Calit2’s Larry Smarr (Part 2): Insights on the Path Ahead and 4 Big Ideas for the Future of Health, Energy, Environment, and Culture

When California Gov. Gray Davis created the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology in 2000, it was part of a broad state initiative that spawned four new centers for science and innovation with a shared mission “to invent the future.” The specific mission for the institute known as Calit2 (Cal IT2), which is based at UC San Diego and UC Irvine, was to “radically expand the capacities of communications and information infrastructures.”

In the nine years that he has served as Calit2’s director, Larry Smarr has done all that and more. He describes the institute as a “collaboration framework” that enables researchers throughout the University of California to take a multi-disciplinary and systems-based approach to complex problems. As a result, Smarr says Calit2 has engaged hundreds of UC researchers, formed affiliations with over 300 federal agencies, and worked with more than 200 industry partners. “I have to say we’re pleased with the progress we’ve made,” he says. (Smarr talks about the origins of the Internet in Part 1 of my story here.)

But Smarr also is looking at the path forward. He tells me he’s spent the past six months “on a vision quest” to identify the large societal challenges that he anticipates the next decade will bring. And if there is a thread that runs through his vision, it is to harness the power of Calit2’s expanding resources—“to build across the successes that we’ve had”—to tackle four over-arching problems of the next decade. These are Smarr’s big ideas for what he calls the digital transformation of healthcare, energy, the environment, and of our culture itself:

Healthcare. Smarr sees healthcare moving increasingly to “a prevention and wellness model” that relies on innovations in the emerging field of “wireless health” technologies and the digital transformation of medical care. In our conversation, Smarr compares the way it will work to an automobile maintenance schedule:

“I just bought a new car, a hybrid,” Smarr says. “It has 30 computers in it. It probably has another 60 or 70 sensors, actuators, and memory chips. So my car will easily run … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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