by Nitin Dahad
An article that captured my attention this week was the cover story of Spiegel Online, in the international version of the German publication, entitled ‘How Silicon Valley shapes our future’. Reading it gives you a real sense of the dominance of Silicon Valley, despite what we see as a democratization of innovation across the globe through the internet, and the ability to collaborate on global technology platforms.
It also talks about the technological advances we’ve seen in the last decade which, however breathtaking they may be, are still only just the beginning. It says the growth of new technologies has been exponential rather than linear, with ever larger advances coming at an increasingly rapid rate. “It is like a gigantic avalanche that begins as a tiny snowball at the top of the mountain,” says the writer, Thomas Schulz.
“Dozens of companies are trying to figure out how to use drones for commercial use, be it for deliveries, data collection or other purposes. Huge armies of engineers are chasing after the holy grail of artificial intelligence. And the advances keep coming. Machines that can learn, intelligent robots: we have begun overtaking science fiction.”
Schulz adds, “We are witnessing nothing less than a societal transformation that ultimately nobody will be able to avoid. It is the kind of sea change that can only be compared with 19th century industrialization, but it is happening much faster this time. Just as the change from hand work to mass production dramatically changed our society over 100 years ago, the digital revolution isn’t just altering specific sectors of the economy, it is changing the way we think and live.”
In the article, investor Peter Thiel says he doesn’t understand why the world has become so exclusively focused on the internet today. “Smartphones and social networks, he says, are all fine and dandy, but ‘thinking has become far too narrow’. He wonders what happened to the ‘really big dreams’ of the 1950s and 1960s when our pursuits were defined by things like ‘underwater cities’ and ‘supersonic transport’.” It adds, Thiel believes we need to find our way back to far more fundamental visions and that we should be working toward a future of ‘radical breakthroughs’, with things like ‘clean energy sources’ and ‘deserts that can be transformed into fertile landscapes’.
Education, innovation and technology
One of the areas yet to be significantly transformed by technology, suggested by Sebastian Thrun (founder of the Google X research laboratory) in the article, is education. Technological change is one of the drivers of increasing inequality in the world and Thrun says he is convinced that society must adopt concepts of life-long learning in response, affordable and accessible to all. Education is a sector where change is difficult, to which Thrun says, “The more resistance the better. I love doing things that people say are impossible.”
The link between education, technology and innovation in this sector is the key theme of the 12th annual Global Technology Symposium taking place in Silicon Valley on 1-3 April 2015. Around 400 venture capitalists, technology entrepreneurs, startups from emerging markets, and other business influencers will gather to hear speakers highlighting where the next big thing will be around the globe and what will drive the next big thing. It will explore and debate global trends in innovation and in education, educational startups and the technologies of the future. One session on this theme will look at maps of the future – what education technology means for the world.
In addition to a debate on education and entrepreneurship, there will be a special presentation by the DFJ Global Network on the future of robotics and AI (artificial intelligence). With the global collaborative and sharing economy, there will also be a discussion entitled, ‘Does geography matter: budding startups around the world.
Last year (2014), the conference drew more than 300 participants from 12 countries, and panels addressed space exploration, venture capital and emerging markets. At last year’s event, 500 Startups founding partner Dave McClure said after his talk on reinventing venture capital, “For us I think emerging markets are a pretty big focus – about 20-30 percent of our capital is going to startups outside the U.S.”
Another feature of the Global Technology Symposium is the ‘Global Innovator Competition’, organized in conjunction with the world’s leading startup incubators, and enabling promising entrepreneurs from all over the world to present ideas and visions that will bring new products to market and transform industries. The winner of the competition receives the Global Innovator Award, as well as the opportunity to meet with prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalists.
The Global Technology Symposium will hopefully see the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem debating some of the big trends and challenges that are discussed by Thomas Schulz in his article, and also as highlighted by Peter Thiel – to look beyond the internet, smartphones and social media, and look at how to enable the radical breakthroughs that will really transform the future.