SPRIND Podcast Transcript: Innovation, Europe, Secret Services

This article is part of a series on (European) innovation and capabilities.

Earlier this year I was very happy to be interviewed by Thomas Ramge for Germany’s Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND). Many podcasts are just two guys talking to each other, but here Thomas brought along a lot of expertise & spent serious time preparing, which contributed hugely to having a productive conversation. Even if it is still two guys!

SPRIND is creating spaces for innovators, where they can take risks and think radically different: With an entrepreneurial environment to bring ideas to the market and enthusiasm for progress with sustainable value.

The original podcast can be found on the SPRIND site, on Spotify, on Apple or on Deezer.

This transcript has been edited lightly to remove some confusing sentences & to clear up language, but is otherwise mostly verbatim. I can recommend otter.ai highly for automated transcription.

I also want to thank the small cast of proofreaders that helped make this page readable!

Thomas: Thanks for listening to SPRIND, the podcast of the Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation of Germany, in which we talk with people who think about the new in new ways. I’m the host, my name is Thomas Ramge. Our guest today is from the Netherlands. His name is Bert Hubert.

He’s an entrepreneur, a software developer. But he’s also a part time scientist & author, with a special interest in innovation.

He has also throughout his career, worked intensely with intelligence agencies, and is now a board member of the Investigatory Powers Commission of the Dutch Intelligence and Security Services.

Thanks for joining Bert, Welcome!

Bert: Thank you.

Thomas: Well, it’s a bit hard to describe, what do you do in all the roles you do have in your LinkedIn profile? You try to condense it into two words, which are geeky entrepreneur. So what’s a geeky entrepreneur? How did you happen to become one?

Bert: So a bit of my background. I started my first company when I studied physics. And back then, when people launched companies, these were all very much around novel business plans and marketing and sales. And I didn’t feel like doing anything like that, I wanted to innovate by using clever new techniques, or new technologies or inventing things.

And after a while, LinkedIn came along, and I had already done many different things at that time. And LinkedIn forces you to say, Well, what are you then? And this can be quite confronting and the two words that came to mind there, were just “geeky entrepreneur”. The entrepreneur part says, Look, I started companies, and I run things. But I’m also a big nerd. And I didn’t want to hide that.

Thomas: You started off your career as a hacker if I understand it, right?

Bert: Yeah, that was a good opportunity. My university town, we got the first cable modems and I, of course, really, really, really needed the cable modem because the telephone costs were driving me bankrupt. And so I was one of the first 30 customers of this cable company, and I got this cable modem and I switched it on, I started to investigate the network and then see what was there.

And I found that the security of the cable company was just not there. So I could log in on servers and send people messages and stuff. So I sent them messages on their own servers. I said, Look, the security is not good. And then they said, Well, why don’t you come over so we can discuss.

So I went there, and on my way on my bicycle there, I thought, well, I might get arrested by now. Or I might turn this into good business, and in fact, when I came along, they said, Oh, here’s a chair and take a seat, and please start fixing things. And I did that as a contractor. That was really the start of my business empire (laughs).

Thomas: That is indeed fairly impressive what you’ve done all over, but you started off as a small software entrepreneur, right?

Bert: Yeah, it started small. So I had this job at the cable company. And after a while, I wanted to get out. But they didn’t want me to leave. And they bribed me with, just well, very scary amounts of money, especially for a 24 year old student. So I stayed for another year there. And that provided the launching capital for for my first company called PowerDNS. And there we really started as computer programmers trying to solve a problem.

And, the good thing we did there is that that there’s this thing called DNS, that’s what used to be called the phone book of the internet. But young people have no idea what a phone book is, so that no longer works.

So if you enter a website’s name that has to be converted into an IP address, and without that the internet doesn’t work, so that’s real infrastructure.

And, back in the day, all that infrastructure was being maintained by hand using text files, and our innovation, and it is not a big innovation, was: how about we use a database for that.

Thomas: Sounds like a very useful innovation!

