'Next': Innovation bringing 20,000 years of change in just a century - review

Avi Jorisch predicts this century will see innovators conquering daunting obstacles

 THE INTERNATIONAL Space Station, photographed by Expedition 66 crew member Roscosmos cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov, in an image released April 20, 2022. (photo credit: Pyotr Dubrov/Roscosmos/handout to Reuters)
THE INTERNATIONAL Space Station, photographed by Expedition 66 crew member Roscosmos cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov, in an image released April 20, 2022.
(photo credit: Pyotr Dubrov/Roscosmos/handout to Reuters)

When it comes to the future, Avi Jorisch is optimism personified.

“What’s next for humanity is truly inspiring,” Jorisch said in an interview. “The world our children will inherit is far more complicated and more hopeful than the one we received.”

The author of Next: A Brief History of the Future continued: “The trajectory that we are on means that by the end of the century, we will experience 20,000 years of human change.”

“The trajectory that we are on means that by the end of the century, we will experience 20,000 years of human change.”

Avi Jorisch

How have people an innovations addressed challenges for humanity's future?

In Next, Jorisch looks at the people and their innovations that address the challenges in the 13 areas that the United Nations has pinpointed as crucial to mankind’s future – space, learning, shelter, the environment, hygiene, medicine, disaster resilience, energy, prosperity, food, water, governance and security.

“Interviewing the innovators in this book and diving deep into their stories fueled me with a tremendous sense of faith and optimism that we’ll be able to conquer the daunting obstacles that lie ahead,” he wrote. 

 SOLAR PANELS at the green hydrogen proof-of-concept site in Vredendal, South Africa, last year. (credit: ESA ALEXANDER/REUTERS) SOLAR PANELS at the green hydrogen proof-of-concept site in Vredendal, South Africa, last year. (credit: ESA ALEXANDER/REUTERS)

He is especially upbeat about Israeli efforts in finding solutions to these global problems. If you look at the greatest challenges facing humanity, you’ll find someone in Israel trying to come up with solutions to all of them, he said.

He discusses two Israeli programs in the book. One is led by Sivan Ya’ari, whose nonprofit Innovations: Africa brings Israeli solar and water technology to poor villages of that continent.

After completing her military service in the IDF, Ya’ari got a job with the Jordache jeans factory in Madagascar.

When she arrived in Madagascar in 1998, she encountered great poverty, much of it spurred by lack of electricity and access to water. Later, she obtained a master’s degree in international energy management from Columbia University and set up her nonprofit.

Innovations: Africa brings two solar panels, a pump, a tank to store water and another tank for water for drip irrigation pipes (a system developed in Israel) for crops. A geologist determines where to dig, and local contractors dig the well and install the pump, water tanks and water taps. So far, the group has completed more than 300 solar/water projects.

Electricity, clean water and drip irrigation have revolutionized life in those villages. Jorisch wrote: “Children were able to bathe and receive an education; adults were able to use the water to start businesses.... Many started by selling the extra fruits and vegetables they produced; others made bricks or launched bakeries” (p. 29).

The author holds Ya’ari in high esteem. “She [Ya’ari] embodies the best of Israeli society and our most sublime hope as the Jewish people to bring more light to the world and truly make it a better place,” the author said.

He also points to Amir Peleg, whose company, TaKaDu, developed software to identify in real time leaks and burst pipes – a revolutionary fix for water utility infrastructure.

Using that system, Hagihon, Israel’s largest water utility, discovered that it was losing a significant amount of water to theft. In Britain, TaKaDu revealed that Thames Water was losing an astonishing 25% to 40% of its water due to leaky pipes.

The water-saving system is now being used in 13 countries, with their utilities reporting a 30% to 40% drop in water loss.

JORISCH’S TIES to Israel are considerable. Born in America in 1975, he, at the age of three and a half, joined his mother and sisters in making aliyah, following close behind his grandparents, Holocaust survivors who had fulfilled their dream of going to live in the Jewish state.

When he was 10, the family returned to live in the US. (Jorisch today maintains homes in both countries.) 

He earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Binghamton University and a master’s degree in Islamic history from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He also studied in Cairo at American University and Al-Azhar University, which he calls “the Sunni equivalent of the grand yeshiva of the Muslim world,” from which many members of al-Qaeda graduated. 

Jorisch said his interest in the Arab world was piqued by living in the Jewish state. He remembers watching Egyptian movies on Friday afternoon on the country’s then lone TV channel. When Israel TV would go dark, he had access to Jordan TV, featuring readings from the Koran and sometimes footage of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

On Shabbat, when Jerusalem shut down, his mother often would take the family to the Islamic Museum for Art, which was open on Saturdays.

He began his career as a counterintelligence analyst, writing books on Hezbollah, terrorism financing and Iranian banking.

For the past 10 years, he said, he has concentrated on “Israel, technology, innovation, where the world is going, problems like climate change.” 

He is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC, and runs a financial technology company in the US.

His previous book, Thou Shall Innovate: How Israeli Ingenuity Repairs the World, has been translated into almost 40 languages.

That book was a look back at Israeli technology and innovations that have made the world better, the author explained.

“On the heels of that book’s success,” Jorisch noted, “I decided I wanted to look forward, rather than backward, at the grand challenges facing the world.... I started to get really interested in where the world is headed.”

While promoting his earlier book, he attended a conference sponsored by Singularity University on technologies and sciences for confronting future problems. A few of the conversations he had during that week “really turned my brain on.”

One was about Kahn Academy, which provides a free online education to anyone needing it – it’s the learning chapter in his book.

That program was one of the catalysts for the book, the author said. He also was reading a lot and became convinced that there are innovations helping us to solve some of these problems, and “I was so inspired about where humanity is headed that I felt compelled to write a book about that.”

His reading and interviews would lead to someone, “who leads to another person, who leads to another person who leads to an idea.” The author says he interviewed more than 150 people for the book.

Obviously, in an enterprise like this, some worthy groups get left on the proverbial “cutting room floor.” Jorisch said he intends to publicize the innovations in this book – and those he will find in the future – in op-eds, articles and speeches. But at this time, he is not thinking about another book (“Next 2”). 

The most surprising discovery

The author was reluctant to single out any of the innovations featured in Next but did agree to point to the chapter “Space: Print Me Up, Scotty!” as the most surprising of his discoveries.

IT ALL began in 2014 when the American astronaut on the International Space Station lost a wrench in space and couldn’t find a replacement.

Fortunately, a few weeks earlier NASA had sent a 3D printer to the space station, perhaps for such an emergency. 

NASA contacted Made in Space, a company trying to prove that 3D printing could work in space. After spending five days developing the software to create the wrench, the digital file was sent to the 3D printer in space, and the wrench was created in the space station.

Obviously, this innovation will help in space exploration. But it will also be a boon on Earth.

“They eventually learned that we can build some products much more efficiently in space than on Earth,” Jorisch said.

For example, one company has started to manufacture optical fiber in space. When these fibers, used to build high-speed Internet, medical devices and transoceanic telecommunications, are made in space, they are “10 to 100 times more efficient,” according to Next.

Despite his optimism, the author realizes that technological progress comes with risks. Sure, we can use genetic engineering to cure disease, but with that same tool, drug cartels can create new illegal drugs. Yes, the Internet has democratized education, but in the hands of criminals, it can be used to rob banks or steal information and demand payment from schools, hospitals, companies, etc., for the return of that data. The same ability for autonomous driving may allow terrorists to coordinate attacks remotely. Social media that promotes connections among people also allows for the spread of misinformation.

Jorisch concluded that “compared to the existential problems the Earth is facing, the downsides of technology are the least of our worries.” 

Let’s hope he’s right.

The writer’s memoir, Figs and Alligators: An American Immigrant’s Life in Israel in the 1970s and 1980s (Chickadee Prince Books), is available online and at bookstores.

Next: A Brief History of the Future By Avi Jorisch259 pages; $25.22