I grew up to believe in the power of human ideas to change the world, and I personalized this philosophy: You, Ray, can find those ideas. I continue to be convinced of this basic philosophy.
Ideas can come from anyone, anywhere. To help ignite and accelerate this grand ideation process, I was inspired to write my first novel: Danielle: Chronicles of a Superheroine, which shares the story of a precocious girl who uses her intelligence and accelerating technologies to solve the world’s biggest challenges. Danielle’s journey casts a hopeful vision of humanity’s future—a journey that was largely inspired by the women in my family.
The “Danielles” in my own life profoundly influenced me
My mother’s mother’s mother Regina Stern followed the same philosophy that ideas can change the world. In 1868, she saw that girls did not have the opportunity for schooling past ninth grade, so she and her family started the Stern Schule, the first school in Europe that provided higher education for girls, going from kindergarten to fourteenth grade (high school and the first two years of college). The idea was met with fierce opposition, and my great-grandmother lectured throughout Europe on why girls should be educated and how to go about it. Her school became influential on the education of girls and women.
Her daughter, my grandmother, became an exemplar of her mother’s philosophy and became the first woman in Europe to be awarded a PhD in chemistry. She took over the school, and between the two women they ran it for seventy years before fleeing Vienna in the summer of 1938, after Hitler annexed Austria.
It would seem, therefore, that I was destined—if not hard-wired—to write a book about an inspirational young woman who, emboldened in spirit and empowered with intelligence, could change the world and set an example for others.
The transformative power of ideas is itself accelerating
Over the last thirty years, I have come to appreciate an important meta-idea: that the power of ideas to transform the world is itself accelerating. Although people readily agree with this observation when it is simply stated, it is much harder to appreciate its profound implications. Within the next several decades, we will have the opportunity to apply ideas to conquer age-old problems—and introduce a few new ones along the way.
This, then, is Danielle’s philosophy. If Danielle’s exploits seem remarkable, I would point out that each of her accomplishments are achievements that a person, even a child, can do today. Indeed, young people are already changing the world. The major tech companies—Microsoft, Apple, Google, which together are worth almost two trillion dollars and have indeed transformed the world—were started by students barely over twenty. We see high school kids creating transformative ideas, such as early noninvasive tests for cancer, new approaches to treating Alzheimer’s disease, and techniques for reverse-engineering the brains of animals.
This is also the best way to learn. “Learn by Doing” is the philosophy of Singularity University, of which I am Co-Founder and Chancellor, where talented entrepreneurs take on the grand challenges facing humanity. Whether these projects succeed or fail, the participants themselves will succeed in learning a myriad of valuable skills and ideas.
Learn by Doing is also the philosophy of the school founded by Danielle’s Dad, and that Danielle and her sister, Claire, attend. Danielle’s adventures represent her school projects. Indeed, if I think back on my own life and what I have managed to learn, it is all from my projects, not from school.
Anyone, at any age, can be a Danielle
Is there a Danielle in the world today? From one perspective, anyone can be a Danielle, at least in part, by having the courage to question the assumptions that limit human imagination to solve problems. How about a person with the extremely broad range of Danielle’s courage and talent? She may not exist, at least not yet. This novel is a thought experiment as to what would happen if there were a Danielle.
However, as I articulate in my nonfiction books, in the decades ahead we are going to merge with the intelligent technology we are creating. This novel explores the impact a single Danielle can have on the world. Now imagine if we all became Danielles. That will happen by 2045.
For all the quandaries we face—business problems, health issues, relationship difficulties, the great social and cultural challenges of our time—there exists an idea that will enable us to prevail. We can and must find that idea. And when we find it, we need to implement it.
That is Danielle’s philosophy. And it can be your philosophy, as well. If you see a problem, big or small, you can apply your mind—and your courage, creativity and tenacity—to solve it. We can all be Danielles, regardless of our age and situation. To help, I’ve created a companion book, How You Can Be a Danielle, which provides actionable guidance to help would-be Danielles contribute to solving the kinds of problems Danielle takes on. If everyone did this, the world would become a far better place.
It’s been so gratifying to see the enthusiastic responses to the book already, particularly among young people who are ready to become “Danielles.”
And here are some heartfelt reactions from boys who have embraced this material:
Adults are also responding enthusiastically, too, and some have reconnected with memories of who they’d wanted to be when they grew up! Danielle is truly a book (and heroine) for people of all ages. I hope adults will nurture and support the potential “Danielles” in their own lives while also becoming more empowered themselves to create positive change.
Go forth and be exponential!
One aspect of today’s technology is that it allows children and adults to magnify their reach exponentially in a way never before possible. An idea can spread virally on social media regardless of the age, background, status, title, or accomplishments of the originator. It is only the power of the idea that matters.
In How You Can Be a Danielle, I include many ideas and suggestions for activities and organizations that you can join and assist. By doing so, your efforts will be multiplied by others following in your footsteps and being inspired by your ideas. That’s a wonderful way to Be Exponential, as we say at SU!
Only ideas can change the world
I have also created a second companion book, A Chronicle of Ideas: A Guide for Superheroines (and Superheroes). This is a nonfiction guide to the scientific, technological, medical, entrepreneurial, political, historical, literary, musical, philosophical, and psychological ideas that animate the world of Danielle, the protagonist of the novel—and my world, too!
About three hundred ideas in the novel are tagged with reference numbers and should be read side-by-side with the entries in this companion book.
My sincere hope is that, through this new set of collected works and the introduction of Danielle, I’ve provided the inspiration, tools, and guidance to empower a new generation (or generations!) of dreamers who can take action to solve humanity’s greatest challenges. I hope you’ll enjoy the special offer I’ve created just for members of the SU community and readers of the SU Blog—pre-order it today!