Can IT still change the world?

What surprised me most about the Thiel Foundation's 20 Under 20 list is that the information technology projects looked promising, but didn't inspire much in the way of world-changing items.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Peter Thiel, an investor in such technology hits as PayPal, Facebook and LinkedIn, launched his first class of fellows---young entrepreneurs looking to change the world. What surprised me most from looking at the list is how the information technology projects looked promising, but didn't inspire much in the way of world-changing items.

As I picked my five best ideas out of the 20 Thiel Foundation fellows I figured I'd do at least one information technology related item. After all, I skew toward IT anyway. But when you stack IT projects up against biotech and alternative energy and things that would really help the world there was no competition. From a financial perspective, Thiel's band of young entrepreneurs had big moneymaking IT ideas. Some of these fellows may launch the next generation of tech IPOs.

But there's more to life than a tech IPO. Tech innovation today entertains, distracts and allows us to connect with folks. Does it fundamentally change your lot in life or just give you more stuff to manage?

Am I on to something about IT being vapid at times or way off base? Here's my post from what I whipped up for Smart Planet.

Peter Thiel, best known as an investor in PayPal, Facebook, LinkedIn and others, outlined his first class of 20 Under 20 fellows, young entrepreneurs aiming to "become the next generation of tech visionaries."

The first class will pursue the scientific and technical projects that get them up in the morning. These fellows will also get $100,000, a two-year tenure and access to a vast network of entrepreneurs and innovators.

These projects span multiple industries. And the most interesting point:

More than four hundred people younger than twenty applied to be Fellows. Applications arrived from nearly two dozen countries, and from nearly two hundred high schools, junior colleges, community colleges, four-year colleges, and graduate schools. Many applicants never went to college, had already stopped out of school, were already working, or had already launched their own company. Many had a long personal history of entrepreneurship. They applied at a time of increasing debate about the cost and value of college and student debt.

Here's a look at my five favorite ventures out of the list of 20:

  1. Commercializing anti-aging research. Laura Deming started working in a biogerontology lab when she was 12, matriculated at MIT when she was 14, and now at 17 plans to change incentives with current research funding. Her fund---IP Immortal---plans on bringing therapies from the lab to market faster.
  2. Do classroom lessons via collaboration tools to make class time more engaging. Nick Cammarata and David Merfield have OPEN, a project that aims to share online lessons at home and use the face-time at school for better things.
  3. Start the robotic revolution. David (Jiageng) Luan plans to do for consumer robotics what IBM did for PCs He sees home robots in every family.
  4. Extract minerals from asteroids. John Burnham argues that extracting minerals from asteroids, comets and planetary bodies will lead to the colonizing of space. I'm sure Virgin Galactic and SpaceX will be interested in Burnham's ideas.
  5. Better mobility aids for the disabled. Gary Kurek has been developing these mobility aids for the last four years. He invented a walker-wheelchair hybrid for his cancer-stricken grandmother that offers assistance based on how strong she feels at any moment.

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