TNTY - Technology San Francisco 2000
Stan Williams presentation
Bill Gurley presentation
Paul Saffo presentation
I actually have a very easy job tonight because, as a
forecaster, I don't predict. So let me offer some observations about
what I think's afoot.
This is a moment when the future is synonymous with bits and the Internet
and gizmos that chirp in our briefcases and drive us crazy all the time,
and it's real easy to project that out.
But this is also a moment where we're really on the cusp between two
revolutions, and the big changes ahead may not come from information
Now, as a technology forecaster, what I really am is a historian of
technology, who happens to spend most of his time looking at technologies
that don't exist yet. One rule when you're trying to look at the future
is always look at least twice as far back as you're looking ahead, and
patterns begin to reveal themselves.
One such pattern is that underlying entrepreneurship, of course, is
technology, and underlying technology is science.
And it turns out that, if you look back over the last 150 years or so,
you will discover that, about every 30 to 50 years, a new scientific
discipline comes to the floor that really sets the stage for all the
innovation to follow.
As we entered the start of 1900, the last, last century, chemistry was at
the fore. And it would turn out that the next several decades were
really shaped by chemistry, and chemists, and business people organizing
those understandings into large industrial conglomerates.
It was on people's mind, and it was synonymous with the future; little
kids were buying chemistry sets. And of course, World War I was the
The second third of the century was shaped by a fundamentally different
discipline, and that was physics. And physics was very much on people's
We started taming electronics first to do power, and that's overlapped a
little bit with chemistry and then making electrons doing higher-grade
things, which would lead us to the third part of the century.
But in passing, I do want to note that, just as World War I was a
chemist's war, World War II, of course, was ended by the physicists.
And right at the end of that war ushered in the final third of the
century, and that was shaped by information technology, which really was
information science in the early days.
And that's what we are living in the waning years of right now; that, if
you notice you always get the most presents at the end of the year,
everything kind of piles up at Christmas, even through it takes all year
to get there.
All the new wonders in our lives, at the moment, are really things that
have been building for 50 years, because the information science
revolution started with the invention of the transistor. And now, we're
getting everything arriving late and in unexpected ways.
Now, a couple of details: First of all, of course, the earlier
revolutions does not die out when the next revolution comes along. And,
in fact, the earlier revolution fuels what is to come.
Chemists like Marie Curie provided the context for the, first,
theoretical physicists to do their things. And of course, the
electronics revolution was triggered by three physicist - Bertain,
Bardine and Shockly - who built the first transistor a couple years after
World War II.
We're on the cusp now of the next revolution. And quite appropriate that
we're meeting this week, because a key indicator that was the completion
of the human genome, first rough past, earlier this week. We are
shifting from a focus information technology to biology.
And when we look back 70 or 80 years from now - and thanks to
biotechnology, many people in this room probably will - that, yes, we all
have the opportunity to become geezers, that we will laugh at the idea
that people said: Oh, gosh, information technology is sweeping past our
lives and creating enormous change.
One indicator of that: The two people that I look to, to understand
what's afoot are Craig Venter and Bill Haseltine. Craig is the head of
Celera; he's the wild man in the business. Bill Haseltine is the head of
Human Genome Sciences; he's the conservative guy.
So you ask them what's going to happen, and Craig says: Well, by 2004,
2005, we'll have a limited genome, artificial life form; and if we're
lucky, it'll do something neat like photosynthesize electricity from
sunlight; and if it's really boring, it will eat away all the oil spills;
and by 2010, we'll start having the first genome-oriented drugs and so on
and so on.
Bill Haseltine listens to him - he's the conservative one - he says: Oh,
for heaven sake, Craig, you are just so out of control; you're such a
wild man; we're not going to have limited genome artificial life forms
So, very big changes wait in the wings in biology. And it's not just the
things that biology and genomics delivers directly out of that field; it
will also reinvent the other things that exist today because each
successive revolution re-empowers and reinvents what goes on earlier.
In physics, like chemistry, to deeper understandings and electronics lead
to better physics, the same thing is happening. The next set of big
ideas and technology and business and in computer science are going to be
inspired by advances in biology.
And of course, we have seen that computers are the intellectual
bulldozers of researchers in the bio field. Acceleration of the genomes
decoding followed almost exactly the advances in Moore's Law.
It'll spread in other ways as well. It's going to affect our business
structures. The next big models for business are going to be borrowed
from biology in general, evolutionary ecology in particular.
There's a whole generation of - I don't know what it is about middle-age
white guys who feel compelled to write management books - but it is a
constant, and they will be writing about biology fairly soon.
The other constants in the business environment is we will continue to
live as we do today in an age of creative destruction,
technologically-induced creative destruction.
