“I’m not suggesting that we produce larger families for the sake of producing more Edisons,” I wrote in October. “I am suggesting that our larger ‘global family’ may be creating the same positive effect— producing literally billions of people who may improve the world in ways we can’t imagine.” (See “Two cheers for population growth.”)
Exactly four days after that column appeared in BSR, The Economist recounted the intriguing story of one of those billions: Ajay Bhatt of Intel, the inventor of the humble USB cable. In the process of searching for a way to reduce the clutter and wasted time involved in plugging keyboards, mice, speakers, cell phones and other hand-held devices into computers, Bhatt inadvertently created a new and vastly more efficient system for charging electrical devices.
Beginning next year, a USB cable will be able to provide power to larger electronic devices than mere personal computers. Ultimately USB cables could displace alternating current (AC) as the world’s preferred source of electricity. The net result, The Economist suggests, will be an electrical revolution that will make power supplies greener, cheaper and more plentiful.
This serendipitous discovery arrives at the very moment when many pessimists see population growth threatening the world’s available energy supply. This might be a valid concern if humans were cows, chickens or butterflies instead of sentient beings capable of adjusting and innovating. On the contrary, as I have argued, the world’s capacity to support a larger human population has expanded precisely because the population has expanded, producing billions of problem-solving minds, for the benefit of humanity and ecology as well.
Benjamin Franklin, asked in 1783 what was the use of a hot-air balloon, famously replied, “What is the use of a newborn child?” And Franklin never even met Ajay Bhatt.