An alternative for the conspiracy theorists of the COVID-19 age
I was moved to write this post because I woke up and realised that conspiracy theorists are as much a category of people as any other. I've been wasting my time debunking myths because a conspiracy theorist will produce another one from a seemingly endless supply, or I'll be accused of being part of the cover up.
I have read that Bill Gates is a) leading a race war on Africa b) trying to make black children infertile c) the creator of the COVID-19 virus d) trying to make us THINK COVID-19 is a virus when it isn’t… and a few things beside. In this time of COVID-19, Bill Gates is the Anti-Christ and I’m bored with defending him. He’s not my brother and I really don't care about him. Yes, my conspiratorial friends, it’s all Bill Gates. He’s part of a Neo-Ancient-Jewish-Christian-Islamic-Atheist cabal who are intent on destroying Africans, Jews, Chinese, <insert your ethnic group here> and it's lucky we've seen through his dastardly plot.
The trouble is, dastardly though he is, I can’t tell you why he would do any of the above. All the conspiracies seem small-minded with zero gain. I mean, if you want to kill people, use an AK-47. As Samuel L Jackson would say, at 10 cents a bullet, accept no substitute.
Enough of Bill! This post is for my conspiratorial friends. Because while they’re frantically sharing posts from Russian and Chinese bot factories, blaming a pretty harmless billionaire for every evil under the sun, other people are out there trying to rule the world. I'm going to expose these 'other people', and just as importantly, I'm going to tell you why they are doing what they are doing - the filthy scoundrels. Here's the real conspiracy...
A note about science – big and small.
Before we get to the evil 'them', let's debunk a myth about science. There are two kinds of science. Small Science and Big Science. In his book, Zero to One, US tech Investor Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal, says “Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates won’t make an operating system. The next Larry Page won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerburg won’t create a social network. If you are copying from these guys you aren’t learning from them.”
If you are working on 5g, or even 9g, you are not in the technology race. It’s like the technology race is the 100 metres and you’ve entered the marathon by mistake. You’re not even going from 0 to 0.1; you are doing Small Science - stuck somewhere around 0.00000000000000001. To do Big Science, and get from 0 to 1 (and maybe, just maybe, 10), you must create something nobody has ever heard of. This is where China and Japan have always fallen short. It doesn’t matter what anyone makes - motorcycles, cars, musical instruments, nuclear reactors, 4g phone masts - eventually they get hold of it, study it, copy it, and make it better. You can get rich that way, but you’ll never rule the world. As a naija man knows, they are the Abba marketers of the world, only dem dey make am better, not worse.
Let me tell you where I think the world is at, because it isn’t 5g, which everyone can make, and everyone is already making, or dastardly plots to invent viruses that accidentally kill their creators. The top prize in the world today is Artificial Intelligence. So far we have seen nothing of the true capability of AI. It is questionable if anything we have seen even truly classifies as AI. Yet.
Let me give you an example of 0 to 1 that we can all relate to. In 2004, Google bought a small mapping company. Nobody outside a small group of clever people knew back then why they did so. Now that there are more than 1 billion users of Google Maps a day we can all see why. In 2013, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, became a major shareholder in Uber (since yielding a 20x return). I don't think Alphabet is interested in owning a share in a ride hailing firm, I think the answer to why they made this investment goes back not to 2013, but all the way to 2004!
In 2004, Google executives went from 0 to 1. They anticipated the ubiquitous smartphone (they had the major advantage of being in Silicon Valley, the right place to do so), and once they started sending out their bubble mapping cars it was only a short stretch of the imagination for them to conclude that the day would come when vehicles would be autonomous. Every autonomous vehicle would need to know the route to its destination. Game, set, and match to Google. Well not quite, because a certain Elon Musk and a few others were in the same place at the same time and made the same logical leap towards autonomous vehicles.
What Google’s move in 2004 tells us is that when you go from 0 to 1 very few people see what you’re doing. When you’re going from 4g to 5g everyone can see what you’re doing! Not only can everyone see 5g, everyone can do it. There’s a 5g mast down the road from me and it doesn’t belong to Huawei. Huawei only appears to lead the way because it can make 5g kit cheaply, and nobody else can be bothered.
Can’t be bothered? Yes. Think of COVID-19 and ventilators. Dyson, the vacuum cleaner maker, designed and built a vastly improved ventilator in a week. McClaren, the F1 company, reverse-engineered breathing apparatus to be 60% more efficient in 100 hours. So why didn’t these two companies do this before? It wasn’t because they lacked the know-how. The answer is simple. Some things aren’t done in a competitive fashion because the potential competitors see better rewards elsewhere and can’t be bothered to enter the space.
