The Science of Super Powers


Davy: Putting the “umph” into Humphry

Man, in what is called a state of nature, is a creature of almost pure sensation. Called into activity only by positive wants, his life is passed either in satisfying the cravings of the common appetites, or in apathy, or in slumber. Living only in moments, he calculates but little on futurity. He has no vivid feelings of hope, or thoughts of permanent and powerful action. And, unable to discover causes, he is either harassed by superstitious dreams, or quietly and passively submitted to the mercy of nature and the elements. How different is man informed through the beneficence of the Deity, by science, and the arts! Knowing his wants, and being able to provide for them, he is capable of anticipating future enjoyments, and of connecting hope with an infinite variety of ideas. He is in some measure independent of chance or accident for his pleasures. Science has given to him an acquaintance with the different relations of the parts of the external world; and more than that, it has bestowed upon him powers which may be almost called creative; which have enabled him to change and modify the beings surrounding him, and by his experiments to interrogate nature with power, not simply as a scholar, passive and seeking only to understand her operations, but rather as a master, active with his own instruments.

Sir Humphry Davy
Discourse, Introduction to a Course of Lectures on Chemistry (1802)


The Age of Abundance


Magnum PI. About as far from London and a cup of tea as you can get.

What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914! The greater part of the population, it is true, worked hard and lived at a low standard of comfort, yet were, to all appearances, reasonably contented with this lot. But escape was possible, for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average, into the middle and upper classes, for whom life offered, at a low cost and with the least trouble, conveniences, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages. The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend. He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighbouring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference. But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalisation of which was nearly complete in practice.

The Economic Consequences of the Peace
John Maynard Keynes

Is Sweden falling behind in the tech stakes?

According to a recent report by Richard Florida, Sweden was ranked 5th in the league table of the world’s leading tech economies in 2011. This comes as no surprise: Sweden has been at the forefront of digital innovation for over a decade. However times change, and nowhere do they change faster than in the world of modern technology. Right now China has more than 1.2M qualified IT professionals, and is producing tech graduates at a rate of over 400K a year (and climbing). By contrast Sweden has only 100K graduates in total each year, while its PISA rating (the performance of 15 year olds as measured by the Programme for International Student Assessment) is falling. Sweden is now ranked a lowly 22 out of 36 in the latest PISA rankings.

In the UK kids between the ages of 11 and 14 are now expected to be able to programme in two or more programming languages. By contrast Sweden lags well behind, and still has no plans to introduce the art of coding into the school curriculum. In Swedish schools, kids are being taught to be passive technology consumers; we need them to be active technology creators.

If your perception of coding is that it is a nerdy skill practised by a few socially awkward geeks, you’re wrong. Just as English has risen to be the dominant language of international money and trade, so has the ability to code become the modern language of technology, innovation and global digital commerce. It would be unimaginable to not teach our future citizens English. Why then is it seemingly OK for our kids to not learn the skill of coding?

But being able to code is so much more than teaching kids how to control computers. It means teaching kids how to divide problems into smaller, manageable parts; it means teaching kids how to break things and fail, fix it and then try again; and it means teaching kids the value of working together as a team to solve complex problems.

To prepare for an uncertain future where technology is king and innovation and change is constant, Sweden is going to need a whole generation of kids with these kind of skills to draw on.

So join me in helping to improve our kids future by signing the declaration below. Please feel free to share this with your friends!