Peter Zeihan is one of my favorite intellectual provocateurs. Flamboyant, cocky, often cogent, and savvy about science, technology and geopolitics, he would have been perfect for my COSM conference from November 1-3 in Bellevue, Washington. But he said he was “all tied up”… maybe next year.
So, we’ll have to get along with a constellation of actual entrepreneurs and venturers, from incandescent Ark investor Cathie Wood to Kyoto Prizewinner Carver Mead, from AI “Singularity” theorist Ray Kurzweil to Mathematica genius Stephen Wolfram, from Ethernet inventor Bob Metcalfe to Wall Street Journal paragon Andy Kessler.
Still, we’ll miss Peter’s bite and bravado. And he may miss learning about the nanocosm!
Zeihan’s key theme is the dominance of demography in technological advance. Governing national progress is the pattern of births and deaths. Technological progress, as he contends, is the source of nearly all economic growth, and it chiefly stems from entrepreneurial science spearheaded by people under 40. Think of the Manhattan Project in the 1940s or Silicon Valley in the 1980s.
Chiefly funding these inventions is a mature generation yet to retire and consume. When the number of young people sinks and old people retire to spend their savings, economic growth tends to decline.
Zeihan assumes that the United States leads in trained young people. He may be right, but my extensive visits to China found a vast entrepreneurial scientific effort there, spearheaded by literally millions more engineers and other long-STEMed youths than in the United States, and maybe even more capitalists.
Zeihan believes Xi Jinping will suppress the capitalists and end the China growth saga in a morbid socialist swamp. As Zeihan points out, China’s one-child policy was suicidal. But the U.S. also has yet to learn the lessons to be inflicted here by a suicidal population policy of abortions and feminism. At least China will not commit climate change harekiri.
Among many acute insights, Zeihan in this week’s podcast sees five maturing innovations with a large potential impact in the near future.
The Zeihan Five are impressive, but he leaves out what may be the most promising of all, what I call the “nanocosm.” On Zeihan’s list are:
1) Artificial Intelligence and large language models that will ultimately transform all industries. As he points out, AI is chiefly limited by chip technology, particularly equipment suppliers such as ASM lithography and its ramified ecosystem still centered in Taiwan.
2) Satellites, led by SpaceX, dropping launch costs 90% and promising large increases in global connectivity.
3) Bio-genetic tailored drugs that will be paid for by the geriatric rich who will benefit first, allowing cancer et cetera to be managed like HIV.
4) The shale revolution surging from fuels into a second phase focused on manufacturing, metals, coatings, construction materials and other breakthroughs, as the “mom-and-pop era” with 100s of experimental companies now coalesce into a few “supermajors” led by Chevron that can raise the necessary capital.
5) GMO seeds and AI Agricultural transformation, doubling output of row crops by 2032, as individualized plant treatments [pioneered in Israel!] focus on the fruits rather than the stalks, with already a doubling of corn output with stalks half as tall.
However, this list leaves out the most momentous transformation of all: graphene. A single layer of carbon atoms a nanometer thick, graphene can make nonsense of all talk of a climate crisis, or a sustainability problem, or technological stagnation.
A two-dimensional material, one gram could cover a football field and not be damaged by a football game on it. Just one nanometer thick but hundreds of times stronger than steel per pound, it can enable an invisible superman suit that bounces off bullets like pickleballs.
A thousand times more conductive than copper, graphene is so flawless in transmitting signals that it can be used to replace a severed spinal cord, a 5G wireless switch, or an entire power grid.
Look, ma, no more copper wires and coils heating up an impasse at the end of Moore’s Law gains in silicon chips. Graphene is the most thermally conductive of all materials ever studied.
Perhaps the most exciting long run application is replacement of the entire power grid with light and robust polyurethane wires coated with graphene. Conducting 1,000 times more efficiently than copper, the graphene carries the electrical power down the outside of the wire.
Ever since it was first isolated in 2004 in Britain by 2012 Nobel Laureates Andre Geim and Kosta Novelosov applying scotch tape to a graphite block, however, the issue with graphene is how to manufacture it in volume. As Jim Tour of Rice has explained in four COSM speeches in recent years, the manufacturing challenge has now been essentially solved.
Graphene will be produced in volume from garbage and plastic refuse. As Tour puts it, “We don’t recycle, we upcycle.” At perhaps one hundredth the current cost, graphene will become a vast new economic abundance comparable to the surges of “Superabundance” described in Gale Pooley and Marian Tupy’s definitive book.
Solving current problems of economic sloth will be cheap graphene made by the ton for the cost of the electricity needed to empower Tour’s “flash joule heating” process. This new abundance will revolutionize nearly every industry, from electronics and communication to energy storage and construction, to medical prosthetics and military-space technology.
Zeihan could have learned more about it at COSM. But he can catch up readily by reading our newsletters, as can you.
P.S. You’ve got to come to COSM 2023, Nov. 1-3 in Bellevue, Washington. COSM 2022 and 2021 were probably the best tech gatherings we’ve ever been to, and the 2023 version is not to be missed.
COSM is the ultimate expression of George’s worldview, the Gilder Team’s insights into what is happening in tech, how it matters to the world and especially to our readers and tech investors. Save the dates of Nov. 1-3:
The focus this year is on AI and all its works. Key speakers include:
Plus, you will meet lots of key folks from the companies we cover.
Speaking of heroes, the brilliant and brave Michael Shellenberger (recently harassed by Congress People of Limited IQ) will speak on Free Speech in the Digital Age.
As always, Carver Mead will give a riveting reflection on our three days together.
Social time is great—meet old friends and fellow subscribers and investors.
George and Nini, of course, and the rest of the Gilder Team, John, Steve, Paul and Richard will be there, too.
DON’T MISS IT.
FOR A SPECIAL DISCOUNT FOR OUR SUBSCRIBERS ONLY GO HERE!
P.P.S. Come join our Eagle colleagues on an incredible cruise! Set sail on Dec. 4 for 16 days, embarking on a memorable journey that combines fascinating history, vibrant culture and picturesque scenery. Enjoy seminars on the days the ship is cruising from one destination to another, as well as dinners with members of the Eagle team. Some of the places on the itinerary are Mexico, Belize, Panama, Ecuador and more! Click here now for all the details.