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The Internet Sparks Accelerated Change for Good

Stocks in this article: GOOG UNH

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I have been covering the Internet for almost 30 years now, and I am constantly amazed at how people underestimate its impact.

They look at the social changes created by the Internet, at the business churn, at the legal challenges and the threats they perceive to come from human connections, and they forget the essence of what this medium is about.

It's about accelerating the pace of discovery.

Back when I started as a tech reporter, the science fiction author Jerry Pournelle predicted, in some wonderment, that by the year 2000 you would be able to find the answer to just about any question instantly.

In an age of Google (GOOG) and Wikipedia that doesn't sound far-fetched, does it? Yet, in 1985 there was an audible gasp when Pournelle said this.


The rise of cloud computing has caused yet another acceleration. Researchers can now get their calculations done within minutes, and at low cost. They can collaborate with other researchers around the world as though they were across the hall. The great research labs of the world are slowly becoming one big research lab, and the pace of discovery is accelerating yet again.

That's imortant, because we need that to happen. An aging population, a warming planet, and the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs are today's day-to-day reality. Because of these new resources, answers are coming thick and fast.

Consider the problem of health. A unit of UnitedHealth (UNH) recently worked on a report for the Society of Actuaries predicting health reform is going to bankrupt the country, raising the cost of individual health policies by a third.

It's as though they had never heard of prevention. Prevention does lower costs and the rate of medical inflation has been declining in the last few years as more preventive work is done and more data are collected -- just as the cost of car repair goes down when you do the recommended maintenance.

Plus, we're getting breakthroughs like this, a simple blood testing lab that can be implanted under the skin, detecting changes in chemicals like troponin that are released hours before a heart attack, and that can also make chemotherapy more personalized. It can be made for less than a dollar.

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