Bert: And we were really the first ones to do it. And because everyone said, No, it’s It’s not possible and it cannot be done. And it was even borderline illegal, because the internet standards at the time explicitly said you have to use a text file. And that’s sort of a general lesson that if you want to innovate, it’s always rather fun to innovate in an area where people say, look what you want to do, that’s not even possible. And also maybe it’s not even allowed by the spec. And that creates a lot of space.

Thomas: Even in in an open source environment, like the backbone of the internet. Right? Yeah. I mean, you come from the whole world of open source software development, but I understand it right, that you didn’t start open source?

Bert: No, and that’s the geeky part of “geeky entrepreneur”, I really didn’t know anything [about business]. So we wanted to sell to big telecommunications companies as closed source, because we couldn’t see how you could make money out of that with open source.

So we started out as a closed source company, but you have to realize, if you sell closed source software, you need a big sales force, you need a little sales effort. And, we didn’t have that.

So we actually, we were like, sort of these open source kind of people, writing closed source software. And we sold nothing, nothing at all.

And only later did we turn it into open source. And actually, that turns your innovation into its own sales force. Because people can just start testing your software, they can figure out if it works, they can even enhance it, and then later, you can turn that into business.

But when you start something, either you have to be open so that everyone can can play with it. Or you need to be closed and have this big sales force going on.

And yeah, we made the wrong choice initially.

Thomas: And then you switched? And then it became a success?

Bert: Even then the company didn’t did not succeed. But we did keep the software alive. But meanwhile, I had to get paid. And I was looking for some interesting computer challenges. And I did not feel like doing payroll software, or whatever. And then I looked, who else has interesting and fun challenges, and that needs innovation?

I saw an advertisement from the Dutch Intelligence and Security Agency. And they were looking for these big nerds. And I thought, Hey, I’m a big nerd. So I can do this. So I joined them for three years. So that was an indeed tremendous fun. And it’s indeed a place with sort of special problems.

Thomas: Are you allowed to talk about this special tremendous fun to some extent, and the problems that you solved there?

Bert: The problems they had, they’re sort of unique. So if you want to spy on people, you need small equipment, you need very efficient equipment, because it has to run on batteries, it has to run for a very long time. It has to be tiny, or they need communications infrastructure that is different from other people’s communication infrastructure.

So we built all kinds of interesting solutions, which were sometimes sort of innovative in a way that is sort of generally useful. So low power equipment is of course useful to anyone.

And other things were just really specific to them. But it’s, it’s nice to have these special problems that need special solutions. That’s a lot more fun, like I said, than working in an accounting department and writing software that does balance sheets, which is not inherently a lot of fun.

Thomas: And plus, I would assume that money is not really the problem funding, you don’t have to go around and convince venture capitalists?

Bert: Yeah that that is true for the CIA, and those kinds of places with the billion dollar budgets. European intelligence agencies typically do not have anywhere near that kind of money. So actually you have to be sort of clever to get things to work within the budget. So there is money to innovate, because they have to do it. But on the other hand, it’s not like there’s infinite money.

Thomas: Which can be fostering innovation, as you wrote in an article that I’ve been reading, in which you basically claimed that, well, you should have some money, but it shouldn’t be too much in order to foster innovation. Could you expand on that?

Bert: So what I care about really deeply is fundamental innovation, where we discover really new things that have not been discovered before, it’s very difficult for people to go sit in a room and say, hey, I want you to invent the future. But I’m not going to tell you what it is. You need to just start innovating and see what comes out. That’s not how it works.

How it actually works is that people get this challenge that says, can you make this MRI scanner or whatever it is, that can do the following things and go build it. And then along the way, you might discover that you cannot hit the price point that you need with existing technology.

And then because you do have to finish the project, you need to be innovative along the way. And maybe say, Hey, we have these magnets, and they’re being fixed to this system with these giant screws. And maybe we don’t need those screws?

