If you were to open up your phone (that is, if you still have a phone that can easily be opened), you'd find that the largest, heaviest component of the technology isn't the magical wiring that grants you 24/7 access to cat photos. It's not even the memory that allows you to store those cat photos for future use. Rather, the heaviest piece of your phone is the battery. And as Singularity University's Brad Templeton explains in his Big Think interview, those weighty bits are holding us down in more ways than just one.
Computer technology is limited by the pesky principles of power consumption. The reason we can't take a major next step with the personal computer is because our chips would melt if they were run any faster. There's only so far our current setup will go.
"If you looked inside a modern desktop computer you've probably seen it's got a big tower with silver veins and fan blowing on it. That's to get all the heat out. And that's making it hard to make the desktop computers faster."
But when it comes to pocket technology (and beyond), Templeton explains how innovative restraints are set by the limitations of power storage. No matter how impressive our iPhones and electric cars become, we're still subject to the whims of our chargers. Our 21st century gadgets are being handicapped by 20th century power storage:
"This is an area where breakthroughs are needed for cars, as well as for devices we have in our pockets, and even for storing power that's generated from the power grid. We really would love to switch to renewal power like solar and wind, but the problem is that these only come when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing and so you need to store the power to use at a later time and that's actually a pretty difficult challenge."
Raising the ceiling of our innovative potential requires new advances in battery technology. Just imagine where our technology could go if we weren't weighted down by our big hulking bits of power storage. Templeton notes that there are plenty of people searching for this much-needed breakthrough, yet real innovation won't be possible until researchers are able to get ideas off the blackboard and put into practice. In this arena, theory gets us nowhere.
"You have to really make it commercializiable before you can say you have it and that hasn't happened yet."
For more on this topic from Brad Templeton, check out the following clip from his Big Think interview: