As someone who has passionately followed the progress of technology for my entire life, I have many thoughts about the field. The most effective way that I structure my thoughts is to focus on the forest rather than the trees. While I consume a daily feed of news from an amalgam of media outlets, blogs, tweets, and comment threads, I find that I am able to most clearly consider the overall state of the field as it has been, as it is today, and most importantly where it is going by looking at the bigger picture. Often times the minutiae of the technology news cycle (make no mistake, the news cycle is not dead only changing) can obfuscate some of the truly amazing trends that are washing over the world as a result of rapid and tumultuous technological progress.
Union Square Ventures is a $650M venture capital firm that focuses on early-stage investments in technology companies. They have made several high profile and highly successful investments in companies like Twitter, Tumblr, Kickstarter, and Coinbase. While the founders, financials, and outlook of a particular company is very important to their investment decisions, they also employ a high-level investment philosophy that favors businesses that choose to leverage high-level technologies that are only just possible. In other words, they skate to where the puck is going to be. I was very excited to hear these key macro trends in technology articulated by USV’s Albert Wenger:
The key takeaway from Wenger’s ten minute talk are 5 key trends:
1. Closed to Open (e.g. Linux)
2. Hierarchies to Networks (e.g. blockchain technology)
3. Normal Distribution to Power Laws (e.g. YouTube stars)
4. Atoms to Bits (e.g. 3D printing)
5. Humans to Machines (e.g. smart cars, vis a vis Artificial Intelligence)
These trends are opening up new opportunities that couldn’t even have been dreamed of 20 years ago. When 3 billion people are connected to the same network through contextual supercomputers (smartphones), the modus operandi for retail, finance, information, communication, culture, and even existence are upended. I am genuinely excited each day when I read a new headline about a company getting funded or a product being announced that fits within one or many of these five trends.