And because you were on your way to a sort of legitimate goal that says, We want you to build this machine, you have permission to innovate, because innovation is a lot about the mindset, about, can I do this, can it be done.

And if you do not have sufficient money, and along the way, you just want to get to the goal, you want to get to the end goal. And along the way you invent a, I don’t know, a screwless way of fixing those magnets, because they were magnetic already. So you can stick them together using magnetism and skip the screws, whatever, I just made this up. So it’s not a real example.

But the clue is, you had to make that invention because there was not quite enough money. Or maybe not quite enough time that (those are two same ways), or there were some other constraints, it had to be smaller. And then you really, by accident, invent some really interesting things.

But let’s say you had infinite money, you would say, Oh, just gonna put screws in there, because this is not a constraint that we have. So if you give innovation too much money, everyone gets gold plated equipment and the gold standard cables, and there’s no shortage of anything ever.

And that takes away a lot of opportunities for accidentally inventing the future.

Thomas: Accidentally, and what you are describing right now is inventing second grade innovations that sort of enable you to achieve the goals you had at the first place. Right? What would be interesting historical examples where this happened

Bert: It happens all the time. So one of the more famous examples are the moon missions. At some point, they said, well, the acceleration we’re going to subject the astronauts to, is going to be like five G’s, or whatever.

And they didn’t know if people would survive that. So they first built these centrifuges, where you can spin people around and submit them to five G. But then the NASA human safety people said, we’re only going to allow you to do that, if you can monitor people’s heart rhythms while they are on the centrifuge.

And before that, no one could monitor a heart rhythm without a giant machine. And they couldn’t put a giant machine on the centrifuge. So they miniaturized it, these little stickers, they put on people’s chests to do these heart measurements and that equipment came out of the need to, to subject these astronauts to 5 G acceleration.

And actually, if you now go back in time, that was a revolution. Because there was a second order innovation that we needed in order to get people to the moon, which in turn improved people’s lives in hospitals tremendously, because suddenly, you could monitor people everywhere.

And you can just go on and on. And I think actually, if you look at the really fundamental breakthroughs we’ve had, almost all of them were made ‘along the way’. And they were not actually the intended endpoint of the innovation.

And the interesting thing is, the secondary innovations, they are far more likely to be generically useful. Because you find stuff that helps you get to the moon, but not many people have a need to get to the moon, actually. But lots of people have a need to have their heart rhythms monitored.

And I think actually the examples where people sat down and said, we’re going to do this innovation, and they could write down beforehand what the goal of their innovation was, and that also turned out to be the product of the innovation. That’s actually, quite rare.

Thomas: Hmm. Interesting. But the example you’re taking right now is coming out of a large organization, NASA. I’ve read in one of your articles that you don’t really believe in large organizations being very good in innovation. How comes? Well, I know, you always find you will always find the exception to the rule, but in what ways would you say that small organizations, smaller groups of people might be more able to bring new into the world, then possibly large organizations?

Bert: Yeah, that’s a very good question. And the first thing to note is that large organizations of the 1960s are not like the large organizations of today. So back then all these organizations, large organizations had big labs where they ran all kinds of experiments.

And they were much more innovative in big companies back then than they are now. But your question is very good. Small organizations, they can not launch these these capital intensive research programs, you cannot run a human centrifuge on a startup budget, because it’s going to cost you millions and millions before you’ve done anything.

So it is indeed true. And it is very problematic. We see a lot of innovation coming from small organizations, because time just goes a lot faster there, the clock cycles of small organizations are a lot faster.

So they can try something on Monday figure out that doesn’t work and try something else on Tuesday. If you look at a large organization, they will have a steering board meeting and a feedback loop, and whenever. They cannot change course, in a day, they cannot change course in a month.

So the real innovation now happens in small organizations, but they are limited in the sense that they can mostly combine existing technologies that you can buy off the shelf. But for example, you cannot engineer a nuclear fusion reactor as a small startup somewhere,

Thomas: although you have several startups who are just trying to do that, they’re trying one in Germany one in Australia

Bert: Yeah, but if you look at the nuclear fusion, one is very interesting. There are a bunch of interesting companies right now, but they’re all being backed by people like Jeff Bezos.

