Learning by Proxy | Fearing Innovation

Never before have we as a species been as scared of innovation as we are today. We want it to be perfect on the first go.

Innovation is challenging. People fail more often than they succeed. It takes someone with great relentlessness to be able to innovate. Often the first adopters take a risk on these people and give the innovation a try. Wars have been great catalysts for innovation because when people are already dying, anything that can provide the slightest advantage is deemed worthy.

Is the current situation with COVID-19, a war?

Fearing Innovation

Ohio has seen far more rivalry in the automobile industry than Michigan ever would. Akron, Ohio was called the rubber capital of the world. Even today, Firestone and Goodyear continue to be based out of there. In the year 1895, the entire state of Ohio had two cars. In what they then called Ohio City and now referred to as West Side Cleveland, those two cars met in an accident. Imagine the chances!

Contrast that with happened on the 20th November 2018 in Tempe, Arizona. In a world filled with cars, where 6 Million car accidents take place each year in the USA; a self-driving car met with an accident with a cyclist. It would have been statistics defying if a self-driving car never met with an accident.

The response - Uber went into damage control. The city of Tempe stopped the test from taking place.

Imagine the people of Ohio City had reacted that way in 1895. We would still be going around in horse carriages.


The de Havilland DH.106 Comet was the first jetliner to be launched. It first flew in 1949. Between 1952 and 1954, there were a series of crashes that the Comet was engaged in. It was later discovered that the square windows of the plane cause stress to build up at the corners. At certain speeds, unable to bear the stresses, the plane disintegrated.

This is also why we have oval windows in all planes today! 500 people had to die for us to know that.


Innovation has always meant sacrifice. Every single convenience that we experience today results from lives sacrificed by many humans. Much of the technology that we enjoy today was born out of the Second World War, one of the bloodiest wars in the history of mankind.

Last year we went to war with COVID-19. Through unprecedented co-operation between pharmaceutical companies and research organisations, several vaccines were developed. I am uncertain about the effectiveness, but lab data shows these vaccines to be quite effective.

Last week, several countries in the European Union suspended the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

On March 15, Germany, France, and Italy joined several other European and Asian countries to suspend the distribution of the AstraZeneca/University of Oxford Covid-19 vaccine. Public health leaders in these countries stated that the pause was “precautionary” after a very small number of people developed blood clots at some point after receiving the vaccine.

Source: Quartz

But…

…more than 17 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to a statement from the company. As of March 8, only 37 people subsequently developed blood clots. The European Medical Agency pointed out that this is actually fewer than medical experts would expect to see occur in the general population. The number of people who develop them per year is around one per 1,000 people.

Source: Quartz

As a species, we seem to have become terrified. Every little thing can scare the hell out of us. In the UK, where the AstraZeneca vaccine was first approved, they required people to submit a report for any side effects that they felt. The top two reported “issues” - thirst by 402 people and flatulence by 89.

Source: Quartz

And then the EU went back on its decision to stop administering the vaccine and restart the same.

The European Medicines Agency has ruled that the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is safe, despite some concerns over possible side effects.

The announcement Thursday comes after more than a dozen EU nations decided to halt the use of the AstraZeneca shot, which was developed with the University of Oxford, after reports of blood clots. A few other countries have stopped using individual batches of the vaccine.

Source: CNBC

When the case of the self-driving car accident took place, I felt an investigation was necessary, but halting everything was a step too far. If an airliner crashed, would you just ground all the planes for the next few weeks and not fly at all? Why this over-reaction to innovation?

We believe we are in one of the most innovative phases of world history, but we have never been as afraid of innovation either. Innovation is born out of mistakes and there are penalties for making mistakes, but you cannot shy away from innovating altogether just because there was a mistake.

With AstraZeneca, even if it was for just a few days, how many more people could have been vaccinated? Further, how many would now be doubtful and resist going in for the vaccine? Especially when mutations seem to come thick and fast and threaten to wipe out all the gains that we have made to date and render the vaccines useless.

