The Top 10 Tech Trends Through 2020, From Five Top Venture Capitalists


From my Forbes blog:

Get ready for the Skynet economy, the death of the car, and the re-emergence of women in tech.

Those are three of the top 10 trends coming in technology in the next few years, according to several top venture capitalists. They made their predictions Thursday night at a local Silicon Valley institution, the 17th annual top 10 tech trends dinner held in San Jose by the Churchill Club, which hosts forums with tech’s top executives, financiers, entrepreneurs, and thinkers. The criteria for the trends are that they must not be obvious (a rule frequently broken) and will be big in five years (also often broken).

Offering their prognostications at the event were Bill Gurley of Benchmark Partners (recently described by rival VC Marc Andreessen as “my Newman” after Jerry Seinfeld’s enemy), fast-talking science geek Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, China-focused Jenny Lee of GGV Capital, early-stage investor Rebecca Lynn of Canvas Venture Fund, and former serial entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar of Sherpa Ventures. A few samples of what the VCs expect to see:

The virtual me: Lee thinks advances in hardware and sensors will create an explosion of data that will be aggregated into personal profiles that will know more about you than you do. Gurley says humans don’t want to be tracked that much, especially if the devices keep telling you what to do. Likewise, Jurvetson thinks these data-driven systems will be assistants more than taskmasters. And Pishevar suggests this data will work best if it’s made entertaining or gamified. Lee politely implies they’re all old.

The Skynet economy: Jurvetson sees universal broadband, via very low satellites, bringing untold amounts of talent into the global economy. Every part of the Earth would be equally covered with 16 GB a second Internet access by these now affordable satellites. This will profoundly change the lives of these people. Gurley is the main doubter, partly because he thinks it’s too big to invest in. Lynn waffles too, mostly because these people have bigger fish to fry, like, oh, keeping their babies alive. But Lee says wishing it comes true is part of making it come true.

Rise of the robocars: By 2020 we will no longer debate the inevitability of autonomous cars, Jurvetson predicts. They’re already safer than my parents and I trust them for my kids, he adds. There could be a 10 times reduction of vehicles, parking, etc. as well as a 10X reduction in traffic deaths.

The reemergence of women in tech: Half of computer science students will be women in five years, up from 10% now and a peak of 36% in 1984, argues Lynn. She blames the personal computer, which was targeted at males. Lots of pressure to change the situation. And more positive stories are being told, says Gurley. No one’s stupid enough to vote against this hot-button issue.

Overall winner with the highest percentage of audience votes: Rise of the robocars! So Jurvetson gets to wear the ceremonial wizard’s cape. Really, there’s a ceremonial red and blue wizard’s cape. “Do I have to wear it?” he asked. Yes, he did.

And then everyone drove off alone in their Teslas to buy stuff on their smartphone and pore over their binders full of women.

Read the rest of the 10 predictions.

Why So Many People Are Mourning The Passing Of Doug Engelbart

From my Forbes blog:

Much of the latest generation of tech startups, and probably two generations before that, must wonder what’s with all the eloquent eulogies about Doug Engelbart, who died July 2 at age 88. He’s often called the father of the computer mouse, but he introduced the world to so much more that it’s hard to believe the innovations came from the mind of one man (thought it must be said, since he was a seminal proponent of computer-driven collaboration, that many colleagues added their own thinking and engineering to his vision).

Technologies that we still use today–videoconferencing, bitmapped displays, screen windowing, real-time text editing, hypertext that prefigured the World Wide Web, and, of course, the mouse–all were shown at what’s known as “the mother of all demos” at a computer conference in San Francisco in 1968. Steve Jobs, whose Apple Computer would refine and popularize many, but not all, of these technologies, was still a 13-year-old student at Cupertino Junior High.

I was fortunate enough to cross Engelbart’s path at least a couple of times, most recently at an event at Stanford University in late 2008 commemorating the 40th anniversary of that demo. The 1968 video of the demo still gives me tingles for the amazing breadth of technologies he and his colleagues marshaled at a time when computing was still done with punch cards fed into room-sized computers. If you haven’t seen it already, spend a piece of your holiday weekend checking it out.

But I was also blessed to have had a chance to interview him in person in 2003 for a story I wrote about my search for the next big thing in technology. I drove across the Dumbarton Bridge in the southern San Francisco Bay to Logitech, the maker of computer mice and other peripherals that provided him with an office. He seemed a little out of place at a company bustling with people a third his age.

Speaking softly but still with an urgent energy, Engelbart was generous with his time. As he sketched his latest thinking on his longtime quest to augment intelligence and speed up innovation of all kinds, I was alternately entranced and a little confused. I simply couldn’t get my arms around his “bootstrapping” vision of how to turbocharge innovation and raise our collective intelligence. I could tell he was a little frustrated not only with my struggles to understand, but also with what he viewed as the limited scope of innovation in latter-day Silicon Valley that he felt would benefit greatly from his ideas.