So these are the sort of sort of hybrid things that are still small and agile. But in the background, there’s always a billionaire.

Thomas: Is Elon already in the game?

Bert: Elon is maybe one of the few [billionaires] that is not but there is a whole bunch of of these guys.

And you can compare this to the very interesting German project, the Wendelstein, which is an extremely good example of big budget innovation, where they found a way to probably do nuclear fusion, in a very large coil. And the shape of that needs to be precise, down to a millimeter, or something like that. And the shape is also terrible, it looks like like something out of a horror movie. But this is not something that anyone can make at home. And you really have to invent machines that make machines that make the Wendelstein shape. So that is maybe a very good counter example of real big budget innovation.

Thomas: But on the other hand, you could claim that nuclear fusion is one of the examples what we have now seen that it can be huge public spending, over 50 or 60 years and it hasn’t delivered very much. I mean, it’s always the same. And in 25, and 30 years, we will be there. They’ve been saying that for six years now.

Bert: It’s a very good example. I mean, you find out by doing that some things are actually extremely hard. And sometimes you get lucky. So as a counter example, the mRNA vaccines, people spent 25 years investigating them for much of the time, everyone said, It’s impossible, it cannot work. And RNA is too fragile for this stuff, and it will be too expensive.

And on the first real life attempt, it works like magic, which is not something that people would have predicted. In fact, they predicted that it would not work. And so sometimes you get lucky and this new technology pans out. And sometimes it turns out to be stupendously hard. And I don’t think that nuclear fusion will get there anytime soon. But it’s the sort of the other example is that, look, you can only play this game, if you bring along the billions. And even then it might not work.

Thomas: Let me jump back to the open source mechanisms we briefly touched in the beginning of our conversation, in what terms and when, in what ways does open source mechanism, open innovation, spur innovation? And how can an organization like Apple be fairly innovative? By being the exact opposite?

Bert: Yeah, it’s a very good question. The main thing about open innovation is you see what everyone is doing, and people see what you are doing. And they can also try out what you do. They can reach out they can say, Can I use your thing in my thing, and with very little friction, I could maybe in one week, try five different technologies to see which is the best fit for my innovation.

And in one week I have learned so much, because I’ve actually been able to do it.

Now let’s say I wanted to use some kind of closed technology. I would spend the whole week signing NDAs and setting up a collaboration and maybe at the end of the five days, I might have gotten so far as a signed NDA, but I probably still wouldn’t have learned anything.

So that doesn’t mean that all innovation needs to be open. But if you are open, the clock speed of your innovation is just so much higher. You could have made a whole scan of the available technologies in the field in the time that it would have taken you to sign a single NDA with a traditional partner.

So it’s almost not a fair game. And you can see how that works over Apple. Apple is a black hole. So as you as you noted, in the beginning, I work a lot with intelligence agencies, they are very good at being secret and secretive. And let me tell you, Apple is worse.

So I have friends that work for Apple, I have friends that work for intelligence agencies and the intelligence agency people are easier to talk to than the Apple people, because the Apple people, they will just disappear on you, they can no longer talk to you. They will not tell you what they’re doing.

And the thing is, to compensate, Apple has to pay like some really big money. Because once you work there, you fall down a black hole. It’s a question if you ever get out of it again. So innovation, Apple style is possible. But they do burn through the billions to roll everything themselves, and to compensate the people that work there for the fact that whatever they do, they will never take that out again.

So from Apple, you can see how expensive it is to run closed innovation, even though it has its own benefits, but you really have to pay for it.

Thomas: We should mention that these kinds of organizations suck up a lot of innovation coming from outside. If you see the the m&a strategies of the big tech companies, the numbers of how many highly innovative startups they have acquired in the past 20 years. This is, on one hand, possibly impressive. But on the other hand, frightening as this might I mean, overall slow down innovation, doesn’t it?

