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. gmail.com