The space the biggest tech giants want to enter is Artificial Intelligence (AI), not ventilators or 5g, or any kind of g for that matter. They are so technologically competent they can build their own 5g if they want to; they don’t need Huawei to do anything for them. If you think the obsession with AI is to predict social models, or provide police state facial recognition, or so you can ask Alexa to find the old reggae music you liked in your teens, or for driverless cars to have conversations with their passengers, you have not been paying attention.
The man who wanted to make electric vehicles...
AI has been around for ages, but we never had the computing power to turn it into a reality. Now that we do, AI really started to enter public consciousness with various pronouncements by Elon Musk, who has had several spats with his fellow tech billionaires (notably Mark Zuckerberg) on the direction of this technology.
Elon wanted to invest in battery technology (and went on to do so). It made sense, because he was building electric cars, and electric cars can’t stop and recharge at fuelling stations. To be commercially viable on a massive scale you must be able to drive an electric car over a ramp that contains the machinery to swap out your battery in seconds. When perfected, this method of refuelling will make filling up at a petrol station seem like stopping off overnight to water and rest the horses.
Elon needs rare metals to make batteries – cobalt, lithium nickel to name but three. The Chinese bought up most of the rare metal mines around the world and have a monopoly. Elon Musk, a 0 to 1 thinker if ever there was one, asked: ‘where can I get a cheap, inexhaustible supply of rare metals for my batteries?’ The answer was straightforward to a man of his ambition – these metals are rare on earth, but in space the supply is limited only by your imagination and your rocket booster technology.
Why did Elon Musk start SpaceX? Answers on a postcard please. My answer is that it is because he sees a world without any constraints on natural resources. You can get whatever you want from space, and more.
Elon is not alone. He occupies a world in which he is surrounded by 0 to 1 thinkers. Why else does Jeff Bezoz invest $1bn a year in Blue Origin, his own space research and engineering firm? If anyone thinks Jeff and Elon are investing for their grandchildren, they don’t know much about the speed of technological innovation, or the way 0 to 1 thinkers think.
Elon, Jeff, and the rare few who think like them, know that the problem with mining and colonizing off earth is that 99.9999999999999999999999999% of space is hostile to humans. The greatest cost in any space adventure is the cost of keeping humans alive, but right now, human ingenuity and adaptability is essential for successful space missions that are more complex than just landing on a rock and flying back. If you want to know the value of humans in space exploration, watch Apollo 13. Although this is a film about human survival, it is also a factual statement that were it not for humans, that spacecraft would have represented nothing but a $bn hulk of useless metal.
To colonize space you need a human mind (or better) and you need one that can survive in the most inhospitable of regions – too hot, too cold, no air, no water, no light. But what if you didn't need to keep people alive on a space mission? You'd reduce the space needed by two thirds. That same space could hold robots that also don’t need air, light, water, food… and which can survive ten times longer in hostile conditions than a fragile human body. What you need to control those robots and the spacecraft and everything else... is AI.
My conspiratorial friends, nobody who is trying to conquer the world gives two hoots about supressing African fertility with vaccines, or frying anybody’s head with 5g radiation, or inventing and spreading viruses, or sponsoring jihads, or any of the current conspiracy theories that abound on Whatsapp. Nobody who is intent on conquering the world cares about Made in Shanghai technology. The guys who are forging ahead are looking up. There are diamonds the size of buses in space. In a universal context, there is no such thing as ‘rare’ metal. Just imagine - need more space to build your ginormous house when other billionaires have bought up all the land next to you in Hollywood and won’t sell? Colonise Mars and build a house a mile wide and a mile high! By the time the plebs can come and live next door, your kind will have left the solar system.
The people who can get from 0 to 1 in the space race won’t be soldiers or politicians, they won’t be billionaires, or trillionaires, they will be individuals who are wealthy and powerful beyond the ability of our minds to comprehend.
The ultimate goal is to land on a mineral rich asteroid, clamp a rocket to it, fire the rocket to bring the asteroid into near earth orbit, mine it in space with no environmental concerns (or cost) and fire the debris into the sun. Achieve that and you'll be an instant multi-gigillionaire (my term for a sum of money equal to more money than currently exists in the global monetary system).
So what about the conspiracy?
Do you want to know what power is? Power is the ability to use the exact same space mining technology to nudge an asteroid off course and control its trajectory. For a few thousand dollars you can initiate an extinction-level event on earth that no earth-launched missile can stop.
Okay, in reality nobody is interested in causing extinction events on earth, though we should quickly spread a conspiracy theory that it's exactly what 'they' want to do. We can substitue anyone we don't like for 'they' - preferably a white American billionaire. We won’t be able to say why this person would want to kill all life on earth, but who cares? Lacking a reason has never stopped a good conspiracy from circulating like wildfire before.