Painful Truth: Apps not key to changed future

Weirder technology, like a tabletop virus builder, will become important soon.

Recently, I gave Uber a bit of a well-deserved kicking in this column.

I’m irked at Silicon Valley startups, partially because they’re stealing the spotlight from some truly weird and science fictional creations.

Last week, near the Orkney Islands, a big red-and-yellow floating gizmo that looks kind of like a submarine was deployed by Scotrenewables Tidal Power.

It broke a record for power generation for a tidal turbine.

People have been talking tidal energy since before I was born. But this device – basically two massive turbines attached to a narrow floating hull – generated 18 megawatt hours of power over 24 hours.

That’s starting to get competitive with wind power. A dozen years ago, that wouldn’t mean much, but wind is now competitive with – or cheaper than – coal in many places in the United States.

(That bit of information comes from that well-known leftist periodical, Fortune Magazine.)

In fact, wind and solar provided 10 per cent of the U.S.’s electricity in March, the first time that total has hit one tenth.

That number will rise over time, partly for simple economics. One of the biggest wind users in the U.S. is Texas.

Short term, we’ll see coal plants shutting down as natural gas plants are used to pick up the slack when solar/wind aren’t generating. But in the longer term, more efficient batteries will likely cut into the use of even natural gas.

Canada has a lot of catching up to do here. We generate almost 60 per cent of our energy from renewable hydro power, but there are regions where wind and solar could be added to the mix – currently we only get 3.5 per cent from wind.

If you don’t like energy, there’s a major medical breakthrough/possible world ending apocalypse also on offer.

Synthetic Genomics, a company founded by Craig Venter, has built a desktop protein synthesizer. You can email it a design for existing or artificial proteins.

On the good side: this means you could make vaccines in a hurry, all across the globe, to deal with a pandemic.

On the bad side: you can print viruses. Hello, smallpox.exe!

It’s not a commerical product yet, just a working prototype. So we don’t have to worry about terrorists making home brewed Ebola quite yet.

These practical devices are going to do a lot more to change our lives, and the next half century, than this week’s hyped app.