It’s “Coming Soon,” and It's NOT AI or Big Data
I have been writing a LOT of content for customers on Microsoft (they are killing it, by the way). Most recently, focusing on the Azure open-source and Linux programs and the MVC core development environment. It made me reflect.
I have made four winning "big call" predictions in the world of technology over the last decade or so. By "big calls" I mean seeing a major disruptive technological trend emerging and publicly proclaiming it early.
Two Misses (that I should NOT have missed)
I am not aware of any time that I proclaimed a world-changing tech innovation that fizzled out. I usually hold my fire until I see how things play-out a bit. After publishing this, however, I am certain that some of my tech friends and colleagues will email me with, "Remember when you said ...." If they do, I will update this post to air my prophetic dirty laundry.
That said, there were two huge innovations that I view as VERY significant to driving all the other tech wonderfulness that we enjoy that I did NOT see coming until they were already established. So technically, I did not make the "wrong" call, I just made no call. But let's start with those anyway.
Notably, I missed the first year of the iPhone. However, by year two I was a complete believer – ditching my BlackBerry for good (a device that now looks silly in comparison).
I also did't see the rise of subscription services coming. In retrospect, given my education and other predictions I had made, I really should have (see Win #3 below). I totally "got it" once I experienced it and I now run my entire personal and professional life off of this innovation. But this is more of a financial/economic model rather than a technological one.
Winning Prediction #1 - The iPad
I instantly recognized – no, I "felt" – that the iPad was going to be a sea-change the moment I held it in my hands, proclaiming that the format would, "become all the computer that 90% of the people in the world would ever need." I was heavily mocked for this prediction at the time, but I stuck by it.
By the way ... EVERYONE who mocked me on this prediction seven years ago now heavily uses and espouses their wonderful – and computationally powerful – iPad Pros and Microsoft Surface tablets.
Winning Prediction #2 - The Cloud
I also predicted the importance of the cloud. I was one of the first folks to sit alongside Amazon in a panel discussion at an industry event about its significance and potential. I was published in a peer-reviewed journal on the matter, which led to an invitation to speak at an event in South Africa to introduce the concept to technologists there. I "got it" upon first hearing, recognizing all the possibilities. Afterall, servers were VERY expensive things to own and manage in those days.
I must admit that the cloud has far outstripped my wildest imaginings at the time and there is more to come.
Winning Prediction #3 - Micro-transactions
I intuitively understood the need for micro-transactions because of my intense addiction to music and the MANY times I had been forced to buy entire Jazz and Rock albums containing one solid hit surounded by nine tracks of dreck. And from my time as a small retailer, I knew that the credit card companies made small purchases expensive, difficult, or impossible.
It simply had to change once technological and social pressures economically drove everyone to the negotiating table. Soon, deals were cut with the bankers and developers worked out the technilogical details (thank you Apple and PayPal).
Now, businesses that once had to charge huge fees and suffer confiscatory transaction costs in the process are getting rich a single dollar at a time, and I am buying more music and software services than ever before (but only the good stuff).
Winning Prediction #4 - The OS Losing Brand Value
A few years after the cloud was catching on, I saw a twist developing. I stated that the advancing cloud technology would obviate the value of the operating system (OS) as a brand. That Windows Server, Linux, and all others would have no independent, intrinsic value or loyalty and that developers would use whatever worked best for the app they were working on.
Today, as I look around the landscape of the internet and software – including Azure, MVC Core, Serverless Computing, distributed Micro-services, the rise of NginX, all the "flavors" of Linux, etc. – I am calling that prediction a solid win.
Bonus: One Prediction That’s Still Playing Out
(but it’s looking good)
We are witnessing the end of the phone number. It’s happening right now.
My Dad had an amazing memory for phone numbers. He could rattle off the digits of family, friends, and his many customers at will. It was darned impressive. But if I’m right – and I think that I am – remembering phone numbers will have the same value as buggy-wip assembly.
Before I got my first iPhone, we were implementing “click to call” on our business website. The seeds of the idea hit me then. Within months of getting my iPhone I disconnected the land-line to my house and we did everything on cell phones and computer using VoiP. I still had to “dial” numbers, but I saw the writing on the wall and proclaimed that SmartPhones, VoiP, and similar technologies would obviate the need for phone numbers altogether.
People looked at me like I was nuts. But to be fair, that happens a lot.
We are almost there. I can still dial phone numbers if I really want to. But last week I asked Siri to “Call Mom, mobile” (Mom’s doing fine, thanks for asking).
I have hundreds of phone numbers in my contact list and I have not looked at them since I entered the data. If you have an iPhone, just ask Siri to call Home Depot or Starbucks. The friendly computer voice will find the closest one and connect you. With Skype, you don’t even need a phone number at all – just an account and “handle.”
And about those “handles” … you know, my personal Twitter and Instagram handles are identical to my Skype. I communicate via text with dozens of my Art of the Message customers over WhatsApp, Slack, and a handful of other tools. If Snapchat or Instagram figure this out (hint, hint) and align user names with VoIP services, the next generation will never know the pleasure of touch-tone dialing.
Sure, real 10-digit phone numbers will stick around for a while. But there are a few tube radios still working too. For the next generation, “getting their digits” will mean an IP address attached to a social handle. The truth is, phone numbers will fade away and you won’t care … unless you spent the last few decades building your brand around them (ahem: 1800Flowers, 1800Contacts, etc.).
What Does All This Mean?
As I reread and edit this text, it feels like bragging. But that's not what I intend. And I am not trying to establish myself as a technology prophet.
Over the last few months I have started recognizing something new on the horizon. Everything I am reading and considering is giving me more confidence that what I am seeing is not illusionary – that if it's not "THE" Next Big Thing, then it may be at least "A" Next Big Thing.
Perhaps realizing that I got four solid wins under my belt is giving me the confidence to make the call early.
This is Not A Teaser (OK, it is a little)
I am going to give this technological prediction a little more time to cook in my brain, but I will tell you what it is NOT:
It's NOT Big Data - Here's a tidbit that will tick-offsome folks – "Big Data" never was anything at all ... not really. Finding ways to deal with overwhelming data sets is a continual adaptation.
Heck, my personal copy of statistical analysis software can handle 2 billion observations across three thousand variables (and I can upgrade to 20 billion observations!). On my laptop. Seriously ... I get it.
It's NOT Artificial Intelligence (AI) - "Machine Learning" is a thing with some value, though it's misnamed in my opinion. It's closer to "feedback programming," but that term isn't sexy.
The term "AI" is an oxymoron that's a bit too "Buzz Word Bingo" for my liking. And the leveraging of tens of thousands of man-hours spent coding by gifted (human) software developers to make software that captures experiencial data-points in something close to real-time is not "artificial" by any definition that I am aware of. Anyway ... when IBM is airing "Watson AI" commercials during reality TV shows, consider that the moment may have passed.
I am wrapping up my research now. There is a ton of work to do, but I hope to write up a paper outlining all my reasoning. If you are a subscriber to this website, I will email you the results. But I will also post links on social media, so you can keep a look out for it there too.
But let me give you one hint. My prediction for the “next big thing” is a natural – and I believe, inevitable – outgrowth of the six “big thing” innovations discussed in this article.
More as soon as I can.