GeekWire Radio: Author Ramez Naam on the planet-saving power of ideas

This week on the GeekWire radio show: How the free flow of ideas can save the world.

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Ramez Naam in the KIRO Radio studios. (Erynn Rose Photo)

Our guest is Seattle tech industry veteran Ramez Naam, the science and science-fiction author whose new book is The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. A veteran of Microsoft and the startup world, Naam applies the mind of a computer scientist to some of our biggest challenges — assessing the planet and humanity as an interconnected system, explaining what works and what doesn’t, and using that history to help us understand the components of global prosperity.

“We have to innovate as quickly as we can to really do the best we can for people on the planet,” he says. “Ideas come mostly bottoms-up. They come when you have a free flow of ideas and you have people able to combine multiple ideas into once concept. … And you’ve got to have competition, too. You’ve got to say, we’re going to have 10 different ideas, nine of them are going to fail, and the one that does the best is going to move forward.”

infiniteresourceTech companies get this already, he notes, pointing to the widespread use of A-B testing in the tech industry.

“We’re tremendously effective at doing that when there’s an incentive to innovate in those directions,” he explains. But the problem for the planet is that there’s often not a market incentive to innovate in ways that would truly be good for the world.

We also talk about Naam’s first sci-fi book, Nexus, based on the premise of an experimental nano-drug that links human brains together. It points to the future melding of humans and technology, something we’re already seeing with augmented reality technologies such as Google’s Project Glass.

Also check out our previous Geek of the Week profile of Naam.

The conversation starts at the 8:00 mark in the audio player above, right after our weekly news roundup, in which we discuss topics including the potential expansion of the Amazon Fresh grocery delivery service (and my recent experience with it), plus Amazon’s growth and the effect on the rest of the region’s technology community.

App of the Week: Fish out of Water.

Here’s the answer to last week’s Name that Tech Tune challenge.

Listen to the show above or via this MP3 file.

Previous show: The latest in digital security, and protecting yourself online

GeekWire airs on 97.3 KIRO-FM in Seattle at 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. every Saturday, except when preempted by live sports. The show runs every weekend on GeekWire.com. You can receive every episode using this RSS feed, or subscribe in iTunes. Also find us on Stitcher.