by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright March 2016
see the Power Point as .pptx ... .ppsx ... .pdf
This is a presentation to students in the SLCC Business Leadership Forum class.
o My background -- and the value of persistence
o Technology business overview -- surprises and never-before-like-this are routine
o How to see what's coming in the future -- mixing technology and human thinking
My motto is, "I've been there, done that, and while I was doing it I was taking notes." I've been...
o In the 1960's I was in the army and spent a year in Vietnam
o In the 1970's I was an engineering student at MIT
o In the 1980's I was a personal computer and computer networking pioneer working at Novell Inc.
o In the 1990's and 2000's I was a "Pacific Rim guy" -- working in New Zealand, Australia and Korea as an educator teaching computer networking and English as a Second Language (ESL).
o In the 2010's I'm semi-retired and do a lot of book and movie script writing. I write about science fiction, human thinking and history. I have thirteen books published.
In addition to these I have quite a few one-shot accomplishments and many hobbies mastered. (see more in my backgrounder)
What have I learned from these that may be useful advice I can pass on to you? There are three topics I will be covering:
o Persistence: my getting into MIT
o What doing business in high technology is like
o What's coming up in both business and living in the near future
I wanted to go to MIT right out of high school, but it didn't happen. I made the waiting list, but that's all. Instead I went to the University of Rochester (U of R) for a year. I didn't do real well there... lots of distractions. So I faced a crisis of what to do next. I chose enlisting in the army. I was there for three years. My second year was in Vietnam, and my third was at Dugway, Utah -- my first experiences with both Vietnam and Utah.
As my army time was ending I reapplied to MIT. This time I was told, "You are clearly interested. Get some good grades and we'll let you in." So I went to Dixie College in St. George for a year, got the good grades, and got into MIT.
The lesson here is that persistence pays -- persistence plus flexibility. If I hadn't been willing to go to U of R and the army and Dixie, I would not have gotten into MIT.
The surprise benefit of this was the opportunity to experience living in many different places and in many different lifestyles. I was personally experiencing the value of tolerance, and I learned a lot about people and human thinking.
What makes the high technology businesses distinctive from other businesses is how much of it is about dealing with the unknown. There is so much about dealing with completely new products, and how those new products will be used.
When I was working in both personal computer and computer networking, I worked in sales and marketing. The most common question we asked of the engineers was, "OK... You've invented an [X]. Now what is it good for?"
The answer typically came in two stages:
o The first stage is the "commodity stage" The answer during the commodity stages is that this new invention can do what an older invention is doing, only faster, better and cheaper.
o The second stage comes after the usefulness of the invention is established, and when lots of them are being produced. This is when users discover, "Oh... you can do that with it too! Neat!" and the "that" is world-shaking. It is often called "the killer app."
Here are some examples from the computer industry.
Some of the first digital computers were designed during WWII. They were made by IBM and designed to do the mind-numbingly routine arithmetic that it takes to calculate artillery trajectory tables. The estimate of the total marketplace was about... eight. This was a first commodity use for the digital computer.
The surprise use was tackling the mind-numbingly routine arithmetic used in some accounting operations. The next generation of computers -- "mainframe computers" as they came to be called -- took on these tasks for really big organizations, such as the Department of Defense.
This grew the size of the computer marketplace into thousands of computers. And, in response, they got lots faster, better and cheaper. One change: They started using vacuum tubes instead of mechanical relays.
Next came minicomputers which used solid state transistors. These transistors first made faster, better and cheaper mainframes, then something new: the minicomputer.
In the 1970's minicomputers changed the business world in surprising ways again. Medium size businesses could now benefit, and, surprise, a new style of organizing businesses "the conglomerate" was invented and became popular.
In the 1980's integrated circuits got into computers. They showed up first making faster, better, cheaper minicomputers, and then came personal computers (orginally called microcomputers). This is when I got into the industry.
Personal computers once again changed how computers were used in surprising ways. The killer apps for personal computers were word processing, spreadsheets and computer games -- all very different from accounting.
This is an example of how high tech businesses and industries evolve. If you get into a high tech business and industry, expect this kind of evolution in your own efforts as well as those of the companies you work for.
Here are a couple of specific examples that I interacted with.
Novell was created in 1980 by Jack Davis and a circle of associates to bring computer accessory manufacturing to Utah. He figured that with Utah's comparatively low labor costs and high education levels he could make a viable company here. He envisioned making printers and terminals for minicomputers. But change in the plan started even before the company incorporated. The man he brought on to be president, and many investors, want to make a personal computer as well as a terminal.
The change continued as the company got started in Utah valley and grew to a hundred people. Sadly, but very commonly, these early products didn't sell as well as planned. It turned out they didn't match what the marketplace wanted. As this was discovered the searching for what customers really did want took place in a much more worried atmosphere -- in 1982 the company shrank from 100 people to 20 during what I call The Time of Six Presidents.
