From bench to bedside

The next billion people solving new problems

This post is more a post of questions than answers, and in general, more thoughts about the future than discussion. I watched the Google I/O keynote and there was a lot of focus by Google on making it easy to bring the next billion people online. It was a very interesting line of thought - What kind of changes would come to the world when the next billion people come online? What products would be used and created by the next billion? More importantly, how will the next billion people solve problems?

With more people online, the number of fundamental social and economic problems we face will become more transparent. That’s just a very straight forward consequence of being accessible from the Internet - All the big tech giants want to capitalize on the new emerging markets and will therefore expand their efforts to create the infrastructure for bringing new people online. On that note, a lot of mobile carriers are already expanding into and dominating Asian mobile markets. To me, what’s most exciting is the new ideas those billion people will use to solve existing problems. There seems to be a transition in academia towards commercialization of research. This wasn’t a sudden change but as of late, there is more push for showing applicability. In academic biomedicine, we call this shift bench to bedside referring to research and development being done on a lab bench transitioning into households and your bedside.

Currently, a lot of ground-work is being laid down to make it easy for lab research to be commercialized but the whole network will be stress-tested1 in a few years when new startup ecosystems being to emerge and a greater number of entrepreneurs are working on even more daunting problems. Brad Feld (@bfeld) actually has a great book on this where he talks about what it takes to build a thriving startup ecosystem. Any network must be able to respond to perturbations, waves of disruption that completely threaten to bring it down. That is generally the “wave” like nature of increased accessibility. It doesn’t all happen in a day, but before we even realize, all of a sudden a lot of people are working on new and interesting problems. What happens as a significant portion of the next billion join the tech renaissance to extend computability as being a method of interacting with the world? The new technologies being developed across the world in research labs would find themselves a hungry group of power users ready to devour the latest apps. Also as the next billion join the internet, the past group would have already matured, so it’s not just about capitalizing on the new group but a huge problem facing some technologies is the significant upfront cost of customer education which make those apps unattractive. As more people come online, the “last batch” has already matured to become proficient, so the barrier to entry based on customer education will be significantly lowered.

Google has always been known to think big. The Internet is still in infancy, maturing along with the people who use it. What will it come out to be? And how will connectivity and computation change the future? Today feels kind of like this:

  1. Here stress testing is implicated more in terms of the outcome - So what kind of entrepreneurs will this network create, how successful will this program be and how will those companies generate wealth, jobs and innovate to a better future 

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