropping their cars, because Uber is just better and cheaper.

That’s when I thought, this is what will happen everywhere once there is autonomous driving. Transport will be so much cheaper that it will change how we think about it. Not only for logistics but also with passenger traffic. Individual cars won’t make sense, and maybe even public transport will have a hard time competing.

That is why autonomous mobility is the capstone for the Energy Matrix revolution. It will change transportation and with that our relationship with space and time. Maybe 50km will be the new 5km, so where we build, live and work might change dramatically.

So how fast can we expect autonomous vehicles? While there has been substantial progress made in terms of autonomous driving support, which is rapidly become a standard feature, a fully autonomous vehicle is bound to find significant technical, regulatory and psychological challenges. The main companies pursuing it, Google, Uber, and Tesla, are facing short-term challenges in their projects however they seem confident of their long-term success.

After an aggressive initial deployment focusing on level 5 only (“Steering Wheel optional”) Google’s Waymo had to backtrack its ambition. However, it is now conducting trials with over 600 minivans and has even announced intentions to deploy in Detroit to try out autonomous driving in snow conditions. Overall Waymo has logged over 3.5 million driverless miles putting it at the head of the pack. It is also now collaborating with Lyft, Uber’s main competitor, to move faster

Uber got to a fast start after purchasing Otto, the driverless truck company founded by ex-Googlers. It also had a high visibility pilot in Pittsburgh with self-driving Ubers (with backup drivers) as part of the fleet. All of this was significantly slowed when Google sued Uber over intellectual property this year. However, self-driving technology is “existential” to Uber according to the company, because whoever gets there first will be able to outcompete other shared vehicle services extremely fast.

Finally, Tesla has the most organic approach. Self-driving cars are just another point in the roadmap for Tesla. Something they can offer their car buyers to make their life better and cooler. Already at level 3 autonomy (“hands off”), Tesla is trying to move to level 4. It has managed to weather the impact of the first autonomous car death and promises over-the-air upgrades to its drivers. However, it seems true level 4 and 5 will require extra hardware (cameras and sensors) not available in all models.

Overall autonomous driving seems to be experimenting strong progress. It will need to overcome significant regulatory obstacles but the consensus is that it will eventually get there. However, there is no consensus on whether it will take 5 or 25 years. In any case, as it develops we can expect one of the most important transformations in the way we live, work and get from one place to the other. Maybe soon enough if you want to get behind a steering wheel you will need to go to a historic amusement park, much like you need to go to a riding school to try out horse riding, something that was part of the everyday life of many not so long ago.

Drone logistics. Your faithful drone servants.

Drones have many applications in both Integrated Reality and the new Energy Matrix. The level of development in terms of cost, range and autonomous flying capability has been amazing and is still going strong. Now we are facing the regulatory challenges necessary to integrate them into the economy.

From the New Energy Matrix perspective, the main use will be short-haul transportation. With digital capturing an increasing share of retail sales short-range delivery is starting to become a huge part of the retail supply chain. The only way to put a lid on the ever-growing costs, environmental impact and human resources needed for it would be autonomous delivery.

Drones are able to deal with most of the typical transport requirements and will also be able to do so while improving significantly the service to end consumers. The combination of autonomous small vehicles being able to deliver directly to the home could transform the supply chain even beyond what we have seen today.

Drone logistics are already becoming reality. Amazon Air is the experiment by the e-commerce giant to transition its huge delivery infrastructure into autonomous flying vehicles. Given the huge involvement of Amazon in home delivery, this is something to take seriously. While details are still sketchy, it seems to be under trial in several use cases. It might make sense to start it with suburban deliveries, which are more challenging economically, and only later move on to the chaos that drones could represent in a fully urban setting.

Hyperloop. Planes are slow

Elon Musk’s contribution to the great person theory of history doesn’t end with the electric vehicle or the autonomous car. Not even with space or intelligent robots, which we will cover in the “further away technologies” section. His biggest visibility area in 2017 is certainly being Hyperloop. However, Elon didn’t invent the Hyperloop, although he did give it its really cool name and inspired the Tesla-Space X team that created the open source design.

The origin of vacuum based high-speed transportation goes all the way back to the end of the 19th century and was developed and even trialed in NYC in early 20th. However, it wasn’t until Elon Musk’s very public endorsement that it achieved its fame and notoriety.

The Hyperloop’s promise is simple. A system that could allow large hundreds to low thousands transport of goods and people at extremely high speeds and very low costs. We still have to see operational systems, but some analysis promise one-way tickets in the tens of dollars and speeds in the 1000km/h mark.

The best way to show that the Hyperloop is not just pure science fiction is to showcase some of the Hyperloop companies. Hyperloop One is the most visible, with hundreds of millions already invested into it and the backing of Richard Branson in late 2017. It has also a number of feasibility studies underway with a number of governments and even a potential contract with Dubai. Hyperloop One has already trialed the Hyperloop concept at a full-scale version.

