We have a human captial problem; we should all become engineers

What if everyone became a (hard) scientist or an engineer, how quickly would we fix the world’s major problems? How quickly could we eradicate poverty and unemployment, create environmental security, and help people live healthy, predictable, and straightforward lives free of high order issues? 

Naval Ravikant believes everyone can be rich and belives it can be taught. He believes that everyone can become a scientist or engineer with support, patience and the right expectations. Of course, most people do not want to put in the time it takes to build these skills, they want to do other things, or they do not have the financial support or expectation that it is possible, but it is.

The engine of technology is science that is applied for the purpose of creating abundance. So, I think fundamentally everybody can be wealthy.

This thought experiment I want you to think through is imagine if everybody had the knowledge of a good software engineer and a good hardware engineer. If you could go out there, and you could build robots, and computers, and bridges, and program them. Let’s say every human knew how to do that.

What do you think society would look like in 20 years? My guess is what would happen is we would build robots, machines, software and hardware to do everything. We would all be living in massive abundance.

We would essentially be retired, in the sense that none of us would have to work for any of the basics. We’d even have robotic nurses. We’d have machine driven hospitals. We’d have self-driving cars. We’d have farms that are 100% automated. We’d have clean energy.

At that point, we could use technology breakthroughs to get everything that we wanted. If anyone is still working at that point, they’re working as a form of expressing their creativity. They’re working because it’s in them to contribute, and to build and design things.

I don’t think capitalism is evil. Capitalism is actually good. It’s just that it gets hijacked. It gets hijacked by improper pricing of externalities. It gets hijacked by improper yields, where you have corruption, or you have monopolies.

Naval Ravikant

Chamath Palihapitiya believes we can solve most problems, and we have the money to do it through capital markets, but we have a human capital problem. We know how to fix most issues, but we miss the smart people to research, develop, and build the solutions. Part of the problem is that technology firms swallow all of the best talent straight out of university. We need more talented scientists and engineers, and we need to motivate them to become entrepreneurs or work for innovative companies that want to solve the most significant problems.  

Human Capital: the skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population, viewed in terms of their value or cost to an organization or country.

Oxford languages

The example Chamath gives is the goal for making every home in America carbon neutral. Sustainable home-generated power could be achieved through roof-mounted solar panels that store electricity on-site in a reliable battery and controlled by an app on your phone. The homeowner could also power an electric car and replace their petrol or diesel one. Through bonds and investment, capital markets can fund such an effort, but we do not have the technically skilled people to research, develop, build, and install it. But how real is Chamath’s and Naval’s idea of science solving the problem if we just had the people?

In the UK, fossil fuel burning to generate electricity is the largest source of carbon emissions. WWF UK suggests that moving to 100% sustainable fuel power generation by 2050 is the most significant action the Government can take to meet the climate ambition of keeping warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The next most crucial step is to end the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and transition to electric vehicles. SolarPower Europe suggests that engineers have improved solar technology and panels now generates 30 times more power over there lifetime than is required to manufacture and that ‘solar offers the most cost-efficient means to decouple electricity generation from environmental and health impacts.’

EngineeringUK references ten core and related engineering occupations on the UK Government 2020 Shortage Occupation List (SOL) of the most needed skills in the economy. The skill shortages include design and development engineers, electrical engineers, and production and process engineers, all of which are involved in solving the emissions problem. We do have a human capital problem, and it is holding back a solution to climate change.

Naval and Chamath set a challenge to all of us to solve the significant issues that we face. Are you working in the hard sciences or in engineering to solve these issues? If you are an educator, are you focusing your efforts on developing and motivating people to solve these technical problems? Once we reach a world of zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero carbon emissions, we can all pursue creative expression. Until then, let’s solve the human capital issue and become engineers. 

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