Betting on some of the most disruptive technologies over the next decade
The world is clearly today a very different place than only 5 years ago. I see it even changing at a much faster pace in the remaining years of the current decade.
To be perfectly candid, I believe that modern basic science tends to take far longer to reach markets than it used to (~20-30 years at least), so if you are focusing on the next decade, basic science is not the place to look. You may want to look at market pull based on known problems and opportunities and validated disruption patterns rather than disruption potential of basic science innovations.
Having said that, here are some 10 real disruptive technologies I see clearly evolving in the next decade and which are without a doubt some of the favorite plays I’d bet on.
1. Anything that makes urban infrastructure smarter: Early examples of the pattern includes Zipcar and shared bikes, dynamic city entry tolls in cities for auto traffic, highly efficient drip irrigation…the potential gains are huge. In Vegas, they managed to cut water consumption by 1/3 while growing during the last boom.
2. Anything that utilizes underutilized capacity: Early examples of the pattern: Airbnb, Freecycle. Obvious examples of underutilized things: west-to-east container shipping, empty car seats (already being attacked by a few startups), non-peak public transportation use, etc…
3. Leapfroggers: Anything that allows developing and poor countries to leapfrog the development paths of the West and Japan. So we are talking in here cell-phone-based banking in Africa, private sector rail and road building in India, etc…
4. Trust-for-money trade: Anything that supports substitution of a dollar economy activity with a relationship economy or gift economy activity, mediated by low-friction trust development environments. Examples: freecycle, couch surfing, etc…
5. Democratization: If you thought blogging taking down professional writing, and amateur photography threatening professional photography was big, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It is a fact that tons of problems that previously required professional expertise to solve can now be re-engineered so that amateurs can solve them. Movies and education are next. Any technology that turns amateurs into professionals by providing the right set of tools is a biggie. Think of any kind of professional expertise. Now think about what set of tools could make a self-taught amateur (or set of amateurs) replace that expert. Look around. If the tools don’t exist, but the high-margin professionals and eager amateurs do, try and invent them. A big opportunity here is for amateur animated video shows. There are some primitive things that get animated characters speak out scripts, but I’ve barely scratched the surface in here.
6. Standardization: For the last 20 years, I believe the tech sector has been evolving about 1000x faster than the political and legal sectors. This means tons of stuff that are really better set up as public standards or “commons” are now in the hands of private entities. Like the Facebook “Like” button. That’s like late 19th century America when all sorts of banks were issuing currencies. Whoever can trigger standardization can win big in collateral activities. That’s one reason WordPress won over other early blogging platforms. They realized it is fundamentally a commons type public good, and Matt Mullenweg smartly stepped aside and made Automattic the steward rather than the owner. Same for Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia.
7. Globalization technology: There was a lot of talk about “Government 2.0” a few years back, and yes, that’s an important sector that has a lot of potential in the next decade. BUT, the more important sector is the international one. The Web fundamentally weakens states at the expense of international organizations. Technologies that enable or amplify international cooperation at both the institutional and informal/public level have a big opportunity in the next decade. Imagine what a UN that deeply understood Twitter type technologies could have done during Arab Spring. In economics, Pankaj Ghemawat (author of “World 3.0”) estimates that we’ve barely scratched the surface of the potential for benefit from global economic integration. He estimates globalization is between 10-30% of its “full” potential, so 70-90% is up for grabs for those who help enable it or participate in it. On the military front, consider the ideas of Thomas Barnett on the opportunity for international models of post regime-change nation building.
8. Infrastructure lifespan increase: If leapfrogging is the opportunity for the developing world, extending the life/lowering the costs of dying infrastructure is the opportunity in the developed world. Our cities, states and nations are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy or extreme over-leverage. In such a situation, what are you to do with a small city that has a collapsing sewer system? If you can figure out a cheap way to do something, you’re in a good game. The big opportunity here is “Internet of things” technology: autonomous distributed sensing/actuation technology.
9. Resource management: Large parts of the world are going to run out of basic resources if they continue traditional consumption patterns. Water is the most basic of these. Find a way to deliver cheap, local watershed management technology to the at-risk regions in the world. In the North Indian plains, for instance, there is a potential for going from a 66% shortfall to a 66% surplus.
10. Junk technology: Our world is awash in garbage and junk. Much of it is actually worth something. Plastic water bottles can be turned into clothing. Unfortunately, the collection is so poor that a manufacturer in the Northeast has to import used water bottles because the US doesn’t recycle efficiently enough. Plug the leaks in this sort of junk infrastructure, and you can make a ton of money.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg…
Please share your thoughts