Will the Hyperloop be a workable solution? It will be seen over the next months. If history is any guide it will prove much more expensive and difficult than theory suggests, but even in that case, it could be an extremely interesting addition to the potential transportation modes on Earth. Reducing reliance on planes and using the rest of the new energy matrix to reduce emissions further.

Smart grids and mini-grids. From transporting to integrating.

There is probably no component of the modern world that has stayed so relatively constant throughout the last century as the power grid. The power grid is the silent and unknown backdrop that makes our daily life possible. It connects power generation, transmission and distribution making it possible for us to flip a switch and receive reliable electricity within a certain level of parameters. It is a marvel of engineering, taming a dangerous force like electricity and putting it at our service.

The power grid has many limitations though. It is the paragon of centralization, prepared for a world of large power plants that drive consumption. It has limited capability for fine control or two-way management, which would be key for a storage and renewable world. It also wastes a significant amount of energy as it is transported and dots the landscape with ugly infrastructure. Finally, it has limited control over its constituents parts, failing to capture the power of integrated reality.

This is all changing quickly, with a large number of smart-grid or mini-grid initiatives being deployed across the world. The aim of these initiatives is to create a new type of grid, which is much more flexible and efficient. Not only the grid will be able to “sense” power flows and adapt to bidirectional energy contribution and storage. It will also be able to “sense” its own infrastructure and detect failures or attacks instantly, walling them off or setting emergency response teams.

One of the most complete initiatives is the San Diego University mini-grid, which has 90%+ percent of own energy generation and manages it through a smart grid with integrated storage. Beyond it, there are smart grid projects in almost every country, with less developed regions like Africa trying to leapfrog directly to smart grids.

There are even a new species of smart-grid that focuses on marrying the New Energy Matrix not only with Integrated Reality but also Digital Governance. It attacks the centralized nature of power grids and allows to decentralize them through blockchain and tokenization. Grid+ is one of those many projects, with an ICO on October 30, 2017. It creates a hardware agent to install in your home so you can manage your own energy purchasing, sales, and storage in real time. Taking back control of your energy needs and optimizing your energy footprint.

What will happen when the New Energy Matrix, Integrated Reality, and Digital Governance give birth to the next generation power grid? The jury is still out, but we can count on a more efficient and decentralized system that integrates distributed generation, storage, and renewable natively.

Autonomous flying vehicles. Why drive if you can fly.

Imagine you need to go across Sao Paulo, Mexico City, LA, or any other gridlocked megacity. You need to do it in about ten minutes. The only feasible way to do it today would be by helicopter and this is expensive and inconvenient, as landing pads are scarce and far between. Now Imagine someone says that you could do it from your backyard immediately and with just the click of an app at the price of an Uber. That is the promise of autonomous flying vehicles according to its boosters.

Autonomous vehicles and they Hyperloop already seem like quite a stretch for many, so the latest announcements about autonomous flying vehicles might seem like mindless futurism. However, the advantages of flying over land-based vehicles are clear. Not having to build roads is great for the environment. Traffic is no problem when you have ten kilometers of vertical space and AI-controlled vehicles to play with. Distance is much less of a problem when you are flying and specific locations are always accessible.

Autonomous flying vehicles would be incredibly convenient and cool. So what would we need for them to work? There are three key criteria to fulfill: autonomous, can we get them to self-drive to avoid all getting a pilot’s license and life insurance, flying, how is flying tech for small crafts, can it be affordable, and finally efficient, we can’t deploy millions of this if they are based on fossil-based fuels like kerosene. As we will see, we are actually doing quite well on all three counts, so maybe we will experience this type of vehicles soon after all.

According to Fortune, there are over 15 flying car startups, at which 8 of which have completed a test flight. Of this several have high profile deals with the likes of Uber, Google or Microsoft, and at least one is already doing pre-sales and planning to start deliveries by the end of 2018. We will examine Uber Elevate and a couple of the most advanced flying car startups to see how they stack against the criteria.

Uber Elevate is not so much a flying car startup as a PR and ecosystem program. Uber is trying to heighten awareness of the technology through videos and whitepapers, and get everyone to collaborate through a summit. They also have a very particular claim of what they are trying to accomplish that allows us to at least examine the “efficient” part of our framework. They want to have a “flying taxi” from San Francisco to San Jose (currently close to two hours and $100+ dollars with regular Uber) cost around $20 and take 15 minutes. This would certainly be efficient, and according to Uber the VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) vehicles they would operate are all-electric. It will also be autonomous

Kitty Hawk is about flying. It also has some cool videos you can watch. Its first purchasable product should come out later this year. It aims to be to planes, what a Zodiac is to boats a cheap and accessible version that anyone can drive. It will initially be focused only on over water flying (less regulated as you can’t crash on anything) and it aims to be very accessible.

PAL-V is the yacht of flying, rather than the zodiac. It is going to sell a 500k USD multimodal vehicle that can both drive and fly. Still a far cry from the types of vehicles that Uber is looking forward to, but a step in the right direction.

