Emerging Tech

Peter Cochrane's Uncommon Sense: God for a day

If you had 24 hours, what would you do?
Everyone's wanted to be God for a day. Peter Cochrane explains what he'd do with 24 hours in charge – from ending wars to teaching architects to eat their own dog food.

Every now and again I have a bad day, hit a sequence of really tough problems, or witness things on the news and in the press that really make me wish I could be God for just one day. Today is such a day and I have been musing the prospect and opportunity more than usual - to the point where I have compiled a mental hit list! So what would I do if I could?

Of course, I would do all the usual stuff of stopping all wars and human conflict, putting an end to big crime and all acts of inhumanity, injustice, starvation, disease and pestilence. I'd make sure all peoples had access to clean water, sufficient food and resources, whilst making the rich far more charitable and sharing.

I would also quickly educate the human race to the concept of limited natural resources and the prospect of living as one with nature. But I would resist the temptation to tamper with free will as much as possible…. so some self-inflicted disease, injury, hurt and small crimes would reappear after a while.

Basically, I reckon I could polish off all the really big and important stuff by around dinnertime without the need to add to the knowledge base, and all the irrational discussion and worries, about mobile phone radiation, power lines, GM crops, stem cell research, nuclear power, nanotechnology, genomics, proteomics, embryonics, and the biosciences.

However, I think it would be a great temptation to put an end to the global warming debate – is it or is it not real, down to human action, or a natural phenomenon? Are we safe in the long term or should mankind be planning to abandon the planet? Or is there a sustainable future possible – and if so how?

This would leave me around 12 hours to get on with the really tough stuff defined by the human condition. But, it is such a long list, and I might not have quite enough time even though I am omnipotent and omnipresent!

My first and most important move would be to get all governments, politicians, the politically minded and lawyers, out of and divorced from all control and decision loops related in any way with education, healthcare, media and transport infrastructure.

Their short-term interests and goals combined with growing, and unprecedented, levels of ignorance, not to mention simple mindedness, hubris and bigotry, have realised immense damage on all fronts.

Worse still; the misinterpretation of hard-won scientific facts and management results – which could read 'bending the truth' - to realise a given objective or agenda have reached dangerous and all to often drastic proportions.

Single-issue thinking and objectives, often divorced or loosely coupled to reality, have caused, and continue to cause, mayhem.

Next, I don't think I could resist the temptation to make them all honest people, invert their ability-ego quotient, remind them what taxes are for, and point out that every complex problem and situation has a very simple solution - and it is almost always wrong!

It is now midnight and time for the really fun stuff! I would condemn all architects to live and work for three years in every building they design so they could accumulate and learn from the catalogue of mistakes they currently make without ever feeling the consequences.

Similarly, all e-M@iler designers would be made to use their own product via a dial-up mobile phone connection at 9600bit/s.

Come to think of it – better make that all designers of everything, and while I'm at it I'll include engineers and all software writers – they should all eat their own dog food. In time, this would see them all converge on new levels of responsibility, professionalism and excellence, with a consequential and rapid fall in the number of badly designed and engineered things in our world.

Next on my list would be journalism and media, real estate, sales and marketing. These people would be given an extra gene to prevent them overstating, sensationalising and giving only part of the picture.

This would then be complemented by a new gene for the entire human race: the gene of rational thought would endow an ability and leaning toward broad and thorough analysis followed by understanding, to be complemented by an ability and desire for polite discussion and debate.

It is getting toward the end of my day as God and just a little time for a few frivolous miracles before I say goodbye and get back to my day job!

So let's have a world of double airports – one for tourists and one for business users. And all security systems really designed and aimed at identifying and catching problems rather than just demonstrating awareness.

To reduce pollution and life wasting, all roads and freeways doubled in size, with no speed cameras, clover leaf junctions instead of rotaries and/or traffic lights, increased speed limits and far better signing, sight lines and surfaces. And while I'm at it - Ordnance Survey maps covering the entire planet universally linked to GPS in all vehicles. Free Wi-Fi everywhere and broadband that really is broadband rather than a watered down kbit/s dribble!

Oh quick, only minutes to go - a good proportion of the old defence budgets switched to realising a sustainable energy cycle for everything and everyone everywhere. Let there be natural language interfaces for all IT, computers and technology in general with software that is reliable and people tolerant. No more blue screen of death, viruses, worms, Trojan horses, DoS attacks, defacing of websites.

And in the last few seconds, modelling software for all situations so we can check out the results of our decisions in advance. Come to think of it, I could really do with a quick check of all the above and so…'CLICK'…Blast! I'm back on AA3321.

Typed on AA3321 flying LA to San Jose after a few days at a conference dealing with the general problem of complexity. Edited on BA286 flying San Francisco to London and despatched to silicon.com the next day from my home via Wi-Fi.

About

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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