Bert: Yeah, it’s not an optimal situation. Because right now, if you work at a typical big company is nearly impossible to innovate. Because if you do something new, that’s actually not what shareholders like. If you ask shareholders say, do you want to have predictable returns for the next five years? And the returns go up a little bit during the five years?

Or do you want us to do a moonshot that could fail. And then almost all shareholders will say, Please give me the predictable results. And that’s what you get.

At one point, I was in a big organization, and I had invented something new. And I was very proud. And I showed it to everyone. And the first response I got from management was, the font is wrong. That is not the corporate identity we have chosen. For them, that’s very important. They spent time and money on that corporate identity. But it kills innovation.

Because you sit there, you invented something, you are proud, you want to show people, hey, look, look at this thing I made! And then they kill it, “the font is off”.

Thomas: And it kills motivation as well!

Bert: Yeah, it kills motivation. And the lesson is also clear, the lesson you get from that is, I’m going to innovate elsewhere. Because these people don’t appreciate what I do.

So the ecosystem that we have is that the innovation, a lot of it happens in these small places. And once they show that it looks like it could be successful, they get acquired, and they disappear down Amazon, or, Google or Apple or whatever. And there and they’re very often it goes to die. Which is not even the worst result for an Apple because if they’ve managed to remove this promising technology from the market, even if they didn’t benefit from it, at least no one else is going to benefit from it.

Thomas: Yeah, but reducing competition is not really a game that helps the world I would say.

Bert: It does nothing, it does nothing for us! And the other thing I find problematic with this model is that you cannot do the big money innovation this way. Because the small places, they don’t have the capital to do expensive things. The big companies meanwhile, they have oodles of capital, they don’t know what to do with it.

They cannot just turn that money into innovation because you like we said, you cannot simply turn money into innovation. So we leave that to all these other small places. And then the only innovations that happen are those that can happen in a small environment somewhere. And when they work, it gets sucked up to the mothership.

Thomas: Does some of the innovation that is produced by secret services trickle out?

Bert: I mean, of course they try very hard to prevent that. So one of the one of the most famous examples of innovation coming out of the intelligence world, and I apologize for this, is Oracle. The Oracle database got its start in life, because the CIA found out that they just didn’t have a database that could do what they needed to do. So they funded that.

And then they managed to sort of extract that stuff from the government and turn that into Oracle Corp. So that does happen.

If you look back, for example, to the 1970s, the Cold War was going on, and it was being fought with technology. So in Moscow, there was a data system that an informer could carry or carry around, go to a park, and in the park, there was a rock with a battery in there that received the data from the pocket computer, and then later send it to a satellite.

And when you hear this, you go like, yeah, that’s impressive. That is good stuff.

Thomas: That’s impressive in 2021!

Bert: Yes, this would still be an impressive story. And now imagine that someone does that 40 years ago. And that innovation did, of course, not immediately leak out because they did not publish the details of their magic space rock.

But eventually, people do leave those agencies with the knowledge, and this is very important, with the knowledge that it can be done. Because a big part of innovating, is that you you must feel that it is possible what you’re doing, because then you will attempt to do it.

And either you must feel that it’s possible because you really need it. But it also helps if you know in the background, yeah, I know it can be done, because it has been done. It’s a lot easier to innovate with that background knowledge.

And I think a lot of the knowledge that they invested in this satellite communication system, and these magical microwave microphones they had, eventually leaked out as well and people knew it was possible. And then the open world reinvents that same technology.

Thomas: Well, I mean, that’s probably one of the reasons why the CIA or the American secret intelligence agencies still have venture capitalist funds, pouring money into the Silicon Valley into deep tech startups. You mentioned Oracle. But I mean, Palantir is about the same story.

Bert: We don’t need more of that.

Thomas: No, definitely not.

