On May 24th, Gary Connery, a 42 year old stuntman from Oxfordshire, England jumped from a helicopter hovering over one mile in the air over southern England, and glided to the earth using a specially designed wing suit. His runway was comprised of a cobbled-up crash-pad fabricated from 18,000 cardboard boxes to soften the impact.
With this record-setting jump, Gary became the first skydiver to land without using a parachute. While others have survived through some fluke of nature, he was the first one to plan it from the start.
We live in a world obsessed with accomplishments, and more specifically, obsessed with being FIRST.
Few of us remember the 2nd person to set foot on the moon, or the 2nd person to invent the airplane, or the 2nd one to run a mile in under 4 minutes.
So given this almost fanatical pursuit to become the “first” at something, what exactly are some of the big accomplishments still waiting to be claimed that will land someone in the history books? Here are a few that come to mind.
History of Firsts
People can become famous for a variety reasons stemming from heroic, unfortunate, ground breaking, or even uncontrollable circumstances. When a new trend appears in transportation, communication, or the technical world, an opportunistic innovator is always there to be the first to develop or test the new technology. History has many examples of influential firsts that have had a huge impact on society, culture, and the world as a whole.
Here are a few examples of people who have gone first:
1st People to Fly: On November 21, 1783, the first manned hot air balloon flight was made in Paris, France, by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes.
1st Nude Actress in a Movie: In 1915, actress Audrey Munson became the first leading actress to appear nude in a movie. Her appearance in the film “Inspiration” led to her being the model or inspiration for more than 15 statues in New York City.
1st Woman to Cross the Atlantic: May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first female American aviator to conduct a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean.
1st Woman Cabinet Member: In 1933, Frances Perkins was appointed Secretary of Labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first woman member of a presidential cabinet.
1st Symbol for the Civil-Rights Movement: On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a longtime activist with the NAACP, refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, so that a white man could have it. Her arrest became a major turning point for the civil-rights movement.
1st Person to Expose the Mafia: In October 1963, Joseph Valachi became the first informant for the FBI to testify that the Mafia did exist.
1st African-American Major League Baseball Player: On April 15, 1947 Jackie Robinson made his major league debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American Major League Baseball player in the modern era. Robinson broke the race barrier and changed the world of professional baseball.
1st Million-Dollar Actor: In 1957 William Holden became the first actor to be paid $1 million for a single film. That year he starred in the production of The Bridge on the River Kwai and established the first million dollar payday for Hollywood.
1st IVF Baby: On July 25, 1978, Louise Joy Brown became the first baby to be born through in vitro fertilization. Today, IVF has become a commonly practiced procedure all over the world.
Robert Tappan Morris
1st Computer Virus: In 1988, Cornell University student Robert Tappan Morris unwittingly became to first person to create a computer virus. While trying to gauge the size of the Internet, the “Morris Worm” exploited some known vulnerabilities in Unix sendmail, but became extremely damaging when the code infected computers multiple times with the virus.
1st Super-Marathoner: In November 2003, 59-year old Sir Ranulph Fiennes became the first person to run 7 marathons, in 7 days, on 7 different continents.
1st on Twitter to Reach 25 Million: In May 2012, Lady Gaga became the first person on Twitter to reach 25 million followers.
1st to Solve Isaac Newton’s Problem: In May 2012, Shouryya Ray, a 16-year-old German student became the first person to solve a mathematical problem posed by Sir Isaac Newton more than 300 years ago – how to calculate exactly the path of a projectile under gravity and subject to air resistance. This was a problem that had stumped mathematicians for centuries. Bravo Shouryya!
56 Future Firsts
If we look at where we’ve come from, the list of opportunities for new “firsts” are growing on a daily basis. Here is a list of 56 of them to help challenge your thinking.
Eight Space Firsts
While Star Trek famously proclaimed space to be the “final frontier,” there are, in fact, many unexplored frontiers. Here are a few space-related “firsts” that come to mind:
- First person on Mars
- First person to set foot on an asteroid
- First person to travel at the speed of light
- First space hotel
- First person to set foot on the Sun (No, I’m not volunteering!)
- First President of the Moon
- First space-based power station
- First to develop an inexpensive way to escape earth’s orbit
Eight Physics Firsts
Without trying to violate too many of the laws of physics, here are a few of today’s holy grails:
- First mass energy storage system
- Controlling gravity – first to discover the true nature of gravity
- Discovery of the “God” particle
- First person to create room temperature super conductors
- First person to create low-energy hot water
- Nuclear fusion
- Movable holes – drill a hole in the wrong place, no problem, just move the hole
- Flashdark – the opposite of a flashlight. This one shines “darkness” onto a surface
Eight Driverless Vehicle Firsts
Over the next 10 years we will see the first wave of autonomous vehicles hit the roads, with some of the initial inroads made by vehicles that deliver packages, groceries, and fast-mail envelopes.
