Pioneering computer scientist Alan Kay once noted that "a point of view is worth 80 IQ points" and it's disconcerting that some Canadian governments, businesses and so-called experts are falling into an equivalent IQ deficit of outdated language and backward thinking when it comes to technology and energy policy.
A century ago a computer wasn't a machine -- it was a job title. It referred to people who spent their days doing arithmetic. Then processors were created that took over the role, and society adjusted the word to a new meaning.
In today's rapidly transforming economy it's important to adjust more quickly.
Here are some recent examples: Political speeches in support of pipelines, attacks against singer Neil Young, 'energy' conferences, special 'energy' investment inserts in traditional national newspapers and thoughtful pieces like this one in the Globe, all purportedly talk about energy. But, instead of energy, in Canada they really mean "oil and gas."
Oil and gas have been the default energy option for society for much of the last century and will continue to be important. But oil and gas should clearly no longer be a synonym for energy.
Nuclear and hydroelectric options continue to be viable choices globally. Greener energy options such as solar, wind and tidal are improving in performance at a much faster pace. Different alternatives are preferable in different places and at different times.
Ottawa and traditional Canadian media have fallen into the habit of using the words "energy policy" when what they really mean is "oil and gas" policy in the same way that Kodak said photography when it really meant film. Long term this kind of thinking gets you in trouble.
Similarly, the words "technology" and "information technology" are now being used interchangeably in Canada and that's a big mistake.
It's true that IT has grown to be an immense part of our economy and that it permeates an increasing number of other industries but it's not true that it is the only -- or always -- the most important technology.
Beyond IT there are other exciting technology areas such as stem cell research, genomics, 3D printing, drones, nanotechnology, sensors and robotics. When our language equates technology with information technology then those other exciting areas of opportunity can be dismissed before they're even considered.
What were the biggest technology and energy stories of 2013?
Fortune magazine recently declared Elon Musk as the Business Person of the Year. They highlighted the phenomenal growth of his electric car company Tesla; the growing capabilities of his spaceship and space technology company SpaceX; the continuing growth of his solar power company Solar City and his audacious proposal for next generation transportation using a Hyperloop system.
All of his bets are on technology but none of them are on traditional information technology. All of his bets are related to energy, in one way or another, but none of them are about oil and gas per se.
Then look at Google, one of the great consumer IT companies. Notice where Google is investing lately: robotics and smart home technology. It is not putting its vast resources only into traditional IT or dot.com type companies.
In 2013, Canadian governments, businesses and entrepreneurs made a big bet on the oil and gas industry with a side order of information technology. The outcome was an economy and stock market that lagged our major competitors.
In 2014, we need to expand our horizons to consider the larger opportunities available to those that solve the globes big problems in energy, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, the environment and education.
We need to change our thinking and the language that frames it. We need more forward-thinking like that at Google and from Elon Musk; who, by the way, holds a Canadian citizenship but chose to live and work in the United States where business and government language is more fluid and not nearly as tightly defined.
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Google has transformed ordinary Toyota Priuses into hands-free vehicles, each equipped with a rotating camera, sensors and more. According to the AP, the four-wheeled fleet "can steer, stop and start without a human driver." These so-called self-driving cars handle themselves so well that one has even been used to take a blind man for a joy ride (see video above).
With its "Transition" car, Terrafugia proves that the future is finally here. The operator of this amazing vehicle can drive it and fly it. The Transition has already been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly in the skies and by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to drive on roads. If you happen to have a driver's license, pilot license, and $279,000, this car might be the one for you. The Transition was slated for consumer release in late 2011, but that date has been delayed and no new date has been announced.
If you happen to be a fan of "The Jetsons," you're going to love this. For about $125,000, you can get your hands on your very own M200G Hover-Car, thanks to Moller International, reported Gizmodo way back in 2007. While the M200G is pretty cool to look at (even if the photo is a little retro), a sleek flying car called the M400 Skycar may be the company's next project (though so far there's been no word on how it's coming along.)
This futuristic-looking "supercar," the Tramontana R, is a product of European auto-maker a.d. Tramontana and features a carbon fiber body, a max speed of more than 200 mph, and a V12 engine that produces a maximum horsepower of 720. Unfortunately, all of these awesome specs (and the fact that it looks almost as cool as the Batmobile) have landed the car with a ridiculous price tag. According to Forbes, it costs upwards of $511,126, and only 12 are released each year.
BMW's ConnectedDrive Connect system can be installed in current BMW models and allows the car to drive itself. While at the moment the system operates only on pre-mapped roads, further developments will allow the car to adapt and drive on any street.
Audi's 2012 "super-luxury" vehicle is hailed as a standout in its class. Writes U.S. News, Test drivers say the A8's cabin is exceptionally crafted, and the standard MMI infotainment system now features Google Earth views on its navigation screen and available Wi-Fi connectivity, thanks to a SIM card in the A8's dash. Reviewers like the design and features inside the A8, but note that it packs less cargo space than many competing luxury sedans. Passenger space, on the other hand is ample. If it's anything like its predecessor, the Audi A7, which our own Jason Gilbert called a "tech-lover's dream," the A8 is sure to win over drivers who have $75,704 to $130,192 laying around.
In partnership with the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) program, Volvo is testing the "road train" system, in which a lead vehicle pilots a column of cars down highways. The head car controls the others via Wi-Fi, allowing the drivers to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. According to Autoblog, the system is entering its final phase of testing and should be able to accomodate six vehicles by the year's end. No firm release date has been set.
Similar to the Terrafugia Transition, the PAL-V (or Personal Air and Land Vehicle) was developed in Holland and can reach speeds of up to 110 mph. Watch the video above to learn more!
Pretty soon there will be a hybrid flying car on the market, too. While this Burt Rutan model has yet to be approved for regular use on the road, it is fueled by both electric motors and gasoline engines, so, whether driving or flying, you're traveling a little greener than the rest. [Via Wired]
In October of last year, the DeLorean Motor Company, makers behind the iconic DMC-12, used as the time machine in Back to the Future, announced an all-electric model for, well, the future. According to a press release, the company paired up with Epic Electric Vehicles to bring this well-known car back to life and plans to market it in the States in 2013.
Mitsubishi's i-MiEV is a cleaner alternative to city driving. According to Mitsubishi's website, the i-MiEV features a lithium-ion battery system along with its motor and other engine components, a seating capacity of four, and a max speed of about 80 miles per hour. This super-green vehicle recently clinched the top spot on the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's (ACEEE) 14th annual Greenest Cars List for 2012.
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