Yes, I’m an optimist, so you might put a grain of salt next to my unmitigated optimism about how things will go but I think we are seeing the greatest time in technology history unfolding and it is breathtaking and fun to participate and think about. I believe it will have an impact on our economy and create jobs too but let’s look at it from the ground. What is happening that drives my optimism?
I delineate below what I have seen in trends and technology I know is in the pipe. I include some references at the bottom if you want support for the basic ideas here.
Software: Tectonic change but hidden
The technology changes brought about by the virtuous circle I talk about are revolutionary in terms of productivity and cost reduction. Things that cost millions of dollars are costing thousands now. Things that took years are taking months. We are seeing a paradigm shift before our eyes that is coming about faster than I have ever seen one before and it is having a bigger impact on business than anyone seems to acknowledge. Virtually every business is up for disruption in this new economy.
When I say tectonic but hidden I mean the average person doesn’t know bigdata, APIs and DevOps from an apple or orange. They have no idea why technology is changing so fast but I believe everyone sees the change.
The shift to platform 3.0 which is about Mobile, Social, Cloud, IoT is synergistically driven meaning that these technologies support each other so that they each accelerate the impact of the other parts. Underlying these major forces are the raw technologies of the APIs in the cloud, Open Source and DevOps/PaaS technology which enables these technologies, automates and makes their adoption possible faster. I believe this is a new thing. It is so different from what we did during the distributed computing world I call it Platform 3.0 or the connected platform.
The “App” Economy
A big part of this rapid change is due to what I call the “network effect” which is that as you add more services in the cloud, more devices attached to the cloud they build value in ways that we didn’t anticipate that drive value and participation much higher than originally thought. Users are spending 84% of their time on their smartphones in apps. Apps are becoming the dominant way people interact with other people, software and services in the new economy. The Apps have become the proxy to all our interactions with business and consumption and social interactions as well. It is an App economy.
Business is seeing the change in ways that are changing how business interacts with customers and partners in a fundamentally more intimate way than ever before. This is possible because of the ubiquitous services and technology available through the Cloud and Mobile which allows connectivity with customers and relationships with customers and partners in more ways persistently and more important dynamic and agile. The new technology allows companies to react and offer new ways to combine value and deliver value faster than ever before. Boeing is working with WSO2 for instance to create a way for the 1400 airlines in the world to interact with Boeing individually and help them manage their Boeing airplanes better. This is part of the connectedness of platform 3.0 called an Ecosystem PaaS. Boeing is enabling airlines to become smarter by connecting to it. How?
Smarter Apps because of Network Effect
Everything is becoming connected. I call it the network effect. When I get in my car it tells me my schedule. It guesses where I am going, checks the route and if there is a problem suggests an alternate route. It guesses based on past traffic patterns and knowing if an accident occurs how long it will take to clear up and if I will be there. How many times have you gotten on the road and realized you should have checked if there was an accident or there was an accident but now it’s clearing up? Technology is becoming smarter faster by utilizing combinations of services, i.e. the Network Effect. When I look up things in the cloud I get better answers and smarter answers, with contact information included, prices, locations, reviews. If I map to someplace it tells me how to get there and how long by car, mass transit, taxi, walking, airplane, whatever. I can then book those things on the spot or click and have the destination sent to my car so I can go right away. My car is smarter, knows how to drive itself sometimes, knows where I am going and responds to traffic in real time to reroute me. My car knows when to raise itself higher automatically and to lower itself based on history. It knows my schedule and tells me when I need to leave or helps me tell others I am on the way, where I am and the schedule. I can listen to my books anyplace and find new books easily while on the way and listen to music and talk from anywhere in the world in my car. My music knows what I like and finds new music for me automatically that I like.
One of the new segments of the market for iPaaS is called API aggregation and consists of companies that combine APIs from different companies to create an easier to use combined set of APIs or just a place to be able to find APIs easier. Just more evidence that the services explostion of APIs and Platform 3.0 is really happening.
