Editorial Notebook

Necessary entrepreneurship

Global problems need technological entrepreneurs

The future of humanity and life on Earth is currently in a state of uncertainty. Many extremely complex problems have arisen that remain without clear solutions. Notable, in my mind, now are invasive species, extinction from a variety of causes, anthropogenic climate change, current energy sources being non-renewable, general resource depletion, general global pollution, cancer and other serious health issues, various geopolitical issues, global poverty, an exponentially expanding population and the associated problems, and the vulnerability of humans to planet-wide catastrophe. This list is certainly incomplete.

There is nothing to prevent any of these issues from continuing at the status quo, which itself is unacceptable, and from these issues dramatically worsening. Take, in my opinion, the most dramatic case: the extinguishment of Earth’s biosphere, including all humans. There is nothing fundamentally necessary about the existence of sentient life. It could be extinguished and the rest of the universe would remain rather unchanged. I believe there is some sense of invincibility in many people’s minds regarding the existence of our species, as if humans are too powerful to go extinct. Maybe it’s an inability to think critically enough to realize this fact. Maybe it’s a lack of will, or a lack of the technical knowledge necessary to address these issues.

Because of these perceived inadequacies of the general public, I am rather untrusting of gradual change, though I am aware that it is possible. For example, the gradual technical improvement and gradual adoption of solar panels could switch the majority of the world energy supply to a renewable source. However, I am unsatisfied with this approach; I don’t find it to be able to enact the necessary change in the necessary time span, nor reliable enough to be trusted with the fate of species. Though I do not oppose the pursuit of the gradual approach to technological innovation and global problem solving, I endorse a supplemental vehicle to change: revolutionary technological entrepreneurship.

I place great faith in those who take the risk to form startups based on addressing global issues. I believe in their ability to broaden the scope of credible possibility. Their ambition and their vision are essential for rapidly addressing these problems. In reference to broadening the scope of credible possibility, take Elon Musk, for example. Until at least 2007, few people legitimately believed that spaceflight was in the proper realm of private enterprise; it was regarded as the domain of government agencies, too expensive and risky and requiring too much government oversight for commercial operations to succeed. However, in 2002, Musk had the audacity to found Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, with the stated goal of colonizing Mars. SpaceX has since, at minimum, proved that private companies are more than capable of running a successful satellite launch and space station supply business.

I encourage students to consider the entrepreneurial option for a career. Though I have seen many student entrepreneurs in computer science-related fields, I have yet to meet a student entrepreneur in other fields, such as biotechnology, medicine, or even civil engineering. Though I recognize the barriers to success are arguably much higher in these other fields, I still believe it is entirely possible for a student to enter these fields as entrepreneurs and successfully change the world for the better.