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Opinion Policy Society

Who Will Unlock Technology’s Potential?

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Albert Einstein once said, “the true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination”. 

In a talk I gave at the recent SEMICON WEST conference in San Francisco, I shared with technology leaders why I believe imagination—or,  in some cases a lack of it—is  both our biggest opportunity and our largest risk in the coming decade.

I focused on three new categories of companies that, in my view, have massive potential. But we have to take the time to educate and inspire the marketplace and consumers to want and not fear what is ahead. 

In healthcare, we will make a major shift from the genome to the “menome.” Genomic sequencing is important, but it is a commodity.  Our future revolves around our ability to combine our genomic profile, healthcare records, driving habits, online grocery lists, fitness devices and more into one personal cloud.  An entirely new industry will be built by companies that get these data sets to “talk to each other” and tell us how we can increase our health or be aware of emerging issues.

Imagination—or,  in some cases a lack of it—is  both our biggest opportunity and our largest risk in the coming decade.

Bob Pearson, Senior Advisor, W20

What could prevent us from getting there is not technology.  It is today’s ]hotly-debated issues revolving around privacy and trust.  With whom will we be willing to share our personal data, and why? 

I believe we will trust the people and companies that educate, explain and help us imagine why all this is worth the effort.  Those who join the crusade to better health with us will win.  Those who hide behind corporate walls will never get there.  The winners may not be any of the giants we know today.

Another promising but challenging category is infrastructure, and 5G is a central element.  The internet of things is becoming real as devices and sensors share data within our car or our home or at work.  We will increasingly understand the value and meaning of a “smart city.”  Our experience at a sports stadium, for example, will be immersive.  We will become smarter travelers.

But 5G’s rollout is not about a cool ad.  It will take a decade to fully take hold and reveal its full potential.    

Transformations require education and imagination.  Steve Jobs didn’t walk on stage, say, “here’s the new phone, have fun,” and then walk off stage.  He romanced us with it, explained it, inspired us and made us want to learn about it.   He convinced us we couldn’t live without the technology his team created.  

Mashups of technologies define the third promising area, and blockchain is a great example. It will enable us to manage and gain benefit from many kinds of content and intellectual property that today is unwieldy or expensive. Imagine, for example, shooting a 30-minute video, and then indexing the content into pieces managed with a blockchain-based platform.  Then you might create 100 videos in milliseconds from this 30-minute shoot.  That would be game-changing for the communications, marketing and advertising industries. Maybe you could shoot one five-minute ad and then generate 50 different ads from that one piece of work?  How would that change the economics of advertising?

A similar set of opportunities may exist in drug development. Imagine dissecting every process in the development process, and then making it easy for any partner to access the best practices by topic, sub-topic, language and more, all using a blockchain.  Imagine doing the same for any sophisticated, repetitive practice in business.  This is how blockchain can help tame complexity in business.  Such eye-opening techniques may result in major cost savings as well as improve our quality of work.  Such changes are around the corner.  The use cases are numerous, each one potentially enabling the emergence of multiple new companies.

But the major barrier for all of these industries are the same. We can point to a range of societal and industry issues holding us back.  We can complain endlessly about the lack of progress we are making to protect the internet or knock down walled gardens.

That gets old.  Instead, we can remember what Einstein said.  If we help society understand what’s possible, we will accelerate progress far faster. 

Who in our technology industry will explain the future in ways that are inspiring and mind-opening and help us accelerate our embrace of what’s next?  Who will focus on the solutions to the problems that are at the moment so evident to the public in our embrace of tech? Where are the next Steve Jobs who can inspire us in each area? 

The opportunities are there.  We need leaders to inspire us.  It’s time. 


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