Monday, December 8, 2014

Technology Innovations - Energy Fracking and Genetic Cracking

Physics does not change the nature of the world it studies, and no science of behavior can change the essential nature of man, even though both sciences yield technologies with a vast power to manipulate their subject matters.

Burrhus Fredric Skinner (1904-1990), Walden Two (1948)

Two technological innovations are about the change the world Americans live in.

These innovations are:

One: Fracking (hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling).

This technique has spread rapidly in the U.S. and promises to make the U.S. energy dependent by 2020. As the result of fracking, the price of oil of a barrel of oil has dropped 30%, and price of gas has declined 51 cents to $2.74 in less than a year. According to Mark Papa, CEO of EOG Resources, a fracking leader, “There’s been a million frack jobs in the U.S. with zero documented case of damage to the drinking water table.” Papa claims we have enough natural gas and oil to last for over 50 years, and the advantages will be bursts in employment, business investment, growth in GDP, a tax revenue bonanza, and two to three fold competitive price advantage over Europe and Asia. There may be an even more important lesson: the power of entrepreneurial -devised technologies to surpass punitive government regulations. The fracking revolution occurred independent of and in spite of government regulations and without government subsidies. Decentralized human behavior works better and faster than centralized bureaucracies trying to impede and control that behavior.

Two: Cracking of Genetic Code ( conversion of cancer to chronic disease).

With more knowledge of genomic DNA and how the human immune system produces T-cells (specialized white cells known as lymphocytes), we are the verge of curing or converting solid tumors (melanomas, Hodgkin disease. lung cancer, kidney cancer, and maybe even so-called liquid tumors of blood and bone marrow) to chronic diseases. Studies from drug companies, such at Bristol-Myers and Merck and from cancer institutes, like Dana Farber and Sloane Kettering, indicate the PD-1 inhibtors, allow investigators to remove the natural brakes on T-cells, permitting the patient’s own immune system to attack its own tumor cells. Apparently some tumors, particularly melanoma and Hodgkin’s disease, have genetic abnormalities that produce a large amount of PD-1 vulnerable cells.

What the lesson here? Archimedes (286 B.C. -203 B.C.) said, “Give me where to stand, and I will move the world.” Archimedes, of course, was referring to the use of the lever and the principles of leverage. Technology is man’s lever and leverage for moving the world, and technology is something the U.S. and its entrepreneurs are extraordinarily good at creating and refining. Witness the Internet, Google, Twitter, Microsoft, and the fact that U.S. produce 80% of Nobel Prize winners in science and medicine. Technology, of course, is also a multi-headed monster – it may be dehumanizing, it may move too fast with negative social consequences, it may be uneven in its results, is the refuge of the skilled and educated, it rewards the rich, it is something that works best in capitalistic systems of government. But technology, with all its faults, is also something that gives convenience and benefits the masses and feeds the world. Technology creates leverage, progress, solutions, and prosperity.

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