You'd be forgiven if you missed this year's Milken Institute Global Conference. The think tank drew speakers from Kobe Bryant and Tom Hanks to Al Gore.

Though many events were invitation-only, the lunch talk in the video below, by Eric Schmidt of Google and its parent, Alphabet, highlighted his view of the top technology trends from one of the most rarified perspectives in the tech world.

He describes several "moonshots"--technologies that would improve the state of the art by 10 times, and that have the technology and investment to make them plausible now. Many moonshots fail, but some succeed.

The first he mentions is what he calls "Nerds Over Cattle"--also known as cultured meat or meatless meat. He's talking about "assembling" meat from amino acids and other building blocks of life.

Pointing out that cows produce "up to 15 percent of global warming," Schmidt says using plants exclusively, instead of animals, would help global warming and lower costs of food throughout the world.

Note that he mentions cultured meat before other moonshots you're probably more familiar with, like 3-D printing, virtual reality, self-driving cars, and improving education through technology. Bill Gates has already stated that "Remaking meat is one sector of the food industry that is ripe for innovation and growth."

Today's State of the Art

The industry has moved far beyond veggie burgers. In London in 2013, a team from Maastricht University demonstrated a burger they made from cow stem cells, which chef Richard McGeown then cooked. Food critic Hanni Ruetzler described it:

There is really a bite to it, there is quite some flavor with the browning. I know there is no fat in it so I didn't really know how juicy it would be, but there is quite some intense taste; it's close to meat, it's not that juicy, but the consistency is perfect. This is meat to me.... It's really something to bite on and I think the look is quite similar.

That was a €250,000 burger, funded, it turns out, by Sergey Brin. Support for cultured meat comes from many places, including PETA, which had offered $1 million to a company that could create lab-grown chicken by 2012.

What's Next?

Estimations based on current technologies say the cost of in vitro chicken meat could be about double the cost of conventionally grown chickens. Mark Post, the leader of the Maastricht team, estimates the marginal cost of the €250,000 burger was about €8.

We can expect new technologies and markets to bring prices down and quality and production up. The Second International Conference on Cultured Meat happens this October.

Though most of the market is looking at food, there are many other openings (I'm personally hoping for a lab-grown fur coat that never harmed a mink). Who knows what pick axes this gold rush of a burgeoning burger market will need?

Published on: Jul 15, 2016