The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Deirdre Macken macken.deirdre@

The most amaz­ing thing about Sil­i­con Val­ley dudes is not that they are go­ing to fly to Mars or turn peo­ple into an­droids or in­vent but­ler socks that turn off the TV when you fall asleep. It is sim­ply that they think about do­ing these things. And then they do it.

Most of us just go — groan, I’ve fallen asleep, now I have to wake up to turn off the TV. Techies don’t. Elon Musk sits in traf­fic and comes up with the idea of drilling tun­nels un­der cities. He thinks some­one should cre­ate a bunch of ba­nanas that ripen one ba­nana at a time and he reck­ons he can solve South Aus­tralia’s power prob­lems in 100 days with a field of bat­ter­ies.

Uber, Airbnb and those two mil­lion phone apps were all cre­ated be­cause a techie thought some­thing didn’t work well enough and de­cided to do some­thing about it. They were ap­palled cars spent more time parked than trav­el­ling, they were as­tounded at how many bed­rooms lay empty and they thought it was un­in­tel­li­gent de­sign that wa­ter­mel­ons were oval.

We haven’t al­ways been like this. It took mil­len­nia be­fore a cave­man de­cided, “I’m sick of drag­ging my stuff around on a bunch of branches, why don’t I in­vent some­thing to roll it along?” Then it took cen­turies for some­one to think, “I’m sick of us­ing my horse to pull these wheels, why don’t I in­vent a ma­chine to do it?”

Now, wher­ever there is fric­tion in our lives, some bright techie is think­ing: “It should be bet­ter.” So, we have square wa­ter­mel­ons that can sit on shelves, jew­ellery that ba­bies can safely chew and, my favourite, squeez­able, up­side­down tomato sauce bot­tles that make you won­der why we spent decades us­ing tomato sauce bot­tles that couldn’t cough up the sauce or sprayed it all over the plate.

All this in­no­va­tion makes the rest of us look com­pla­cent. But we can learn. We may not have a flair for Java code or an end­less sup­ply of witty T-shirts but we can spot prob­lems. So, let’s get to­gether in the Sil­i­con Gut­ter and pick the hic­cups of life we want techies to ad­dress.

Take hic­cups, for in­stance. Ev­ery­one has ac­cepted them as a fact of life. But what about an app that scares the hic­cups away? Re­sets your breath­ing? It’s a prob­lem wait­ing for a so­lu­tion.

If we’ve solved idle cars and empty bed­rooms, what about half-empty gov­ern­ment of­fice build­ings? When­ever an of­fice chair is va­cated in a gov­ern­ment of­fice, a robot pub­lic ser­vant can pop into it and start send­ing out ex­tra­ne­ous forms for busi­nesses to fill in.

Way­ward tod­dlers? Let’s cre­ate a vir­tual play pen for kids. Cre­ate a field around tod­dlers, set off on a walk and when­ever they try to take off — bang — they hit a vir­tual wall.

Has any­one in­vented an app that matches peo­ple with their per­fect re­li­gion? The app could track your sin­ful be­hav­iour on so­cial me­dia and sug­gest the re­li­gion that would of­fer re­demp­tion. We just in­vented the An­gel app.

I’d like an app for bor­ing con­ver­sa­tions. Not oth­ers’ but mine. When­ever I drone on, re­peat a story or get narky, it would zap me with my phone. We could call that app Boooor­ing.

Traf­fic re­mains a huge fric­tion in peo­ple’s lives, and un­til Musk builds his tun­nels I’d like an app on my phone that gives me pri­or­ity on roads. Call it My Little Siren.

For­get the robot vac­uum cleaner, ev­ery­one has one of those; you want a robot nag to roam around your home. Imag­ine a big, metal jacket on wheels that stands over your fam­ily yelling, “Ja­son, take the dishes to the sink … Sarah get on with your home­work … and whose turn is it to recharge the robot?”

There are plenty of prob­lems for our techie gu­rus to tackle. But there is a prob­lem with all these prob­lems — they are all First World prob­lems. There are ele­phants in the start-up hubs that no­body seems to no­tice. For in­stance, when Sil­i­con Val­ley dudes go to work, they step over one of the big­gest pop­u­la­tions of home­less peo­ple in the de­vel­oped world. That prob­lem is on their doorstep but there’s no app for that.

So, while I love but­ler socks and my squeez­able tomato sauce, I look for­ward to the day when the great­est dude brains on Earth start tack­ling the great­est prob­lems on Earth.

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