Seeing the Future

March 23, 2016

Predicting future breakthroughs and making pioneering investments is every strategist’s and CEO’s dream.  So how does Paul Allen recognize the future before it happens?  Perhaps one secret lies in our founder’s breadth of interests - from science and sports to arts and authors.  Keeping an eye on the whole landscape of science develops a sense of where important mysteries are still unsolved. 

Albert Einstein said that keeping “a rough general grasp of the whole sweep of science” in view allowed him to be creative in very fundamental and transformative ways.  As Paul Allen said for the catalog accompanying the stunning traveling exhibit of his landscape art collection this year, referring to Claude Monet’s painting The Water-Lily Pond – “… there’s something about landscapes that seems almost universally attractive.  It’s a way of looking outward.” 

At The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, we are dedicated to a continuous engagement with the entire landscape of science, consistent with our belief that talent is everywhere. Connecting the dots in sometimes surprising ways can open up new territories and solve problems that have been resistant to traditional thinking. 

Paul Allen must be able to see the future well before others can, and he backs up his foresight with the rare and refreshing courage to send out the expeditionary parties to create it.  As just one example, on the occasion of the 4th annual Breakthrough Prizes – the $3 million prizes funded by various Silicon Valley technology leaders, hosted by Hollywood celebrities, and considered by some to be “America’s Nobel’s” – two bioscience pioneers previously funded as Allen Distinguished Investigators by Paul G. Allen were responsible for more of the recognized breakthroughs in life sciences than scientists from any other single domain.

In November 2015, two Allen Distinguished Investigators, Ed Boyden and Svante Pääbo, were awarded the prestigious $3 million Breakthrough Prizes.  Dr. Pääbo was highlighted for his pioneering sequencing of ancient genomes and the window it opens on the study of human traits, and Dr. Boyden was recognized (with one other scientist) for his development of optogenetics.  Given that only four Breakthrough Prizes in life sciences were awarded, Allen Distinguished Investigators accounted for 50% of the recognized breakthroughs.

Perhaps Paul Allen’s special way of looking outward across the landscape of science still shines the brightest beacon on the furthest frontiers of knowledge for today’s science and technology explorers, entrepreneurs, and investors.  Please join us in this continuous conversation.  We hope to keep the light shining, and will share what we see, for the benefit of humanity and the world.

-- Tom Skalak, Ph.D., Executive Director, The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group