"Blessed are the cracked, for they shall let in the light" - Groucho Marx
Elon Musk is an entrepreneur, physicist and tech visionary living in Silicon Valley. You may have heard of him as the real-life inspiration for Robert Downey Junior's Tony Stark. While not exactly donning a suit of armor and flying around at hyper-sonic velocity, Elon Musk nevertheless has larger than life ambitions. For instance, through his company SpaceX, he endeavors to commoditize spaceflight and bring humanity to the doorstep of Mars. Likewise, through Tesla Motors, he aims to completely re-invent the engine technology of motor vehicles.
Elon Musk is not alone in his lofty pursuits. UC Berkeley's Eric Brewer strives to get Africa on the grid. Google's Sergey Brin dreams of a world where cars are self-driving and computing power is embedded in everyone's eyes. Facebook investor Peter Thiel runs a cutting edge venture capital fund with the slogan "we wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters." Google's Larry Page and filmmaker James Cameron are funding an asteroid mining company to mine precious minerals directly from space. Amazon's secretive founder Jeff Bezos is purportedly looking for Singularity in space.
What drives these men? It's not a capitalist's thirst for wealth accumulation It's not a conqueror's desire to see millions kneel. It's not a demigod's ambition for immortality. It's something much more abstract, much more fundamental. What drives them is their unadulterated dreams soaring on the wings of optimism to redefine what's possible, what isn't. It's the dreams of a child -- pure, naked, unencumbered by cynicism.
Humanity owes a lot to dreamers like these. Perhaps everything. It's for this reason that the moment a dream is crushed is a dangerous moment -- it's like springing a leak on the boat of hope, in the ocean of cynicism. Enough crushed dreams and the boat sinks. Enough fulfilled ones and the boat comes ashore to new lands of progress and wonder. The former leads to utter vanquishment, and the latter to validation amid new vistas. So it's clear to see what is at stake here.
Pakistan's collective conscious has rarely witnessed the boat of dreams make it ashore. The tedious experience of the median Pakistani citizen has nurtured the national narrative that dreams are naive, reality is unforgiving and mistrust is pervasive. These undertones seem to permeate the Pakistani psyche regardless of geography. For instance, Pakistanis are the largest Muslim community in Silicon Valley and have the highest household incomes of all Muslim ethnicities, yet are under-represented in entrepreneurship and venture capital circles there. It seems we shun the business of dreams even in the land where dreams come true.
But then that's a sweeping statement. It overlooks exceptions. Exceptions of brilliant Pakistanis who dare to dream despite the collective's ingrained cynicism. These few have the power to wake up the many, the power to change our entire national narrative.
But unlocking this power lies in the realization that the few will have to put their mutual distrust aside and band together to be effective. This is a rather basic tenet any community follows to further its interests. It works because it creates a virtuous cycle whereby the successful seed the smart, which in turn multiplies the pool of successes and ultimately redefines the possibilities for everyone. Pakistanis have so far failed to come together in this way, and therein lies the bottleneck. Once they overcome this problem, it will prove to be a Promethean event for Pakistan.
Currently, a disproportionate amount of adversity and cynicism is par for the course for any Pakistani tech entrepreneur. I am no exception in this regard. But such adversity does not deter me from dreaming. Like the minds of Silicon Valley, I too have visions of ubiquitous energy, of deep space travel, of human memory optimization, of biological extensibility, of the singularity economy, of the place our generation will occupy in human history.
Now I am not empowered to pursue these dreams yet. But it doesn't matter. You see the dreamer is becoming ever more influential as human civilization hurtles deeper into the 21st century. This tide will eventually overtake Pakistan as well. So in time we will come to recognize our own Elon Musks and Sergey Brins. As a Pakistani technologist, more than any other, that is my foremost dream.