TNTY - Technology San Francisco 2000
Stan Williams presentation
Bill Gurley presentation
Paul Saffo presentation
audience Q&A

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 technology directly.

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 chemist's war.

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 minds.

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 until 2007.

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 emphasizes culture.

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 it.

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 between.

If you look at the statistics for the last 70 years, air travel miles and telecommunication minutes, both follow each other upwards in perfect synchrony.

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 communications.

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 video-conferencing.

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.