Vinay Gupta, What is your approach on innovation What does it mean to you

There are three sources of innovation in the world: basic research, applied research, and transdisciplinary research.

Basic research makes the impossible possible. Applied research makes the possible actual. Transdisciplinary research, my speciality, takes the fruits of basic and applied research from different fields, and joins them together to make new things. You can’t really study this in university, and most companies aren’t structured to focus effectively on this kind of synergetic activity, but in today’s world the approach is more powerful than it was ever before.

The internet is a paradise for the transdiscipinary researcher. Specialized knowledge which would have taken two weeks to find in a university library only 20 years ago is now seconds away, even on a bus or in the airport. Specialist academics and consultants of every possible variety are never more than an email away, and almost always willing to spend a few minutes helping people understand their field better. Best of all, transdisciplinary research is just at the beginning – we have few institutes, little academic study of how to join findings from different fields together into new wholes. Yes, it does happen, discoveries are made this way, but there’s remarkably little structured effort to create new discoveries by joining together the things we already know into new creative wholes. Learning how to join knowledge together and understand the connections between the things we know will be a truly 21st century science.

How the world (industry/civil society/environment) is going to look like in 2035?

Today’s teenagers will be parents. Children born today will be teenagers. I’ll be old, heading for retirement age. At current rates of change, computers will be about a thousand times faster than they are today. Another 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide will have been emitted into the atmosphere, unless something dramatic is done to change our current trajectory, and right now, that seems less than likely. We are looking at a world with near-infinite computer power, locked in to 2°C of warming, if not more. Maybe a hundred million more climate refugees will likely have hit the road. In all probability, the global mood will be gloomy, perhaps apocalyptic. We will be well into the global discussions on geoengineering, if we have not started doing it already. It might even be a strong source of global conflict.

On the other hand, people will routinely be reaching 110 or more years of age, as functional life extension treatments become common. Robots and artificial intelligence will have made huge strides in making basic bureaucratic and industrial processes unimaginably flexible and efficient.
I imagine that drones will litter the skies of most cities.

If this world seems unimaginable, this is just individual trends being projected forwards. What happens when all these trends interact? Billionaire gerontocrats on life extension drugs fixing global warming with artificially intelligent drone fleets doing guerilla geoengineering. There’s a book about this: Apocalypse by Fred Turner.
It should be compulsory reading for policy makers.

What is the biggest resistance on innovation and how can it be overcome?

There are three classes of processes we are terrible at funding:

  • Failure and processes likely to fail
  • Processes which are slow
  • Fields in which we cannot identify experts and authorities; fields dominated by amateurs.

Anything slow, failure prone, and done by amateurs tends to wither from the lack of structural funding.

Historically, however, that’s also where we get most of the really big and dramatic breakthroughs. From aeroplanes to computers to lightbulbs, most of the journey is fumbling, failure, and amateurism. In genuintely innovative fields there are no professionals, because the field is too young to have professionals. In a world with incredibly rapid change the ratio of knowns to unknowns will continue to decrease. Fewer and fewer people will know what is going on with any sense of final authority, because most of the situations we will be faced with will be brand new. It’s all frontier from here on in. Most of our innovation will be forced by markets, by technological innovation done by people outside of our organizations, and a dwindling natural resource pool. In the places where we resist change, we will take unnecessary damage.

How can we feed soon 9 billion(+) people on the planet and keep it a pleasant place to live on?

Animals, particularly cows, are wickedly inefficient at turning land into food. However, humans in affluent societies just really eat a lot of meat. Social changes in areas as primal as diet are slow. But this is where biotechnology comes in. Eating cattle is as crazy as using them to plough fields: factory farming has reduced animals to stations on an industrial production line, but stations that suffer, consume vast areas of land, and pollute at a ferocious scale. We can either stop eating animals and eat traditional vegetarian food, or we can stop eating animals by making products which resemble animals, but are animal-free. This course of action seems to be inevitable: Impossible Burger and many other increasingly realistic meat substitutes are on the market, selling well, and improving year by year. We will take the farm animals out of nature, nature will start to regenerate from intense agriculture and return to its archaic state, pulling out a lot of carbon from the atmosphere.

It’s a simple fix.

Market forces, ecological necessity, and human morality do not often spontaneously line up. But in the case of high quality vegetable-derived meat substitutes, the financial, ecological and personal incentives all point in the same direction: a meat-free world is a necessary step forwards. And as the technology improves, it’s likely to be an inevitable transition.

Meat is obsolete. Technology will make it easy to break the addiction.


Vinay Gupta is responsible for Mattereum’s corporate strategy, vision, external communications, investor relations and reputation. He is a leading figure in the blockchain space, having co-ordinated the release of the blockchain platform Ethereum in July 2015, and was strategic architect for ConsenSys Systems, a technology hub focusing on the Ethereum blockchain and related applications. He was the architect of the National Blockchain Strategy for Dubai and is a partner at Hexayurt Capital, the technology-focused VC firm behind the Internet of Agreements. He has been involved in commercial software development since 1992 and his experience as a programmer and visionary has covered fields as diverse as medical imaging, flight simulation, computer graphics, cryptographic applications and the web. A Renaissance man and futurist interested in the technological transformation of society and commerce, Vinay has a strong track record of thought leadership in environmental and infrastructure risk, failing states, energy policy (with five years’ residency at the Rocky Mountain Institute) and disaster management. He was on the editorial team of ‘Small is Profitable’, the winner of the 2003 Economist Book of the Year, and has contributed to US Department of Defense research, advised Arup on urban resilience and was associate fellow at the UCl Institute for Security and Resilience. He has long had a humanitarian concern with the condition of the poorest in society and disaster relief. He invented the cheap, simple, non-patented and open source hexayurt refugee shelter which has  gone on to become iconic in the Burning Man counter culture. In his techno-realist view, technology and engineering, including blockchain, can contribute to positive social and commercial transformation and help deal with resource scarcity.