Silicon Valley News

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I have a daydream

Dr. King delivering his 1963 "I Have a Dream" speech.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. I too have a healthy imagination. Even though I don't buy lottery tickets, a recurring theme in my daydreams is to one day be wealthy enough to throw money at a worthy cause. Near the top of my list of important movements is the effort to find a cure for cancer.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Silicon Valley dreams bigger than the rest of the country, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of LinkedIn profiles.

People who use the keywords "change the world" in their professional profiles are much more common in the Bay Area.

The Bay Area "has long attracted people who in a way believed that they are doing visionary work, almost doing God's work through technology," said Chuck Darrah, head of the anthropology department at San Jose State University and co-founder of the Silicon Valley Cultures Project.

What prompted me to pontificate on this subject is a Forbes piece I read today entitled "Hope, Hype, and Health in Silicon Valley." The writer, David Shaywitz, suggests that Silicon Valley could have a powerful impact on crucial healthcare problems if it were so inclined.

David is not alone. James Temple recently vented in a San Francisco Chronicle article about "The hypocrisy in Silicon Valley's big talk on innovation." The media pays little attention to the tireless work of scientists, notes Temple, instead focusing on the latest trending app.

"Let's drop the pretense that we're curing cancer unless, you know, we're curing cancer," says Temple.

An Economist article this year also chimed in on the subject, suggesting that too many tech innovators are focused on "low-hanging fruit."

Temple's criticism is balanced, however. He specifically pays homage to the work of Elon Musk at SpaceX, Google's self-driving cars and Autodesk's work on software for printing human tissues and possibly one day human organs.

Chris Granger left Microsoft a few years ago to start up is own company. He was passionate about cancer and startups in a piece he wrote earlier this month.

I have discovered there are seven startups fighting cancer in the Boston area. In the Bay Area, Stanford and the University of California at San Francisco are engaged in the cancer struggle.

Personally, I think it's time for a campaign similar to the effort that lead to the eradication of the polio epidemic in this country in the 1950s. Even though it was a protracted struggle, in 15 years a cure was found for the deadly disease.

In 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, himself a victim of polio, announced the formation of a new charity called the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

The organization soon got a nickname. Comedian Eddie Cantor  took up the cause immediately, calling for Americans to contribute to the March of Dimes by sending dimes to the White House. In a very short period of time, almost $2 million was raised, some $268,000 of which was mailed to the White House one dime at a time.

In the spring of 1952, at the height of the  epidemic, Dr. Jonas Salk tested his polio vaccine for the first time.