Higher value is created by leveraging multiple services, bigdata to anticipate obvious things and do them for me if I just say yes. The new iWatch sounds like it will have many features Google Now accomplishes by providing knowledge of your schedule and locations it tries to anticipate your next move and provide what you need when you need it. Now that’s useful stuff.
It affects everything
All of this is brought about because the ability to do software and improve software and deliver software is an order of magnitude faster than even a few years ago. My car updates itself as well as my phone and other devices every few weeks. Soon everything in my home will be getting updates from the cloud and getting smarter and better AFTER I bought them. 10 years ago this would have sounded like a crazy idea that was 40 or 50 years away from reality. It is happening and you can’t run a business without understanding where this is going and how your business is affected by it. You have to be smart and fast and react like a cougar. The technology of BigData, APIs, Cloud, PaaS, Open Source, Mobile, Social are all critical to absorb and this is what I call platform 3.0.
Hardware: Smaller, Faster, Lighter, Cheaper
I divide hardware into computer hardware and IoT hardware. Computer hardware is a combination of the 3 fundamental types of computing resources (Networking, Compute and Storage). I include IoT as part of the hardware because much of the physical world we consume will be connected in the future through connected computers built into them.
There are new technologies for the home and cell on the horizon that promise more and faster connectivity through wireless including Wimax and evolution of LTE to XLTE we will see up to 1Gb data rates to the home and cellular. SDN promises to improve dramatically the cost to administer networks in corporations and data centers. Longer term I believe there are no limits to providing terabit or higher connectivity in the home and cell if required. Even more impressive these data rates are being provided more ubiquitously and at lower and lower power consumption over longer ranges. BLE (Bluetooth low energy) can run 300ft and operate at a hundredth the power or less than wifi or cell. These power savings are critical to IoT. For something cool check out this kickstarter project that gives you 1km wireless at home.
We are in a constant battle between the vast amounts of data we are accumulating and the Growth in storage densities to store the data. This has to be one of the most remarkable things in my mind that has happened that I didn’t realize would be possible. Engineers in the 70s thought that the theoretical limit of density for a semiconductor chip was 64,000 bits. We are at >640,000,000,000 bits for a chip area much smaller than he was talking about so those engineers were only off by only about a BILLION times what we would achieve in 40 years and nobody thinks we are close to a theoretical limit now, I talk to company after company whose plans include keeping data on every American (or more), so the needs between bigdata and the raw storage for fundamental data are exploding but the ability to store it keeps expanding at an exponential rate. If this dynamic of the technology keeping up with demand stops we’re in trouble but it seems fine for the foreseeable future. I am always stunned to think that a 256GB chip has a trillion transistors in a space that is 2dimensional and is smaller than the size of my thumb. It’s just hard to believe sometimes this is even possible and it’s so cheap it is consumer cost!
Compute is exciting because what has happened is we have dramatically reduced the cost for the compute portion. The overall speed of computing hasn’t undergone radical change in a while but what used to be a $700 processor is now a $7 processor that can be put into a cell phone. We now buy computers with 16 or more CPUs each running at 2Ghz or more. More important is huge power reduction. The $1 processors now run on an infinitesimal amount of power compared to their predecessors. We are now building compute capability that can run for a year intermittently on small thimble batteries. This is making the IoT revolution possible.
IoT (Internet of Things)
The IOT explosion is possible because of the changes to the hardware above. The ability to have compute, storage and decent networking for extremely low cost (under a dollar in some cases), using so little power it can last for a year of intermittent use is creating another micro-computer disruption. This time on a scale hundreds of times smaller and cheaper than the previous 1980s disruption. It is another step to the nanotech science fiction writers have been talking about for decades. The race in my mind is between man-made nano devices and biological engineering of nano-devices. Right now I would say the biological side is winning. We are doing things on a nano scale in biology already whereas electronic nano devices are still imagination for the most part. I have read articles on working nano batteries.
This ability to embed compute power in virtually everything from clothing to every device is now viable and happening at a hyper rate. There will be a data explosion as data from these devices is delivered to the cloud and then the “network effect” as people find value in the combined knowledge and interactivity we get from all these devices added to the cloud.