One of the products that was developed during this time of intense and scary searching was the Local Area Network (LAN). This turned out to be the savior product, and Ray Noorda, number seven president, turned out to be the savior president. The company then prospered mightily, created a brand new industry, and in 1990 had a billion dollars in sales. I have written about this in my book Surfing the High Tech Wave.
Apple provides another good example of understanding the marketplace. The Apple II, introduced in the late 1970's, was one of the first big successes in personal computing. Its success was due to Apple founders Jobs and Wosniak understanding something about the personal computer marketplace that more established competitors, such as DEC, didn't grasp.
That was that this new marketplace was dominated by hands-on hobbyist types. These were people who wanted to develop their own hardware and software. This was really different from the small business marketplace where the buyers wanted these things done for them.
The key feature of the Apple II was open architecture. Apple revealed how to design daughter boards and software that would be Apple II compatible. The hobbyists loved it and Apple II sales soared. One industry veteran who got the "Ah-hah" of this was Phil Estridge at IBM, and the IBM PC was open architecture as well.
Sadly for Apple, when Jobs left the industry veterans who took over brought their minicomputer habits back to the job of running the company and Apple's subsequent products closed up. Apple became a "software fortress" and evolved from an industry leader into a niche company.
...Until Jobs came back. He once again, in a different arena this time, brought back the open standards concept. It was much modified this time -- he was dealing with a different marketplace and a different era, and he had learned more over the years. But it was much more open than Apple had been.
Which brings me to my next topic, one tactic for making big bucks in high tech: Making and controlling a standard.
Q: What do Google, Amazon and Microsoft all have in common?
A: They created and control widely used standards.
One consistent way to make your invention pay off is to transform it into a standard that lots of people use, and you keep control of that standard.
From the examples above, Novell searched and finally created a PC-based LAN operating system standard that was widely used until the Internet displaced it. They controlled the popular Netware LAN standard, and made a lot of money selling both LAN boards, and what Ray Noorda called "service, software and support".
Apple first boom was when they created an open architecture standard that many hobbyist computer types could develop on. That boom ended when Jobs left and the minicomputer veterans took over and closed up the subsequent products. Apple evolved into a company serving a niche market. Apple's second boom came when Jobs came back and directed Apple to make new open standards in a totally different marketplace.
In sum, controlling standards is a good way to make money for years at a time in the constantly changing high tech marketplaces.
What comes next, a bunch of forecasting, is based on:
o my wide experiences in technology businesses
o experiencing many different lifestyles
o my love of reading history and writing hard science fiction
What comes next is forecasting based on how I think technology can evolve mixed with a lot of insight I have gained on how human thinking will shape the evolution. I have written this up in my Visions of 2050 book.
It's a wild ride. Have fun with it. And hopefully it will give you deeper insight into how to direct your own efforts on planning for the future.
I will be talking about driverless cars, wearables and surveillance, cyber muses, and the Total Entitlement State (TES).
Much of what follows is based on my ideas of how technology mixes with human thinking. And at the core of my ideas on human thinking is the difference between instinctive thinking and analytic thinking. I write about this in my Evolution and Thought book.
Instinctive thinking is fast and feel-good thinking that served humanity very well during the Stone Age. Think of falling in love as an example. A fun one is figuring out why seeing beauty is practical thinking in Stone Age conditions.
Analytic thinking is learned thinking. We have to do a lot more of that... a whole lot more of that... in our Modern Age lifestyles. And we do... but instinctive thinking is still there, and quite ready, willing and able to whisper, or shout, what it thinks are good solutions to the problems we face.
So what follows is Roger's speculations on how new technologies are going to mix with instinctive and analytic thinking to shape our lifestyles of the year 2050.
They are coming and they are going to make a big difference in how we live, and how we think about cars.
The obvious differences of driverless cars are how they will change traffic patterns.
The not-so-obvious difference is that they will change ownership patterns and a significant rite-of-passage we have in developed nations.
The rite of passage is getting a driver's license.
If a car is doing the driving, why go to all the fuss and bother of learning to drive? If you're not going to learn to drive, why bother to own a car?
In the driverless car world, the cars will become taxis, and people will think as much about a car as they do a chair -- get one when you need it, don't think much about it when you don't.
Because of something I call the "Tattoos and T-Shirts" phenomenon, there will still be car owners and car drivers, just as there are still horse owners and horse riders, but these are hobbies not necessities.
And this is just the start of the change.
Smart wearables are going to bring about a big change in how human bodies relate to technology. They are going to do what pills do, only faster, better and cheaper. Their surprise use is going to be modifying human emotions. They are going to be used for mind altering, and much more.
How we look at mind altering is going to change. These days the compelling practical reason to regulate mind altering is because humans operate dangerous equipment, such as cars. But... if humans aren't driving, or operating other dangerous equipment... why not mind alter? Plus, if wearables are doing the mind altering, the altering can be turned on and off much faster -- in seconds or minutes rather than hours. In sum, big changes are coming.
