radical Insights.

Weekly Research and Commentary on the Future of Business and Technology.

The Compounding Nature of Technology.

Nov 21, 2022

Dear Friend,

During the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we started talking about the liminal space — the somewhat undefined space in-between something which came before and something which comes after but isn’t quite defined yet. Looking at what is happening in the tech world at large right now, we certainly have entered another liminal space. Time will tell what comes next …

Read to the end to see why Larry David is right after all.

Decode. Disrupt. Transform.

If you have seen me present in the last year or so, you will have noticed that I have a new, favorite prop I like to bring: The original Pilot (then made by Palm, a subsidiary of modem maker US Robotics). I bought it on eBay for about USD 8 (not including shipping).

I like to bring it with me to illustrate a couple of points: The Pilot was released in 1996, and from today’s perspective, looks and feels an awful lot like a modern-day iPhone (admittedly a very crude version of one). And yet most of us failed to envision the future that will be when we bought our Palm Pilots and started digitizing our calendar, address book, and notes.

Maybe even more importantly — even if we managed to envision a future where the little handheld device in our pocket will be so much more than just a digitized notebook, one which will be permanently connected to a global data network at blistering speeds, and one which has the computing power to put the beefiest desktop computers from the Palm-era to shame, it would have been hard to envision that it will take 11 years for Steve Jobs to introduce the iPhone.

And therein lies the true conundrum: Spotting weak signals are hard as it is, and making accurate predictions about their trajectory toward their disruptive tipping point might be close to impossible. As a distinguished computer scientist once said: “Predicting the future of technology is impossible — it happens when it happens.”

One of the reasons is that technology is typically a compound: The iPhone is not one thing — it is a combination of many technologies such as capacitive touch screens, CPUs and GPUs, wireless networking, lithium-ion batteries, numerous advances in user interface software, GPS, gyroscopes, vibration motors … the list goes on and on. And this is one of the reasons why it is so hard to make accurate predictions about the future — you’d have to precisely predict when each one of these technologies is mature enough to be ready for the magical device that became the iPhone.

We find it helpful to remind our audiences of the compounding nature of technology: The metaverse, crypto, robotics … All technologies made up of dozens of other, more foundational technologies, which, themselves, are often made up of dozens of technologies.

As Niels Bohr quipped: “It is very difficult to predict, especially the future.” (via Pascal)

What We Are Reading

🎯 How Executive Teams Shape a Company’s Purpose In a post-pandemic workplace where talent retention and productivity have become top priorities, clearly purposeful organizations come out on top. A clear purpose can lead to exceptional innovation and growth. The authors present five strategies for leaders to put their company’s purpose into practice. JaneRead

Welcome to the Qatar World Cup. Please Say Nice Things Only. “Qatar, the size of the state of Connecticut, kicks off the World Cup this weekend, but not without broad concerns. Many say they are employing sports washing, the deployment of sports to sanitize a host’s reputation. Fifa officials say to “focus on football and not politics,” but will fans be able to do this? MafeRead

💥 Why Everything in Tech Seems to Be Collapsing at Once The current recession in tech may prove to be a transformation as well—marking the shift from an era of “perfect[ing] the art of optimizing digital spaces for engagement and ad placement” to prioritizing a new set of opportunities that will likely reshuffle the current order of leading firms. JeffreyRead

🪞 BeReal and the Fantasy of an Authentic Online Life A comparison of BeReal to other social media alternatives centered around authenticity. But more so, following the comparison showed how we might fail to see value in slightly different, reasonably complementary solutions by neglecting them for an apparent lack of uniqueness. JulianRead

🥺 “Please give me a chance”: WeChat users are handwriting apologies to get their banned accounts back When science fiction becomes a reality. George Orwell’s “big brother” prophecy is a reality in China, where hundreds of banned users on the WeChat platform have had to send handwritten apology letters for their “wrong” usage of the app to get their accounts back. PedroRead

🦤 Planes are still decades away from displacing most bird jobs This is a good reminder that tech, as marvelous as it is, often lacks dearly compared to our wondrous natural world. Point in case: Planes vs. Birds. PascalRead

The Thin Wisps of Tomorrow

🧨 DotCom Crash Version 2.0? Twitter, Facebook, Lyft layoffs spark fears of crash.

🤳 “When We All Have Pocket Telephones”: A 1920s Comic Accurately Predicts Our Cellphone-Dominated Lives

👩‍💻 GitHub is taking software development to the next level: Voice.

🧠 The Positive Effect of Walking on Creative Thinking.

🧬 Learn Genomics like (and for) Engineers.

🚜 Sniper robot treats 500k plants per hour with 95% fewer chemicals.

Internet Finds

Larry David was meant to be comically skeptical of FTX. Now it’s ironic.

In Case You Missed It

🏴‍☠️ The Heretic: Stuff is Just Hard

🧨 Disrupt Disruption: In our latest episode, we chat with Barak Berkowitz, former Director Operations and Strategy Director at MIT Media Lab (and a long, storied career in Silicon Valley). It is a fascinating conversation about all things innovation and disruption. Listen here.

Radically yours, take good care, friend!

— Pascal, Mafe, Pedro, Vivian, and the three Js (Jane, Jeffrey, and Julian)