Health care, finance, education, food, and transportation are the five big tech opportunities that PayPal co-founder Max Levchin outlined today at Mixpanel’s Data Driven Conference. But perhaps the most interesting tidbit he dropped was his dream of harnessing hurricanes for energy.
Hurricanes release as much energy as a “50-megaton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes,” Levchin said. Some quick research says it might be closer to 10 megatons in terms of heat energy released, but only 10 percent of that is converted to mechanical wind power. Still, there’s an immense amount of energy available if we could figure out how to mine it.
Levchin offered no ideas for how exactly to do that. It’s a pretty crackpot scheme we’ll have to leave up to the Wall Of Wind hurricane research center. But Levchin did say it would require that we be able to predict a hurricane’s path, “and to predict it you need to understand weather data.”
That need for better big-data analysis was the theme of the talk. “Every data driven business is one of arbitrage,” he said.
Essentially, if you can be the first to use data to predict what happens, you can exploit that knowledge to improve the system. Levchin said that these aren’t 1 percent or 2 percent [improvements], but 500 percent reductions in healthcare costs. If you know what factors contribute to a health-care problem, you can counteract them at the source rather than pay much more to fix what they cause. That’s the promise of big data.