Technological progress: slower than media let you believe

Part 3: When things get interesting

(Part 1? Check here)

IoT

Internet of Things was one of the hypes that got a lot of attention a few years ago. Intuitively it seems a good idea that things become connected and under our control. Until now it’s nothing more than cumbersome putting the lights on with our phones.

If IOT was as practical as, let’s say a dish washer, it would have gained more acceptance. It still remains in the area of enthusiasts like computers were in the 80s.

However, things are slowly changing, because of cheaper hardware and better software. You see this both on the enterprise and consumer market. More and more practical things are developed and it seems that there will be not one killer app, but that the small advancements are part of a puzzle so that IoT slowly meets the criteria.

Firstly there are now affordable central controllers like Homey. These controllers are like the brain for a smart home. Secondly smart speakers like Amazon Echo/Alexa and Google Assistant are more convenient way to interface with IoT devices and thirdly there are more and more devices like thermostats, doorbells and lighting. So things are getting more practical, easier and for lower prices.

It’s still not click-and-play or really that more practical than the things it enhances/replaces, but it starts to be fun to use. I see another hype coming.

Virtual reality

Though virtual reality seems something of the future, its roots can be traced all the way back to beginning of the computer era in the 50s.

Sensorama

Than it took a long time before computing became fast enough that it actually became wearable in 1987 with the Eyephone developed by Jaron Laurier (and who also came up with the term Virtual Reality). When we think of virtual reality we tend to think of a fully immersive experience on the level of Star Trek’s holodeck. The reality of virtual reality (especially in those days) was that the experience was limited, the resolution was low and the Goggles expensive ($9400 for the Eyephone).

The world-wide web became the new thing in the nineties and virtual reality got into oblivion. Only a few specialized companies (with expensive solutions) and a few nerds on some obscure internet fora were still involved. One of those nerds was Lucky Palmer, who brought new spring by creating new VR goggles based on commodity hardware.

So the criteria of price were met and the goggles were fun to use (for a short while at least). The dream was alive again, but not all criteria were met yet. One of the main difficulties with virtual reality is that it doesn’t have a predecessor. For example when the CD or VHS was introduced it was a new way to store music and video. They didn’t need to create the music and film industry. This kind of industry doesn’t exist for VR yet.

Fortunately Oculus Rift was bought by Facebook in 2014. Also, other companies most notably Google, Microsoft and HTC started to invest. Actually there are nowadays a lot of VR headsets available. Still, it turned out that a lot of other things needed to be done to get successful. So the systems used together with the VR glasses are expensive, content is lacking and the hardware is mediocre (like small field of view, low resolution, low refresh rate, bad sharpness and bad wear comfort). Media and public started to lose interest.

The hype was over and shifted to AR. But there is still hope for those are still dreaming patiently. Especially Facebook understands which criteria need to be fulfilled. It’s one of the few with a clear vision and solid investments. They introduced a price of their standalone version as low as $200 and lowered the price for their high end version to $400. Actual user reviews of their current offerings already tend to be surprisingly positive. They also made some investments in content like games and movies and in the ecosystem. At the end of September Facebook will launch a new standalone version with better specs. So they tackle multiple things at once. The predecessor is now the current version, and they will iterate on that, like Apple did with the iPhone.

VR enhancements are slow and media is less interested, but the criteria are slowly met (social acceptance will be probably the last hurdle). VR Fans: Don’t worry, it will all turn out fine.

Artificial Intelligence

At the moment AI is in every headline with its deep learning algorithms. AI however can’t be really measured by the criteria yet. It’s still more on a conceptual scientific level. Actual usages of AI are still unclear and will be expensive to use. See for example: https://www.blog.google/technology/ai/ai-principles.

So it will be more used by organizations to find patterns in for example radiology or by intelligence agencies. In the future this kind of technology surely will be added on the background to autonomous driving or IoT, but one thing is clear and brings us back to our main topic: most of the hype overestimates the delivery of results.

Winter is coming

How real progress looks like

The technological progress starts and just goes slowly up (red line), while the adaption goes even slower, until it becomes exponential, but then turns to logarithmic and in the end again to a linear pattern (A very long S-Curve). At any moment in time, when some advancement was made there could be a hype, but until the right criteria were met that hype doesn’t mean mass adaption. I would like to see more empirical data which focus on the application of technology, instead of pure computing power or the number of transistors. One that integrates social-economic factors.

Also, note that above graph says something about technological advancement and adaption. It doesn’t really say anything about human progress. It doesn’t say if this technology is good or bad.

A new horizon

There are more examples to give on terms like blockchain, AR or flying cars. In each of those examples there is no proof whatsoever of exponential growth that leads to fast results that will forever change our life. The bottom line is that once the hype is over, you really need to pay attention. As well as an enthusiast as an investor.

When the hype is over, real fundamental change is on the horizon.

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