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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public policy decisions about the environment without monitoring water, vegetation, temperature variations, wind, and other factors at a highly detailed level. He says the solution lies in developing environmental sensor nets:

“We’re fortunate that the NSF [National Science Foundation] has funded Hans-Werner Braun, who is one of the great innovators at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, to build out the largest wireless sensor net in the country. So we have an opportunity here to be an innovator in this sensor net environment and then couple that with some of the [computerized] climate models so you can begin to do ‘what ifs.’…This is going to do have tremendous impact on wildfires, in particular.

Culture. Smarr says the digital transformation of culture already has begun. Instead of living and working in a world that requires driving to different places to do work, to meet, and to learn, Smarr says we now live in a mixed physical-virtual world.

“What this means is with high-speed optical networks, you can now have high-definition video or even eventually digital-cinema resolution telepresence. You can have teams that are hooked together all over the world in a virtual sense that are connecting their physical spaces together. We have early versions of this already with the web and video conferencing. Oh and by the way, think of social networks. Think of how weird it is with young people that so much of their interaction goes on virtually and not physically. That’s a mixed virtual physical space.

Calit2's HIPerSpace display wall

Calit2's HIPerSpace display wall

“I think you’re going to see over the next 10 years an incredibly rapid pace of change as our physically based culture becomes a virtual-physical culture. Calit2 is setting itself up to live in that future. In my office, one of my assistants is 300 miles north and one of them physically is here. They have video Skype on all day long.”

Calit2 also has far more advanced capabilities that are being used in global collaborations, in which far-flung research groups use large, high-definition wall displays to work together on complex systems—such as stem cell research and real-time geographic information systems for mapping wildfires.

Smarr says such collaborations also will increasingly take place with and among groups located physically outside of the United States.

In Australia, for example, the government has followed his advice and is installing fiber optic networks for 90 percent of the buildings and homes. Says Smarr, “This is the new world. Innovation is going to be happening globally. It’s not a closed game for the U.S. anymore. What I try to do is go out and find where the best innovation is going on, where people are getting to the future first, and then bring it back to California. Because in the end California is still the best place on Earth for translating innovation into wealth creation and improvements in the quality of life of its citizens. And I don’t think that’s going to change in the next 10 years.”

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

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