At some point, he sensed that my attention was flagging from the cognitive overload and decided to wind down the interview, though he offered with his unfailing politeness to follow up with me later as I continued my quest. I still regret not managing to get his thoughts into the story.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t quite grok the fullness of his vision, and he never got much support to turn it into something with widespread practicality. As a close friend of his, futurist Paul Saffo, told me after I interviewed Engelbart and confessed I didn’t quite get what he was saying, it’s a curse to be 50 years ahead of your time. Whether that’s tragic, as Tom Foremski believes, I’m not sure. Engelbart certainly got the credit he deserved, at least later in his life, if not the riches that so many people who piggybacked on his ideas did.

We need more people like Engelbart who can stretch their minds beyond the here and now, who are brave enough to keep pushing even when they’re not understood. The upside of his overreaching is that perhaps we’ve still only scratched the surface of what Engelbart envisioned. I won’t be surprised if decades after his death, innovations that leverage his thinking will be continuing to transform the world.

The Mythical iTV: Steve Jobs’ Marketing Magic Is Still Alive And Well At Apple

From my blog The New Persuaders:

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Another day, another rumor that an Apple television may be coming.

Another recycled rumor, in fact. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that China’s Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, is helping Apple test some prototypes for a large-screen television set. That follows similar (OK, identical) rumors a couple of days ago, last August, last May, and last December saying that Apple was enlisting Chinese suppliers to create an Apple TV set.

No surprise here, given that Apple CEO Tim Cook managed to stoke the fires of speculation last week by saying the company has “intense interest” in television. Of course, Cook himself said the very same thing last May, too.

So don’t hold your breath for an Apple TV that goes beyond the current Apple TV hockey puck. Even longtime Apple television forecaster Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray now says it won’t come before next November. And even then, it’s debatable how important a product it will be, since it’s widely assumed that Apple can’t add much to the current TV experience without deals to get access to live TV shows, or at least win the right to revamp the TV user interface to encompass the full range of pay-TV and Internet content available today. And those deals are nowhere in sight just yet.

But the new flurries of interest in the mythical machine point up something that should reassure Apple investors, at least: Apple cofounder Steve Jobs’ famous marketing magic is still at work at the company more than a year after his death.

Some investors have been worried about whether Cook, by all accounts an ace operations guy but not a showman like Jobs (as no one else really is, honestly), can keep Apple’s brand as blindingly shiny as it has been for so many years now. It’s time to give Cook credit for faithfully following Jobs’ playbook: Let fans wax on about how desirable a new Apple product will be, building demand to a fever pitch so that whatever comes out is guaranteed to get unparalleled attention. Indeed, a recent survey says they’re already willing to pay considerably more for an Apple TV–whatever it turns out to be.

No, Cook doesn’t yet deserve to be considered a master marketer like Jobs. But he’s off to a pretty good start.

How Steve Jobs’ Laughable Early Apple Ads Evolved Into Today’s Marketing Marvels

From my blog The New Persuaders:

To look at Apple’s classic advertisements, from the stark, bold “Think Different” campaign to the playful “Get a Mac” series to those minimalist silhouetted iPod ads, you’d never guess that early Apple ads were so–not to put too fine a point on it–awful.

On the one-year anniversary of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs’ untimely death, we scrounged up a baker’s dozen of early Apple ads in the accompanying photo gallery for your amusement and edification. They’re print ads in particular, since it was pretty early days to be advertising computers on television. Still, most them wouldn’t be recognizable as Apple ads if not for the name and early logos.

They weren’t especially worse than other computer ads at the time. Maybe they were even marginally better. But they were anything but special, let alone cool.

What’s interesting is not just that Apple’s early ads look so depressingly conventional. It’s that a few of them revealed flashes of Jobs’ future marvels of marketing. Once Jobs got past the initial “speeds and feeds” marketing imperative during a time when Apple was really just one, albeit prominent, competitor in a sea of pre-Windows, pre-Mac personal computer makers, he began to develop an eye for brand marketing that few companies in technology or any other industry have since surpassed.

Take a close look at these early ads, and you can see that Apple’s evolution to the pinnacle of brand marketing happened not in a straight line, but in a sort of punctuated equilibrium that parallels the gradual maturing of computing itself. At first, PCs were for hobbyists interested in performance and features, and the ads reflected that. But as the machines began to sell into the millions, Apple’s ads began to emphasize how they were “the computer for the rest of us,” as the first Macintosh ads called them.

That first one for the Apple-1 in 1976, rivetingly entitled “A Balance of Features,” was appallingly amateurish. The ad, released only a few months after Jobs and Steve Wozniak showed the prototype at the Homebrew Computer Club in SiliconValley and incorporated their company, was stuffed full of technical features in a way that’s unimaginable today. For instance, the ad touted the ability to attach a keyboard and monitor to allow “the efficient entry and examination of programs in hexidecimal notation.” Who knew?

There was even a misspelling in the first line, a sign that Jobs’ famous perfectionism hadn’t quite kicked in yet. …

Read the complete post, including a photo gallery of the ads, at The New Persuaders.