Amidst incessant talks of bubbles and baubles, it is clear that Silicon Valley is back. With a vengeance, no less.
Innovation is back. Leadership is back. IPOs are back. The technology industry has shaken off the post-dotcom malaise and is once again exciting.
Now is perhaps a good time to stop for a moment and reflect on what this coming decade will be all about for the Valley and its denizens.
I will share some of my thoughts, but mostly, I’d like to hear from readers on what you’d like to see happen over the next decade in Silicon Valley. So, please feel free to jump in. (If your thoughts are sufficiently formulated to warrant guest columns, feel free to submit them to us for consideration. If your writing and vision are compelling, we will publish.)
My vision of what Silicon Valley needs to focus on is best described by the title of Michael Dertouzos’s book The Unfinished Revolution. The revolution that Dertouzos talks about is in “human-centric” computing. Indeed, today’s open problems are not so much in the domain of chips and networking as they are in the more human-centric domains.
For example, the technology that makes it possible for a digital worker in rural Africa or small-town India to work on data processing projects already exists. What do not yet exist are systematic methods of locating such projects and connecting these remote digital workers to them.
Similarly, the basic technology for telemedicine does exist, but the socioeconomic framework to connect willing doctors to needy patients around the world does not.
In some of these areas, Silicon Valley has already played a phenomenal role. Kiva has created the socioeconomic model for crowd-sourcing microfinance investments and matching that with projects. And Egypt’s revolution is a salute to Facebook’s role in the organization of a society’s successful bid for democracy.
Our attempt to democratize entrepreneurship education and incubation through 1M/1M speaks to the same philosophy of using technology to impact humanity on a large scale.
The Renaissance Mind
In exploring the possibilities for our future, let me revisit certain historical phenomena, especially the Renaissance.
Although it can be difficult to pin it down in a definition, the Renaissance can be understood as “a cultural movement that profoundly affected European intellectual life in the early modern period. Beginning in Italy, and spreading to the rest of Europe by the 16th century, its influence affected literature, philosophy, art, politics, science, religion, and other aspects of intellectual inquiry.” [Wikipedia]
Other periods of cultural rebirth and rejuvenation have also been termed a “renaissance,” a notable one being the Bengal Renaissance: “The Bengal Renaissance refers to a social reform movement during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the region of Bengal in Undivided India during the period of British rule. The Bengal renaissance can be said to have started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833) and ended with Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), although there have been many stalwarts thereafter embodying particular aspects of the unique intellectual and creative output. Nineteenth-century Bengal was a unique blend of religious and social reformers, scholars, literary giants, journalists, patriotic orators and scientists, all merging to form the image of a renaissance, and marked the transition from the ‘medieval to the ‘modern.’” [Wikipedia]
What was striking about the various renaissance movements were the extraordinary degree of intellectual, artistic, and social achievement, and the tremendous cross-pollination among the leaders of those different disciplines.
Leonardo da Vinci was the quintessential Renaissance man – an engineer, a painter, a scientist – with a mind capable of assimilating ideas from multiple disciplines and pushing the envelope in multiple. That same capacity for acute observation, experimentation, and smart synthesis that is the hallmark of a Renaissance mind is in part the secret of Steve Jobs’s success. Steve has drawn from art, architecture, design, sociology, and computer science to build Apple into the most innovative and exciting company in Silicon Valley and perhaps even the world.
I believe in the decade ahead that the style of thinking that will have the maximum impact is this ability to assimilate ideas from across domains and disciplines and apply them to innovation and entrepreneurship, instincts already deeply woven into Silicon Valley’s fabric. In other words, it is the Renaissance mind that is likely to create the most important companies in Silicon Valley.