Likewise, big changes are coming in surveillance. The big, big benefit of pervasive surveillance is waste reduction -- many things will happen much more efficiently and effectively. Among other things, this is being seriously "green", as in, saving our resources. The other big benefit is that things get fixed real quickly -- they will often get fixed even before they break.
With these kinds of benefits, the threats to privacy and of supporting Big Brother tyranny are going to look like small potatoes. Expect a lot more surveillance in the future.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is coming, and when it arrives it isn't going to stop, it's going to keep getting better and more pervasive, and both of these are going to keep speeding up with time.
The result: AI is going to become what I call cyber, and cyber is going to develop its own universe in cyber space. The relation between cyber and mankind is going to become like the relation between man and cows, when viewed from the cow side. Much of what cyber beings do will be incomprehensible to mankind, it will look capricious. But many cyber beings will be dedicated to interacting with and helping mankind -- just as dairy farmers are the subset of humans who interact with and help cows. One kind of such being will the be the cyber muse.
To get a feeling for cyber muses, take the saying, "Behind every great man there's a good woman." and update it to, "Behind every great person there's a good cyber muse."
Cyber muses will come in many varieties from low cost, simple and virtual to high cost, physical and sophisticated -- the flashy version of the latter being "arm candy" muses. And all the varieties will improve dramatically over time.
How they help people will vary from being simple virtual assistants to being subtle companions and advice offerers.
The first and currently obvious companion use is being sex toys. From there they will move to becoming "cute pet" and "charming child" substitutes and then on to more subtle activities -- activities where they truly inspire people as the name implies.
Automation is getting more pervasive. This is going to continue. This means that more and more jobs currently being done by humans are going to be automated. This has a lot of implications.
One of the first is that the tried-and-true method for getting a culture out of poverty by offering its people as low wage workers isn't going to work nearly as well in the future. India, for instance, may not be able to follow China's example because there will be so little demand for low-cost factory workers.
Another is that the Total Entitlement State (TES) will finally become sustainable. TES is that aspiration for a community where no one is poor because the state is providing basic necessities for everyone. Basic needs in food, shelter and health care will all be provided by the state. This can happen because automation, and cyber beings, take full control of mass production manufacturing, services and transportation, and perform these activities efficiently enough that everyone gets the necessities.
What the TES cultures are going to be like will be full of surprises. (there will be many kinds)
One of those surprises is what I call Top 40 jobs.
These days a common exhortation in career counseling is, "Do what you're passionate about." The more this advice is followed the more it is going to lead to a "Top 40 Job" culture.
Passions are emotions, which means the interesting choices are going to be limited compared to the choices offered by paying attention to analytic thinking.
An example of this -- and where this name came from -- is listening to music. When radio broadcasters first started offering music over the radio, they could play thousands of different songs. But what they quickly discovered is that their listeners only wanted to hear a few songs, and they liked hearing them over and over. From this came the evolution of various kinds of "Top 40 Radio". The station could play, rock, country, classical... whatever, but it needed to play only a few songs from the category to make listeners happy.
As jobs get disconnected from the harsh reality of mass production, service and transportation, they can become jobs of passion instead -- the variety of jobs needed will decline dramatically. They will become popular jobs.
Here are some Top 40 Jobs I foresee as being popular in the year 2050.
Entertainment -- people love to entertain
Fashion -- people love to come up with new clothing
Artisanal manufacturing and farming -- these are homemade items. They will sell based on that virtue
Selling and advertising -- people love to sell
Supporting mythical rituals -- this is things like Comic Con and cosplay
Disaster response -- people love to help out other people who are in trouble
Military -- people love to respect the military
Missionary work -- people love go out and spread the word
These are some examples of Top 40 jobs.
This 3 Mar 16 WSJ article, Tech Firms Grapple With How to Make Open Source Pay Issue gains currency, as private investors pour money into open-source startups by Elizabeth Dwoskin, describes how the open source concept is being dealt with in the 2010's.
From the article, "Each of the companies in attendance was building a business based on distributing open-source software, which means that any developer can distribute, modify, or openly share the product code.
The companies met that day to address one of the most vexing questions in the industry: how to profit off technology that is free. Open source has been a powerful engine of innovation, but early efforts to capitalize on it by providing technical services around it haven’t generated dazzling profit."
We have covered a lot of ground.
The heart of what we have been talking about is what the high technology industries are like. What they are like is lot of change, and exploring making and doing things that haven't been made or done before. Exciting stuff, indeed! But because of all that change, good answers keep changing. If you're going to play in high tech be prepared to constantly be updating what you know.
In addition to change, keep an eye out for creating standards where you can. If you can create a standard that many people want to use, and you can keep control of it, you will prosper mightily, and for a lot longer than you will by creating a single hot product or service.
Finally, keep in mind that new technologies change how we live. That's the essence of why we create them. And many of those changes will be surprising.
So... be prepared... for lots of changes, and lots of surprises.
And finally, if you like what you are reading here, again, look into my various books. They are available on Amazon and through many other book sellers.