In the world of the Internet where we live today, information moves faster than anything else. If someone had taken a vaccine and died in 1910, it would not have caused Billions to resist taking the vaccine. Today, it could certainly!

Further, can any innovation really be bulletproof? Can you make sure that it never goes wrong, not even once? Can we react in another way?

Drones

Another technology that has not achieved its potential is drones. Part of the reason is fear and unreasonable expectations that have been set for drones.

In Africa, drones are used to supply life-saving drugs, vaccines and even blood banks in remote parts that are hard to access by road. In a country like India, our drone policy does not render this possible.

Despite having given permission to hyper-local drones to conduct delivery tests, the unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 says no to payload. India’s drone infrastructure is not delivery-ready yet, says a DGCA official. The Drone Rules, 2021 imposes a fine anywhere between INR 10,000 to INR 5 Lakhs, depending upon the rule that has been violated.

Two years in waiting and The Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021 have disappointed the likes of Zomato, Swiggy, Dunzo and many other startups that have been waiting for approval to make deliveries through unmanned drones.

The new rules, drafted after wide consultation with the industry and experts, just provide structure to the already existing use-cases of unmanned drones, leaving the plans of taking to high-tech delivery mechanism by tech companies in limbo.

Source: Inc42

Here is the thing. Some of the largest and well-funded startups the DGCA would have consulted are serving the military. Neither do they care nor do they have much to benefit from having civilian use of drones promoted. In fact, if you asked a military provider, they would probably highlight all the security risks of having drones flying freely around the city.

This is not just a question of safety, it also a question of climate. The number of riders on roads who are solely engaged in the business of delivering is large, and this causes a huge carbon footprint. There are two solutions.

1 - Ban all delivery services

2 - Make it possible for them to deliver while keeping their carbon footprint low

The problem at the heart of this is the fear of something new that will start buzzing around our cities. Just like it is possible to track every plane in our skies and ensuring all of them are authorised, if we put our minds to it, it would certainly be possible to track every drone and ensure that they are authorised. What is missing is will. Interestingly, the will is missing across the globe!

In the meantime, those who do not have another choice, push forward in Africa.

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Volcano

Our Earth is a living planet. The proof of life is the core of the planet which is hot, molten and constantly re-inventing itself. It is this iron core that provides the magnetic field around that planet that protects us from cosmic radiations and keeps our DNA from being completely shredded by the sun.

Now and then the pressures inside this hot core reaches a high, and it vents itself through tiny fissures on the surface of their planet. We can this a Volcano.

Scientists have found a novel way to predict a volcano. They can do this only by being thousands of miles away from the Volcano.

In space.

Using infra-red imaging from space they can see the temperature shifts which lets them predict a volcano is about to blow.

To attempt this, the team turned to thermal radiation data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. Combined, these two provide twice-daily passes with global coverage, and each measurement is integrated over a 1 kilometer by 1 kilometer pixel. There are five volcanoes that have both had significant eruptions since 2002 (when these satellites came online) and aren’t located on islands that are too small to span enough pixels for a good signal. These include Ontake in Japan, Ruapehu in New Zealand, Calbuco in Chile, Redoubt in Alaska, and Pico do Fogo in Cape Verde.

Increasing temperature trends were seen over the two to four-year periods preceding each eruption—including Ontake’s surprise 2014 eruption. Temperatures only increased by 1°C or less in the lead-up to each event, but these were statistically significant trends and not just noise. The peak temperatures in each record were associated with an eruption.

Source: Wired

This will change the way future volcanic explosions are studies and predicted. This will also help save millions of lives, especially in places like Indonesia where huge volcanic explosions have killed many in the past.

On that note, a volcano blew its lid in Iceland! And here is an incredible drone footage.

Finally

Last week, in my article about NFT; I had mentioned it might just be a pump and dump scheme. I was not too far from the truth.

Not only that, the buyer of the USD 69 Million art is putting the art on a blockchain that he himself has created and populated with NFTs.

Also

Our incredibly efficient Prime Minister


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