The Most Important Question You Can Ask: Then What?
Life is full of next steps. In the academic literature, these things would be called “second order effects”. But, in real life, they’re called consequences (or unintended consequences). Each of our actions has an immediate effect and a range of different long term effects. For example, the short term effect of eating a McDonald’s hamburger may be enjoyment and satiety. However, the long term effect may be sleepiness and, eventually, weight gain (though, obviously, it takes more than one burger to get there).
The great art of life is in balancing the short term and the long term, so that one can have enjoyment with integrity - pleasure with purpose. But in most areas of life, we pay strict attention to the immediate consequences of things. We look at the immediate results of a social or economic policy and call it a victory (or a complete failure). We look in the mirror after each workout, hoping to see substantial changes in belly fat or physique. We play a game because it’s “so much fun”, and disregard the fact that it’s taking away from valuable study or work or social time. What is not present is always underrepresented, and opportunity cost is an invisible demon that steals us blind while we look right through him.
Luckily, there’s an antidote to this type of short-term thinking. It’s a simple question: “And then what?” Thomas Sowell, the great economist, once said that essence of economics is asking “and then what?”. The problem is that so few of us take the effort to do this very simple thing. It’s understandable, we get caught up in the moment, and we don’t particularly enjoy thinking in minute detail each and every moment of our lives. But in the coming era, it will become increasingly important for us to ask these kinds of things, as our interconnectedness makes ideas and new technologies spread faster than ever before.
If we think two or three steps ahead, it’s possible for us to make small changes in our products and services that can save us a lot of pain and heartache in the long run. Facebook would have been well served in asking this question when developing Beacon, the controversial program that shared a user’s purchases on other websites (like Blockbuster and Overstock) in Facebook’s social feed. Unfortunately, the system was opt-out instead of opt-in, and so many users found themselves with a sense of shock and betrayal as their personal shopping habits were shared far and wide in their social graphs. A ten minute exercise of “and then what?” could have easily prevented a mistake like this.
Of course, groupthink is a strong thing, and every single industry and organization falls prey to this fundamental human impulse. We’re tribal creatures, and we bind together at many different levels of life to feel a sense of belonging, and to get into positions that are advantageous to our desires and goals. But, an understanding of the complexity of the world, and second and third order effects, is essential for building technology - and dancing along with the chaos of life.
We technologists could really use a little reminder from time to time. And then what?
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Three academic papers from Australia shows sizable bone spurs growing at the base of our skulls.
- A team of researchers in Queensland says 33% of the Australian population has sizable bone spurs growing at the base of their skulls.
- This postural deformity, enthesophytes, results in chronic headaches and upper back and neck pain.
- The likelihood humans will alter their addiction to this technology is low, so this might be a major consequence of technology.
They'll reportedly last for thousands of years. This technology may someday power spacecraft, satellites, high-flying drones, and pacemakers.
Nuclear energy is carbon free, which makes it an attractive and practical alternative to fossil fuels, as it doesn't contribute to global warming. We also have the infrastructure for it already in place. It's nuclear waste that makes fission bad for the environment. And it lasts for so long, some isotopes for thousands of years. Nuclear fuel is comprised of ceramic pellets of uranium-235 placed within metal rods. After fission takes place, two radioactive isotopes are left over: cesium-137 and strontium-90.
Facebook was careful to say that Libra is not maintained internally and is instead serviced by a non-profit collective of companies.
- Facebook has just announced its new cryptocurrency, Libra.
- Early investors include many of the world's leading companies, implying they will accept Libra as payment
- The announcement was met with a mixed response, but only time will tell how Libra will be received
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