As we work on the next issue of our magazine I’ve been weeding through transcripts from this year’s Techonomy Policy and Techonomy Bio programs.
We covered everything from growing bones to decoding the brain at Techonomy Bio in March. You can also grow bricks from sand (One speaker said Dubai is the number one importer of sand in the world) and within two-three decades, according to Drew Endy, we’ll be able to grow a cell phone.
One of the most surprising presentations was by Jeanne Lorring at the Scripps Research Institute. She taught me that selling stem cell cures is kind of like selling snake oil. There is currently only one stem cell treatment approved by the FDA, and that’s a bone marrow transplant. A huge number of stem cell clinics are unapproved, most started by plastic surgeons…who use cells you get from liposuction…which are stem cells…”but the only things they can make are cartilage, bone, or fat.” Think about what it means to put those cells where they shouldn’t be. Apparently there’s a case where a woman heard clicking every time she closed her eyes. Her doctor “had put stem cells into her eyelids and they turned to bone.”
Techonomy Policy explored the confluence of tech innovation and government. We focused on some of the areas where rapid tech innovation and (not so rapid) policy making intersect. The program ranged from 10 minute briefings on Blockchain and Internet of Things to deeper dives on everything from cyberwar, the European single digital market and our closer with two senators and Sean Parker talking about tech, innovation and American progress.
We’ve done a lot at past conferences on the sharing economy, but NYU professor Arun Sundararjan did a great job condensing into 10 minutes an overview on the on-demand economy and the challenges and policy issues it raises.
For those unfamiliar with the breadth of services covered by the on-demand economy, this quote gives you a sense of just how in-active we can become if we want to. “If you don’t want to park your own car, Lux will send a valet to where you are by tracking you on GPS and park your car for you. Once you get home, Washio would’ve done your laundry and delivered it to you, Munchery will send you a meal. If you’re not feeling well, Heal will send you a doctor. If you want to relax a little more, Zeel will send you a massage therapist. If you want to relax even a little more, Drizly will send you alcohol. And then there’s my favorite, Eaze, that will give you on-demand medical marijuana.”
On a more serious note, given the transition in multiple industries from an economy driven by institutions providing services to one in which peers are providing services, what are the implications for consumer protection? For labour? For the definition of a job or employment? How do you regulate and protect? Who do you regulate and protect?
As Arun states at the end of his presentation “it’s really imperative that we create a new social safety net where things like income stability, paid vacations, worker compensation, long-term disability—all of these things that are bundled with employment now are somehow freed from it and available to people who participate in the on-demand economy.”
If there’s another topic de jour these days, it’s the blockchain. The world seems to be divided into people who understand it, those who don’t and those who pretend they do but only get it-ish. Jerry Brito’s presentation is perfect for those (like myself) in the third category. His quote below, I think captures the potential.
“The blockchain is a decentralized and open ledger. It’s decentralized, meaning that there’s no one company that owns it. In fact, nobody owns it. It’s a peer-to-peer network, and it is open just like the web is open, just like the email protocol is open. Anybody can access it, and anybody can build on top of it. When you have a universal ledger you no longer have gatekeepers. You no longer need to use a bank to have access to a money ledger. You no longer have to use a registry to have access to a domain name ledger. To use the ledger, all you need is a computer, an Internet connection, and free and open source software that speaks to the peer-to-peer network. It also for the first time allows us to transfer digital assets online and not just copy them as we’ve been able to do before now. Now, for the first time, we can transfer an asset—and this is a breakthrough that is really hard to overstate…just like countries in Africa and Asia skipped over landline and went straight to wireless—I think countries in the developing world today are going to skip over using intermediaries like banks and go straight to finance on the blockchain.”