Bert: I mean, the axis between the development of surveillance technology and Silicon Valley. That’s not the kind of technology that we need to see leak out into the world.

Thomas: No, I totally agree. But we talking about the mechanism, which is there.

Bert: I don’t think it is a major force, at least not at small scales. I think at the larger scales, if someone invents a miniaturizing technique that they use for microphones and that technology eventually ends up in hearing aids or something, that is probably very useful. But in general, it is not a major, a major force. I think.

Thomas: You said that European intelligence agencies don’t have as much funds to invest in technology, is anything coming out of there? Or it put it in other terms? How tech apt are European intelligence agencies?

Bert: Well, I’ll give you a slightly more generic answer. In general, in Europe, we, the European governments have no clue, no appreciation of technology. And so they don’t think it’s very important. And I’ve also discussed it with, with many people from from many different countries, in Europe, in Germany, and in the Netherlands, and in Belgium, the people we elect as our politicians, and also the people that support those politicians, they all find technology to be very scary.

And there are lots of art students there that know a lot about art and literature, and language.

Thomas: And lawyers, a lot of lawyers in Germany

Bert: lots of lawyers. I’m by now convinced that it is actually policy in many European countries, to pick ministers that are not fluent in their field, that are not experts. So you get a health minister that doesn’t know about health. And you get someone in the economics ministry, who has never run a company.

And that almost appears to be policy. Then trying to do technical advances, in such a field, where the first response to any innovation will be like, Are there risks? Because that’s what you do. If I don’t understand something I am also extremely worried about if it could go wrong.

And the atmosphere in Europe, and that also extends to many of the largest companies in Europe is like ooooh technology that could go wrong. And that doesn’t foster innovation. If anyone does innovation here, that’s mostly sort of by accident. And not because anyone in a big company or a government was actually supporting that specifically.

And of course, the SPRIND agency is, a very good counter example of this, which is a very brave attempt to say, No, we are going to stimulate it. And I find that I’m extremely jealous that Germany is doing that.

But overall, in Europe, technology is like, yeah, yeah, we always have problems with technology. Let’s make some more policy. That always works.

Thomas: Hmm! Well, China does it another way, doesn’t it?

Bert: Yeah. I mean, for an extremely long time, people said, Yeah, in China, they copy everything, and no one is saying that anymore! The wheels of innovation just turn faster there. And other things are a lot worse there, because it’s not that what they do is great.

But there is at least permission to innovate, there is a an opportunity to do different things and. The really strange thing is that we had earlier touched upon open and closed innovation. China is of course, in very many ways a very closed shop, where you will not figure out how things are going.

But in terms of innovation, if you are part of their ecosystem, they are in a way very open [you must read this link] and that is not in a way that you get a nice product sheet, that tells you how everything works or you can interoperate with.

But as long as you are with their program, and are able to be agile and respond to new product designs, their way of innovating goes like 12 times faster than our way, where if we have two big European companies that need to work together, they will spend like 200 person hours on lawyers first. And maybe then some cooperation will happen.

The Chinese model is a lot harder to follow. But they get down to business.

Thomas: And how would you sense the state of the good old US innovation, is that stuttering right now?

Bert: I actually don’t know, I’m just looking at what is not good in Europe. And I see things that are better in other continents. The real big issue I see with the US is that whatever they do now always involves some kind of surveillance.

So if you buy any kind of US machine, it will connect to a US server and immediately tell that server what you are doing. And it is turning out to be extremely difficult by now to make technology that does not upload all your data to the cloud.

Because it’s in the framework, you download a framework for data processing, and before you know it, it decides to send your data to the US for some machine learning.

And it’s almost like a disease, they can no longer help it. And I do think that eventually, that obsession there with the cloud may eventually come to haunt them. When when we want to create some really reliable things, or old fashioned technologies that are like rock solid stuff that has to work on its own.

Thomas: Is that the big tech opportunity for Europe?

