When they decide to execute their fantastic ideas, big tech companies are drunkenly tripping into a dumpster full of hubris and failure as often as they are boldly stepping into the future. We want Jetsons technology that will make us live forever in talking houses running on clean energy. We want it so badly, we lose our minds over any idea, no matter how obviously flawed and ultimately unworkable.
Building Revolutionary Medical Technology on a Bed of Lies
We dream of the elimination of diseases. Theranos was a company that was going to revolutionize health care and save millions of lives. But the company’s founder’s entire empire was built on a childlike lie.
The nine-billion-dollar company was known for its blood-testing equipment which looked like something out of Star Trek. Their Edison machines could take a drop of blood from your finger and test for hundreds of diseases and health problems within hours. They attracted businesses such as Walgreens and Safeway, who would set up testing centers so that shopping for groceries and testing for STDs could be done in one convenient trip.
Elizabeth Holmes left Stanford without completing her degree at 19 to found Theranos. She is the CEO and has accumulated a personal net worth of $4 billion. Most journalists put her claims under no scrutiny. But The Wall Street Journal‘s John Carreyrou decided to investigate.
Theranos’ technology was never peer-reviewed, and it didn’t work the way Holmes said it did. An investigation by the FDA determined that an Edison diagnosed your blood about as accurately as blind guessing. One tiny drop of blood isn’t enough to get accurate results.
The results could be lethal. A patient might be told that they were healthy when they were really at risk of internal bleeding, blood clots, or other major health issues. Theranos chose to ignore obvious problems brought up by their own quality control checks.
The FDA rightfully banned the Edison. Holmes was prohibited from running a medical lab for two years. The partners at Theranos disappeared. Theranos is now an industry joke. Now we have to watch our cholesterol intake instead of letting a magical machine do it for us. Real medical breakthroughs take decades of slow, tedious, unglamorous work.
The F-35 is Faulty and WAY Over-Budget
Ever since Top Gun, one of America’s most defining high-tech marvels has been its ability to deliver fighter jets. These are necessary to demonstrate the country’s dominance in the air. Think about awesome pre-game fly-bys! The F-35 stealth fighter was developed by Lockheed Martin. It is a piece of astonishing technology. The idea is that it would make American aviation resemble the aliens at the beginning of Independence Day. The project has been more like throwing money down the drain.
The plane can fly just fine; It has wings and everything. Unfortunately, that’s about all it can do. Among the jet’s many issues is that its software (which tracks enemy targets, aims guided bombs, fires guns, and whatnot) keeps getting delayed. It can fly, but it has trouble getting its guns to work. One would say that this is a primary function of a fighter jet.
Incredibly, the jet has similar safety issues to the average Dodge Caravan. Test pilots worried about being shot down because of an overly large headrest. It impedes rear visibility so an enemy pilot could easily fly in their blind spot. The displays that were designed to let you avoid having to look behind you can’t even accurately show the location of the horizon – a rather important landmark when flying a plane. The report concluded by calling the F-35 “flawed beyond redemption.” Not a good look for a $109 million machine.
This project started in 2006 and so far the F-35 has cost $1.5 trillion tax dollars over its lifetime. The initial estimates were just half this. There’s so much inertia behind the design and building of this plane that makes it impossible to scrap the idea and stop losing money. Over-funded healthcare and education programs certainly aren’t lacking in resources, so spending a few trillion mores shouldn’t worry anyone.
The Fantastic Hyperloop
Elon Musk dreams of round-trips to Mars. The whole world is in his elaborate computer simulation. He also wants to stick us in pods and shoot us through tubes at warp speed. This is how he plans to build a transportation system that connects LA to San Francisco, making the journey just 30 minutes long. Passengers would travel at speeds of 750 mph. As he embarks on this project, Musk is going to discover that just because the technology exists, that it isn’t necessarily cost-effective to use it.
Musk claimed that his system could be built for $6 billion. A conventional high-speed rail system between LA and San Francisco would cost far more than this. The question is what the $6 billion would pay for because, as Fortune explains, these funds are insufficient to traverse San Francisco Bay. The station in Los Angeles would have to be built in a cheap location well outside the city. This would take away much of the “convenience” aspect of this expensive future train.
There’s also a serious problem with scale. A high-speed train can hold a lot more passengers than one Hyperloop pod. In fact, it can carry ten times the passengers. This makes it less like public transportation and more like a theme park ride for millionaires, much like everything else in Musk’s portfolio.
But The Guardian noted almost nothing has been developed. The companies working on it love talking up their marvel to the press, but the only thing they’ve achieved is to test roller coaster technology in the desert. There’s been no actual engineering work, like figuring out how to deal with the steel in the tubes expanding in the desert heat.
It’s not impossible. There are many important considerations: the cost, challenges, and lack of progress. Musk announced that the Hyperloop will be built within a decade, but it is only feasible in the same way of launching people from a catapult.