Innovation only in technology??

Over the past year or so, I have been writing, and reading about various companies picking up millions of dollars in angel and VC funding. All these companies are leveraging technology to make it easier to shop, wash cars, share knowledge, share music and photos and so on. But what about innovation in the Offline world? No body seems to be innovating or using technology to substantially improve energy consumption or around alternative fuel sources or tackling hunger or infant mortality or malnutrition. Peter Theil made this very interesting point at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference “there’s been a “catastrophic failure of energy innovation.” As an outspoken libertarian, Thiel puts much of the blame at the government’s feet, saying that the government has “outlawed everything to do with the world of stuff,” so that “the only things you’re allowed to do are in the world of bits.”

To my mind, it also then follows that most of the so called Innovation benefits will be limited to the rich world. Not their fault obviously since governments are major obstacles to innovation in the developing world. But I think it is interesting that even in the rich world no one is looking at Innovation in a broader sense – it is all related to the world of technology. There are exceptions of course – Google’s self driving car and investments in asteroid mining are excellent examples of innovation outside the world of computing.

But a really great example of this is the challenge by Bill and Melinda Gates foundation: develop a toilet that does not depend on piped water, power or sewage, uses the waste in other ways and does not cost more than $0.05 per day to use!!! This $100,000 prize was won by the California Institute of Technology – they managed to build a toilet that meets the criteria and also generates electricity (from the waste) and hydrogen!! Now that is Innovation! Given widespread lack of access to  basic sanitation in India, we will soon be energy independent!

Then, from a mankind and humanity kind of a level, Bill Gates will achieve so much more than Steve Jobs. Of course, that is another very contentious discussion!!

Read more about Peter Theil’s comments and the Bill Melinda Gates Challenge.

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