Bert: I think if you look at what we do here, we still somewhat believe in in having simpler technology that is not completely in the cloud. And it might indeed be that we are aa little bit ahead of the curve, in the sense that we are already not happy with it.

The other thing that we have going for us, for now, and I’m not saying it’s fair, but we have this reputation as the privacy continent.

And people do assume that if you buy something from China, it will spy on you. And many people by now also think well if you buy something from the US it will send all the data to the US.

Whereas if you buy something from Europe, it will be slow to arrive and it will not be the fastest technology, it will be rather expensive but one thing it will not do is spy on you.

So there is indeed an opportunity there. Which by the way, the European Union has also recognized, that if there’s one thing that people associate Europe with, it is with privacy.

Thomas: Yeah. Last question that I ask all our our guests. Assume you’re in the year 2050? What kind of disruptive, radical Sprunginnovation would you wish for?

Bert: It’s a very good question. And on the one hand, it’s like being in a candy store, and saying, what kind of candy would you like to have in the candy store.

Thomas: All of it, all of it!

Bert: Yeah! And the interesting thing is, in 2050, we’ll have solved cancer, and we will have renewable energy coming out of our ears. And so much stuff is probably going to be solved I mean, the sort of linear in innovation that we know where we need to end up, we’re all doing that already.

But one thing that is really not happening right now is dealing with how do we have a functioning society, because in 2050, we will be able to automate almost everything. You will not get ill. So everyone, everyone gets to be 90 years old. But we’ve automated away all your useful activities in life. And, you can share your worst opinions 24/7, with everyone in the world using social media,

Thomas: we are already doing that!

Bert: yeah, we’re already doing that. But we’re not going to do any less of it [once we have more time].

So the problem is, so if you look at what we can do with genetics these days, for example, we can do terrible, terrible things with that technology. And if as a world we continue to polarize and radicalize, and have worse opinions about each other all day long, then I fear what even a hobbyist could do with biotechnology in his basement.

And the most important thing I would hope to see, which is radical and nearly a revolution in a way, how can we communicate with each other?

Bored people are the most terrible things in the world, if people are bored, because their job has been automated away, and we also have the technology to give everyone a house and food and whatever. That means that people could become spectacularly bored.

And that could literally be the end of the world.

Because with technologies that you can now use in your basement, by 2050 it will be trivial to create COVID-22 to COVID-35 in an afternoon, in your own basement.

Thomas: But any ideas how you could prevent this dystopia you were describing, where basically, everyone is fighting everyone just out of boredom?

Bert: Yeah. So one thing you see now is that our communication mechanisms have been monetized. So that the angrier we get, the more time we spend getting angry with people, the more money we are worth. Because we have more “social engagement”.

And one wonderful way of changing that around would be, could we find a way in which to communicate where we actually are not being rewarded for being terrible people?

If I had a recipe right now for how to do that it would not a Sprunginnovation. Because then it would be easy enough, but we need something that is radical. That we say, this is how we communicate, this is how we entertain ourselves.

I read a wonderful book by Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End, where at one point sort of everything was automated, and no one had any job anymore. And that whole world turned into acting and arts and sports and music and everyone was busy with these very worthy activities. And even even in that book, they had a hard time keeping that up.

But that is the sort of thing I would love to see us turning into, that instead of turning into these these hate filled trolls on Twitter, that we actually all do battle to create the best music and art in the world, since there is already food on the table.

And we spend the rest of our days doing those kinds of worthy things. That would be like the biggest Sprunginnovation ever.

Thomas: I think a British futurist has called that fully automated luxury communism.

Bert: Wow. Sign me up!

Thomas: Me too. That sounds like a fun world.

Bert, it was very, very much fun to talk to you. Thanks a lot. Thank you.

And to you listeners. Thanks a lot for taking interest into our conversations. If you log in like our podcast, we’d be very grateful if you leave a review or a rating in your podcast app in two weeks from now we’ll have the next episode. Until then, as always, stay curious, bleib neugierig.

This article is part of a series on (European) innovation and capabilities.