Much of industry is already “instrumented.” Many buildings have automated systems already for HVAC etc… this will all be revamped as the much lower cost IoT technology becomes mainstream it will improve and lower the cost of all such technology across the board. Robots and 3d printers, all devices in our homes and work will be connected and use common protocols like publish/subscribe. We have no idea where the network effects of these things will lead us but I am sure it will lead to lower costs and mass proliferation and a smarter world.
This is another step in the consumerization of IT which is: higher cost IT technology now available to consumers at consumer prices and therefore IT ends up purchasing many of the same products you and I do for our home and we end up with higher quality products in our homes and businesses.
Basic Science (Physics, Chemistry, Batteries, Materials):
We have been talking about better batteries for some time to little avail but I believe we are going to see some big improvements here in the next 5 years. Various modifications of LiOn technology involving new cathodes, new charging strategies, that promise possibly slightly higher power density but more along the lines of reduced charging time and improved lifetimes as well as lighter weight. It has been shown practical by carefully controlling the charging of LiOn batteries to extend their lifetimes by a factor of 10. It is also very likely that a number of different paths could lead to charge times that are an order of magnitude faster. We are also seeing safer LiOn batteries and lower cost. Other technologies may leap frog LiOn but with just the improvements expected and engineered today we will see significant improvements in the next few years. The emergence of the electric car, specifically Tesla could really power these battery improvements because Tesla plans a battery factory which will double production of all LiOn batteries in the world in one factory. I have great confidence that Elon will be able to leverage these new advancements in batteries and make long life, fast charging, lower cost, lighter weight batteries a reality. I reference some articles on battery technology below to give you the specifics of what I think are promising technologies. Some are absolutely in the pipeline today and some are more speculative.
Our ability to engineer materials is rapidly improving. Part of it is a better understanding of fundamental science and some is a better ability to manipulate things at smaller and smaller scale. Just as with computer science as we gain skill at producing some new materials at scale we learn how to produce other materials too. New screen technologies, Nanostructured ceramics, designer atoms, nanocrystals, single atom layered sheets of platinum or carbon structures give us materials that can change rapidly the progress we make in IoT, quantum computing, batteries, genetic manipulation tools, screens, sensors and all kinds of tests. One company for instance takes the blood tests you get from your doctor that cost hundreds of dollars and take vials of blood into a couple dollars and a pinprick of blood. Microscopes can now see individual atoms and the orbitals of the electrons around them. This type of power will enable the quantum revolution that I believe is coming in materials and computing. D-Wave is producing a quantum computer today that has to be supercooled but new materials science has enabled us to create high temperature quantum effects in materials such as Correlated Oxide.
Quantum Chemistry and Quantum Biology
Physics has been focused for a decade or more on relatively esoteric subjects that have little bearing on the real world. However, recently the advances in quantum computing seems to be driving a new focus in physics to practical quantum technology. Physicists have finally started to address a thorny issue that they tabled for decades. The “measurement problem” is the problem that physicists have had since the 1930s when quantum mechanics was first elucidated by luminaries such as Bohr and Schroedinger. I want to make clear that quantum computers are not the only reason to think that quantum mechanics and its study and use has implications on our near term future. We have discovered quantum tricks are useful for understanding how to do some really cool stuff in organic, inorganic semiconductors which is enabling us to get beyond some of the limitations we face with classical understanding and we are discovering that quantum mechanics is at play in biological systems.
The world appears to be mostly in a fuzzy state sometimes called quantum foam or fog where things are just probabilities but don’t actually appear to be anywhere. In this fuzzy state the world evolves along multiple paths simultaneously but when we look, the foam disappears instantly and we see real particles with real locations and velocities that have chosen the least energy (and therefore the most likely state). We know that if we make some noise near the cohered (fuzzy) state it will collapse. We don’t know if decoherence is physical “action” that happens or is some measurement artifact. Surprisingly, physics tabled this thorny issue 90 years ago and we are just now trying to get to the bottom of it. There have been lots of fun speculative ideas like multi-worlds theories and Schroedinger’s cat paradoxes. The most recent theory I know of that is intriguing (not suggesting it is the answer, just intriguing) is called quantum darwinism in which space itself has memory and evolves.
