Calit2′s Larry Smarr (Part 2): Insights on the Path Ahead and 4 Big Ideas for the Future of Health, Energy, Environment, and Culture

10/1/09Follow @bvbigelow

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for a couple of hundred thousand miles with no problems. How is that possible? Because every important subsystem is being monitored. And it’s not just being monitored, because when you take it in for your 10,000-mile checkup, the memories are read out, and the spark plugs, brakes, fuel injection, and pollution controls are checked against the population of cars that are the same make as yours. As long as you’re still in the bell curve of performance, then you don’t spend any money. And if there is the beginning of a deviation from normality, you catch it so early, so that it’s just the removal or replacement of a small piece. And then you’re back to perfect health.

“Until you are able to monitor your processes and compare against population numbers, though, you really can’t do a scientific job of preventative medicine…So there’s a whole new set of innovations that are coming that combine engineering with medicine, IT, telecom, and sensors. And I think Southern California has a tremendous opportunity to be a world center for this because Southern California is at the bull’s-eye of the counter-revolution of obesity and many of the other [illness] trends that are going to wreck the healthcare system financially.”

Energy. Smarr says greenhouse gases produced by industrialization, particularly now in China and India, are going to change this planet on a fairly short timescale. “We’re terraforming the planet Earth in an uncontrolled experiment,” Smarr says, and he outlined his ideas for the digital transformation of energy:

Larry Smarr

Larry Smarr

“The most important thing we can do is waste less energy…So if 40 percent of our greenhouse gases in the U.S. are produced by our houses and buildings, then going to smart buildings that are fully instrumented—just like we talked about for the body—are the critical way. But you need software and sensors to do that.

“The same goes with our cars. Basically we’re going to have to transform our sources of energy that generate electricity from fossil fuels to renewables. At the same time, our transportation fleet has got to go to plug-in hybrids or electric cars running off the smart electric grid. This is a gigantic transformation that’s going to cost trillions of dollars…It’s a system change.

“The big help here is to start with the campuses across the United States, the 200 research campuses. They are cities. They have their own transportation fleets?. In San Diego County, the largest landlord of buildings is the University of California San Diego. We’re the second-largest user of electricity as an entity…So the campuses become living laboratories for experimentation of the greener future. This is a tremendous opportunity for companies to come into the university and put their green technology to work in an integrated system…It’s only if the system gets greener that things are going to get any better.”

Environment. Smarr contends that government bodies cannot make … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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