Posted February 20, 2015

Is Silicon Valley wasting precious talent on stupid apps?

Silicon Valley doesn't think big anymore and risks becoming irrelevant. So says Michael Steep, Senior Vice President of Global Business Operations at Xerox. Xerox of course developed many technologies that wound up in Apple's first Macintosh: the graphical user interface being the most visible one.

Michael Steep also is one of 22 tech executives who advise the mayor of London on creating a 'smart city,' where futuristic trains, self-driving cars, all kinds of sensors and digital analytics tools work together to create an entirely new way of life for a city's inhabitants. Now that's thinking big.

But he fears American companies won't be building all this. They are focused on short term profits: 'Are we really leveraging all that intellectual power and creativity creating Instagram and dating apps?' Steep expresses his views in an article on Technologyreview.com  by Michael S. Malone, a prominent technology writer. It's a long read but well worth your time.

What makes the article interesting is that it contains  many different opinions as well, offering an inspiring experience. Take this one: Silicon Valley never consciously thinks big or sets out to solve big problems. People just work on technology, doing what they love and trying to make a buck. Solving big problems is kind of a side effect. Or this one: There are phases to the history of  technology, four of them being integrated circuits, personal computers, internet and social media. We're approaching the end of the last one and we don't know yet what the next could be. It should be something like the much anticipated Internet of Things, but no-one knows for sure. So if it looks like Silicon Valley is wasting its time, money and talent on stupid apps, things could look very different very soon.

What's not in Malone's article is this. Maybe, just maybe the next phase in technology will be something to do with space. Space technology is crucial nowadays in communications, in agriculture, in coping with climate change, in science and education and in many more fields. Mankind is exploring the solar system like never before. Space business is growing like crazy. One of the driving forces is the fact that satellites have their own Moore's Law now. They get smaller, cheaper and more potent almost faster than you van learn how to use them. You can watch Eric Anderson of Planetary Resources, the space mining company, describe progress in satellite technology in the video below from 16m30s onward.

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So whatever Silicon Valley does, technology will march on. The hotbed may be in California, it may be elsewhere in the US, in China or in Europe. Why not in Brazil, India or somewhere in Africa? Hipster entrepreneurs developing dating apps will not be able to slow things down in any significant way.


About Herbert Blankesteijn

Herbert Blankesteijn is a technology journalist from the Netherlands who has written for many prominent Dutch newspapers. He presented and directed television and radio programmes and has 10 books to his name. Herbert is interested in nascent fields such as 3D printing, drones, robotics and the private space business.