The gales of creative destruction are going through every industry on the
planet today, touched by the Internet and digital technology; biology's
the next thing to come.
The other constant is the continued dominance of entrepreneurial elites,
in terms of affecting change. The biggest change may come in the shape
of capitalism itself. As Joseph Shumpetter recognized 50 years ago,
capitalism is not an end point; it is a process.
And moreover, it's an evolutionary process; it is undergoing particularly
rapid evolution at this point. Now, here we are in Silicon Valley. The
dominant mode of capitalism here is entrepreneurial capitalism,
symbolized by the individual, typified by Silicon Valley companies.
There are two other flavors: in Asia, Confucian capitalism, symbolized
very nicely by Singapore that emphasizes the extended family and the
community; and then in Europe, we have a social capitalism that
There is a coming battle among those three dialects of capitalism. In a
world that is increasingly global and borderless, it will be an
interesting battle, indeed.
Other changes in our lives: We're going to see a new post urbanism.
Fifty years ago, tract houses, automobiles and cheap cars and cheap
gasoline reshaped the urban landscape to suburbia.
We live in that today. But there's something new happening, shaped this
time by the Internet, fuel cells and cheap bandwidth.
Fuel cells are going to cut the last cable that holds us to our
communities; satellites cut the communications cord; wireless cut the
telephone cord; and fuel cells will cut the electrical cord.
And it means, in fairly - in fairly short-term future, anybody who is so
inclined can buy device about the size of a washer, put in a petro
chemical, and get out electricity with fresh water as the by-product.
If you're an environmentalist, fear the fuel cell, because I think it's
going to lead a huge push into the exurbs; that means any fool with a
double-wide trailer and satellite dish can tow it onto a piece of
unoccupied land in the middle of Nevada desert and have enough power to
compute and so on.
Hopefully, it will lead to a better world. My fear is that we will see
the vast wasteland of suburbia replaced by the vaster wasteland of
cyberbia. People spread out more and more.
By the way, the downtowns do not disappear; people are going to
concentrate in the urban cores, spread out into the exurbs. The big
losers are exactly the thing invented 50 years ago: the suburbs, those
places where nobody wanted to live anyway.
They only lived there because it was close to where they either had to
work or wanted to be.
The last detail: Cyber space matters today because, in cyber space,
there is no distance between two points. That's very good news. It
means markets are bigger, globalization is happening. We're seeing
companies being built across borders.
Lots of marvelous things in Silicon Valley has benefited enormously. And
as Stan mentioned, it's also going to increase our understanding of the
world. Tele-present tourism will happen with people following
mathematical highways along the bottom of the seabed to see new wonders.
All sorts of wonderful things will happen. There's also a dark side.
How many people in this room would like to travel more? Oh, God, you
maniacs. You're victims of frequent-flyer programs.
There's been this long vision that just as soon as computers get good
enough, we will travel less. We will trade computers screens for
airplane seats and end up in a new couch potato nirvana. Do not count on
The fact is, if you hate airplane travel, go home and kill your computer,
because the simple fact is the more you talk to someone electronically,
inevitably, it leads to face-to-face meeting. And once you meet
face-to-face, you want to continue the conversation electronically in
If you look at the statistics for the last 70 years, air travel miles and
telecommunication minutes, both follow each other upwards in perfect
In fact, what we have got in our quest for travel substitution is travel
shifting. We make both things more convenient. We end up doing more of
both. And it may have happened to you as follows:
Someone calls, they say: Gosh, Paul, we need you in Hong Kong on Friday.
And I say: Give me a break; I got to be in Singapore on Tuesday, and I
don't want to cool my heels in Southeast Asia over the weekend; how about
if I come in via video conference on Friday and then, when I'm in Hong
Kong, I'll just drop down to Singapore; or when I'm in Singapore, I'll
hop up to Hong Kong and pick up whatever we didn't get on the phone call.
Now, what did I just do to myself? I got a jump on my jetlag, because I
had to get up in the middle of the night for a video conference, and drop
into Singapore from Hong Kong. Singapore is farther from Hong Kong, than
San Francisco is from Boston. I ended up with more miles and more
So where does it end up? Well, we will fairly soon cross the country
with the same casualness reserved for the San Francisco to Los Angeles
shuttle. We will cross oceans the way we cross countries. So where does
it end up?
Next time you're stuck on a triple-seven, look under the seat. Chances
are there is a stubbed out fiber optic cable. As you see, once they
figure out the satellite details, they would like to offer you seat back
So where will we be in 20 years? We will be in an airplane. In fact, we
will spend all of our time in airplanes. The plane will never land. We
will never reach our destination. But we will never notice because we'll
be so busy video-conferencing with our artificial-intelligent travel
agent to plan our next trip. Thank you.