This quantum fuzziness allows nature to perform “magic,” like quantum tunneling in which it transports electrons through complex paths at near zero energy loss. Evolution has used this trick to make eyes that can see single photons of light or to allow plants to leverage single photons of energy from the sun to build themselves. Birds can detect magnetic field variations incredibly small. Noses of dogs can identify individual molecules and follow traces of them in the air. If we can leverage such quantum tricks in our chemistry and technology we can not only build fast quantum computers but we can build new amazing sensors or new ways to leverage the sun for energy or to do things on a scale we can’t imagine large or small. It’s time we learn how to utilize what nature has given us.
Yes, certainly leveraging this for current technology in the next few years is highly speculative but the combination of the new microscopes, the new understanding of quantum systems, emergence of quantum computers will undoubtedly (and is) leading to some immediate surprising new materials and capabilities. Simply understanding and being able to see these activities in nature can enable us to understand how proteins in our bodies work, how the configuration of the proteins binds to different things or accomplishes tasks that have been mysteries.
When people first started looking inside the human body at all the organs before we had microscopes we postulated all kinds of theories about what they did and how they worked, most of it complete garbage. The ability to see what’s happening at finer and finer levels is producing gargantuan leaps in our understanding and abilities. Being able to understand those things may lead to being able to engineer new materials ourselves that leverage our understanding how chemistry really works, quantum chemistry.
All chemistry is fundamentally quantum chemistry in the sense that at the individual molecule level the electrons and bonds are in quantum states of fuzziness. We have ignored that and tried to operate at a higher level for a long time, producing rules and noticing behaviors at a higher level but we have missed the action of how everything actually works and therefore lack an understanding. Another big advance on the horizon is the amplituhedron which gives us the ability to do quantum calculations much faster than before. The combination of these discoveries and new tools will herald a new era in biology, chemistry, materials science.
It was just 13 years ago amazingly that the humane genome project first produced its first “result.” Since then we have gained exponentially better skill in mapping genes faster and faster, manipulating genes and splicing as well as understanding our DNA. We originally thought that everything was in the genes and most of our DNA was accidental junk left over possibly from many mistakes. It was thought if we mapped all the genes we would have “done it.” We have since learned that the “junk” DNA, which was 98% of the DNA code is not junk but actually contains a second code which is the “control programming” for the Genes.
Genes are encodings of how to produce a protein machine. The reason that many creatures have similar numbers of genes is because most creatures need thousands of machines to build and operate a big multi-cellular body and many of these machines are common between all multi-cellular creatures. A human body doesn’t need that many more genes than a fly. These protein “machines” run around fixing, transporting, making, destroying, basically doing stuff. Our genes are different than a flies but many are the same or very close. A fly still needs various machines to transport materials around the cell and body. A fly still needs to regulate and make lots of chemicals. So, get over it, we’re not that special at least as far as our basic genes. 🙂 The question then becomes who is telling what machines to make and what machines to turn on and turn off when, where to go? The Junk DNA and other things seems to be the “programming” of the DNA that has the actual programming and we are learning some of the code may not even be in the DNA so this is a lot more complicated than we originally thought. Sometimes a disease may be because you have a defective machine. Sometimes because you have defective control mechanism. Our growing understanding of how DNA works, how the body does what it does is going to obviously lead to significant advances. What? When? It’s happening right now in terms of understanding diseases and coming up with new drugs and new mechanisms to target the defects or to reproduce desired behaviors.
One discovery I can point to is that a “miracle drug” is soon to be released from Genentech that a friend of mine is just producing now. Genentech is able to create the antibodies,the protein machines our bodies produce to kill invaders, for the common cold, not “a single” cold but all influenza virus. This is a miracle for many reasons. Limitations of the vaccines we’ve produced for the common cold are that they only work on 3 of what we think will be this seasons worst cold flu viruses and that the vaccines only work as good as our bodies are able to produce the antibodies to kill the virus. If we have a weak immune system as most people who are older do then a vaccine can be useless. The mortality rate for Ebola is 94% for people over 45 and 50% for 25 year olds. What genentech has done is to create the antibodies themselves not an antigen and because this antibody binds to a common feature of every cold virus it is able to kill all flu viruses including bird flu for instance. Not only that but it does not depend on the bodies ability to turn antigens into antibodies because it is the antibody itself it can kill the virus even if your immune system is completely dormant. I think you will agree this is pretty spectacular advance on multiple levels.
The application of bigdata to genetics combining results of trials data, drug data, genetic data is just becoming real. IoT may provide additional data to fuel the analysis and produce better results and more discoveries. It is clear to me we are on the verge of a big step function in our ability to work in the body because of our new tools and new knowledge.
Revolutions in health are coming although the costs of these new technologies is quickly outstripping our ability to pay for them. We have the ability to operate at the genetic level, splicing and inserting things into DNA is possible. We have dramatic improvements in our genetic knowledge that is spurring new techniques to detect disease and problems and to provide a better response tailored to a patient,
Bodymedia detects heat flux, capacitance of the skin, moisture and motion detection
One of the largest and fastest growing costs in medicine is pharmaceuticals. One of the biggest costs is testing drugs in clinical trials. A clinical trial can cost 10s of millions of dollars. The clinical trial process is extremely costly for many reasons but one is the cost increases linearly with the number of people in the trial. IoT devices, bigdata could herald in a new era of lower cost trials. Being able to track patients and monitor them constantly could easily lead to massive results. What if you could detect someone was pre-stroke or pre-heart attack by a couple of hours or minutes? If someone could self-administer an aspirin or drug or even as simple as pause and stop what they are doing it could cause a significant drop in heart attacks, improve the death rate impressively. Google thinks so. Even it is investing in early detection devices. If more patients could be released from hospital with monitors built in it could lead to much lower costs and much better lifestyle and better results. Let us not be timid. The implications of this stuff could be huge because medical costs are 20% of the US economy, a 2% cut is the equivalent of the size of the entire cloud industry in revenues for 2014.
Russian Proton Explodes Virgin Galactic Explosion Orbitial Sciences Anteres Explodes
Elon Musk’s SpaceX company is the only company that didn’t lose a rocket in the last couple months as several high flying rockets crashed and exploded. Below shows Elon’s Spacex Falcon 9 now with 10 consecutive successful launches.
More impressive is that the last several launches SpaceX has been testing the radical re-usable landing capability it expects to be able to leverage to lower costs to space.
Currently NASA pays SpaceX and other companies and the Russians between $60 and $120 million dollars for each launch. Elon has said that 90% of the cost of each launch is the rocket itself which is lost. If he is successful (who would bet against Elon now?) then the costs of travel to space could drop by a huge amount enabling a radical leap in our ability to explore space.
Sure, this isn’t going to transform our economy or our current way of life soon but for people like me who dream that someday humans may go beyond our little ball and explore it is incredibly exciting. In the 60s the space program fueled advances in lots of technologies and produced economic benefits. It is clear that a path forward in space depends entirely on being able to lower the cost to lift material from out of our gravity well. Elon looks to be finally able to achieve the dream that the shuttle had of reducing the cost to the point that we could think of space as a viable place to do business, explore and eventually establish colonies.
Okay, I went from very practical today stuff that is happening and very impactful on business today to technology that is more and more speculative and probably farther out but the reason I include these other more speculative things is that there are real advances in many of these things that are on the cusp of happening or have happened that have the potential to revolutionize those previously dreamy ideas. It is exciting. We don’t know where future advances will happen. They always surprise us but the advances I’m talking about here are the kind that truly disrupt and create vast opportunity. Whether some of those opportunities materialize is questionable but we have reason to believe they very well may be impactful sooner rather than later.
Hope this was entertaining at least if not inspiring. I believe I have proved this is easily the most exciting time in technology in the history of mankind.