Energy and Transportation, Tech and Business

Exponential Technology Revolution #2 – The New Energy Matrix

The New Energy Matrix is harnessing renewable energy, storage, and the electric autonomous vehicle to change the way the world is powered. It represents the most conventional of the jumps we are facing, as we have had several of this in human history. At the same time, it is one of the most transformational, as changing our energy matrix has reliably changed how we live every time.

The Paleolithic energy matrix was the human body for both physical work and transportation. In the Neolithic, it evolved with fire and beasts of burdens. The Roman, Persian and Chinese empires were able to harness the power of water and wind to a certain extent, and complement beasts of burdens with roads, limited shipping and systematic use of the wheel. The Age of Discovery brought the full harnessing of water and wind for both energy and especially naval transportation. The industrial revolution was built on coal and the steam engine as engines of transport and physical labor. The modern era brought fossil fuels, as the basis for electricity production, factory engines, and land, sea, and air travel.

The new energy matrix builds on digital and software processes, like all the other paradigm shifts. For example, the connected and autonomous vehicle is an outgrowth of software processes and integrated reality, enabling a new way to conceive transport. However, the new energy matrix is based on many basic technologies that go beyond digital. First, the increasing efficiency and lower cost of renewable energy are opening up the possibility of revolution. Cost of solar and wind has fallen reliably and is now below conventional sources in many use cases. Second, storage technologies are allowing effective storage of extremely large quantities of energy, overcoming the problem of the lack of security of supply in renewable. Third, magnetic levitation and vacuum technologies are being leveraged for uses like the Hyperloop. Finally, the electric vehicle is being developed to be a more cost-efficient and effective alternative to the conventional combustion engine vehicle.

The deployment of the new energy-transportation matrix will be probably the slowest of the changes to play out. Energy and transportation assets are long-lived and one of the most resource-intensive assets in society. So the full transformation of the asset base will take substantial time, however, we can expect new investment to be almost solely focused on the new categories in the shorter term.

The impact we can expect is a fundamental rethink of our relationship to energy and distance. This is consistent with previous changes in the energy matrix which have made energy radically cheaper and more abundant and have reduced the scale of the world by an order of magnitude at least in terms of cost and time.

A world in which energy is an order of magnitude cheaper and cleaner will mean the end of our global warming pains and a complete redesign of our energy system. We can imagine a renewable powered smart grid with storage which makes our current energy consumption almost free and impact free. This will also turn upside down the energy and fossil fuel industries and transform the geopolitical balance of power.

Of course, a world in which energy is an order of magnitude cheaper will bring out new use cases for energy that we are not considering today. Things that are unaffordable today will become possible and will lead to new use cases. Lighting a city at night used to be an unaffordable dream in the days of whale oil and tallow candles. We will probably solve freshwater scarcity, as desalinization is feasible but energy intensive. We can only wonder what else we will do, but we will probably stretch the new energy matrix to its limits as we have always done.

In transportation, the combination of autonomous, electric, maglev, and digitized vehicles will reimagine how we define and use transportation. Different studies point to costs per km of at least 10x times lower and a carrying capacity of roads of at least 8x the current one. Speeds could also be incremented in short trips thanks to the unerring accuracy of software processes in vehicle driving. How will we think about distance is a 100km trip is equivalent in cost and inconvenience to a few km today? This will change the concept of location and the value of real estate.

Finally, autonomous mobility removes the concept of the driver, allowing access to groups which have been limited. The impact on children, the disabled and the elderly can be liberating and free up countless hours and empower countless use cases. The amount of human time liberated is also difficult to conceive.

Overall, the combination of all these impacts will have incalculable consequences on a number of industries. The oil & gas, power, automotive and transportation industries will be directly affected and potentially reshaped. Other industries like real estate and many others will face complete changes to its cost base and value proposition and might be totally transformed. It is easy to see the losers among the workers. The workforce engaged on the fossil fuels-combustion engine energy-transport grid will face tremendous change and potential unemployment. Drivers especially, a surprisingly large segment of the working population might see their jobs disappear completely in a relatively short time frame.

The apparent lack of limits of the new energy supply is not new, as each energy revolution opened up vast resources based on the previous era standard. What is different this time is the impact of digital and AI, allowing for the first time for a fully globalized and autonomous energy and transportation system.

We are seeing the new energy-transportation matrix creep on us slowly but surely on a number of fronts:


  • Solar and renewable power. Clean and endless energy
  • Storage and batteries. Making energy independent of time.
  • Electric cars and motorbikes. Nikola Tesla’s revenge.
  • Shared transportation. From 5 to 95% usage.
  • Water. Taking control of water.


  • Smart grids and mini grids. From transporting to integrating.
  • Autonomous vehicles. AI drivers.
  • Drone logistics. Your faithful drone servants.
  • Hyperloop. Planes are slow
  • Autonomous flying vehicles. Why drive if you can fly.

Wild speculation: The autonomous homestead