- First driverless valet service
- First person to travel across the U.S. without a driver
- First person to travel over 200 mph in a driverless car
- First driverless taxi service
- First driverless pizza delivery
- First flying delivery drone to dock with a house
- First accident-free driverless vehicle over 10-year period
- First driverless vehicle allowed to enter the Indianapolis 500
Eight Firsts in Healthcare
Comedian Chris Rock likes to take medical researchers to task, noting, “There’s no money in the cure. They haven’t cured anything since polio.”
Whether or not there is any truth to his statement, there are a huge number of cures and other medical advances waiting to happen:
- Cure for cancer
- Cure for diabetes
- Cure for obesity
- Cure for Alzheimer
- Cure for strokes
- Cure for heart disease
- Self-healing, self-repairing body
- First person to live past 200
Eight 3D Printer Firsts
3D printing is an object creation technology where the shapes of the objects are formed through a process of building up layers of material until all of the details are in place.
- First printed house
- First printed commercial building
- First shredded and reprinted house
- First printed airplane
- First printed rocket
- First to scan and print “perfect fit” clothing in under 10 minutes
- First to scan and print “perfect fit” shoes in under 10 minutes
- First printed can filled with printed soup, or first printed bottle filled with printed wine
Other Notable Firsts
Achievements of this nature don’t always fit neatly into categories like those listed above. Here are a few more that needed a bit more explanation:
First Global Election: When will we see the first global election with over 500 million people voting from over 50 different countries? Will they be voting for a person, or voting on an issue? If it’s a person, what position will that person be running for? And, if it’s an issue, what issue will be so compelling that everyone wants to vote on it?
First Crowd-Funded University: With a huge number of experiments going on it today’s world of higher education, one logical approach will be to crowdfund an entire university from scratch.
First Billion-Cam Video Project: What would it take to get people to connect 1 billion video cameras to the Internet?
First Billion-Person Genealogy Project: The genealogical industry currently exists as a million fragmented efforts happening simultaneously. While the dominant players, Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com, have multiple websites with hundreds of millions of genealogies, there is still a much bigger opportunity waiting to happen.
First Global DNA Animal Library: Similar, in some respects, to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, this library would preserve the actual DNA of all animals.
First Instant Sleep: A workaholic’s dream. People who need to finish an important project, but are feeling exhausted, could simply walk into the instant-sleep chamber. Voila! In a few seconds they could walk back out, fully rejuvenated and raring to go. Is this possible?
First Dream Recorder: How often have you forgotten your dreams the next morning? Is it possible to create a “hit-play-to-record” device that would allow you to visually archive your dreams?
First Dream Clique: As someone falls asleep and starts dreaming, others can also enter and participate in the same dream with the aid of Dream Clique Technology.
First Centralized Law Project: Very few countries have their laws posted in a central repository. In the U.S. the laws, rules, and regulations are so numerous and obscure that few people know what laws are governing them at any given moment.
First Crowd-Sourced Court System: If a court system were developed using crowdsourcing to form its jury decisions, what things would have to change?
First Atom-Mapping of a Kernel of Wheat: Going beyond the genome sequencing of plants and animals, the next quest will be mapping the interplay between individual atoms.
Perpetual Self-Filling Canteen: In a world where people continually die from lack of hydration, one of the most-needed devices is a handheld canteen that is constantly extracting moisture from the air.
Reviving the First Extinct Species: Should extinct species be brought back to life? This question will come to the forefront once the first one is revived.
First Self-Cleaning House: The long-time dream of housewives everywhere remains today as little more than a far-off dream. However, this could soon change with the right visionary.
First Plant or Animal Communicator: With prototypes of natural language translators already in existence for humans, the next step will be technology that bridges the communication gap between humans, and plants and animals.
First Swarmbot Sweater: Flying SwarmBots will someday serve as our clothing, flying into “clothing formation” on command, reconfiguring themselves according to our fashion moods, changing color on a whim. Once we step out of the shower in the morning, the SwarmBots will dry our skin, fix our hair, and take their place as part of our ever-changing wardrobe.
It’s easy to look around us and see what exists today, but the true visionaries are looking for what’s missing.
The voids and empty spaces around us will have people stampeding to fill these vacuums once they can be defined and understood.
People who go first are the ones who create entire new industries, and the job-generating opportunities that go along with it.
With the automations of today’s technologies, jobs are disappearing faster than ever before in history. The only way to compensate for this is to build new industries from scratch.
For this reason, the people who are willing to take the risks and blaze new trails need to be encouraged, empowered, and revitalized.
I’m pretty sure Steve Jobs and the marketing geniuses behind Apple’s “Think Different” campaign said it best:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
On this note, I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas. What other “firsts” do we need to be focusing on? What are the “crazy people” in your circles working on?
By Futurist Thomas Frey
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything