Over the weekend I walked 21 miles from Linlithgow to Edinburgh along the Forth and Clyde Canal. This was as part of my preparation for walking the West Highland Way for Cyrenians in October. I discovered that I still have a lot of preparation to do if I am to complete the West Highland Way’s 96 miles!
As I walked I was struck by what a tremendous feat of engineering the Canal was; yet also by the fact that just 20 years after its completion in 1822, it was to all intents and purposes obsolete, due to the impact of another engineering feat, the steam train.
It was a speed of change due to technology that we see again and again. My grandmother was born before the Wright brothers proved flight was possible and she lived to see a man on the moon in 1969, a mere 66 years later.
The first email, (a test), was sent in 1971, but now around 205 billion are sent every day.
In 1993 there were 623 websites in the world. This year more than that are created every ten minutes.
In 2015 the smartphone overtook the PC as the most popular way of accessing the internet, 3D printing began invading every business model and the biggest hospitality company in the world, AirB&B, owns no hospitality accommodation.
These extraordinary changes were brought about by extraordinary minds, and they are only a tiny snapshot of how entrepreneurial and scientific thinking has changed our everyday lives.
Progress in medical science has improved survival at birth, longevity and much in between. Our understanding of how we evolved, and the planets and stars that fill our skies has come on leaps and bounds. We now understand that atoms can be in two places at once.
Yet the one thing we all, not just scientists or politicians but all of us, have not yet solved is poverty.
There are more people sleeping rough in our city than ever before and 21 per cent of children in Edinburgh live in poverty.
Poverty has been present throughout all the other changes we’ve seen and seems yet intractable.
The next big transformation I’d like to see us use our amazing minds which have produced so much to solve is the end of poverty. We must recognise that the solutions will be found when we journey with those in poverty, not do things to them.
It needs very different thinking, new light, seeing the problem differently, like the fact that atoms can be in two places at once.
If we can put a human on the moon, surely we can find a way to change the lives of those most excluded for the better, so they too can flourish.
Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians