First technology produced the boom. Then it brought the bust. And now? Will it lead us into another round of gizmo-led growth? Are there cool new things to spark our imagination (and jump-start the stock market) ? We asked five of the smartest techies, analysts, and investors around. Here's their take on the technofuture.
Venture partner, Highland Capital Partners
I've always been skeptical of the concept of "the next big thing." Markets are long-term, and successful long-term markets have always been evolutionary, as opposed to revolutionary. It's dangerous to lose sight of that as we did during the Internet euphoria.
I also believe that the technology market will follow rather than lead the recovery. It won't be until late 2003 that we'll see strong growth from this segment of the economy. We've seen extensive cost cutting across most business sectors. IT was at the forefront of the cost cutting because it was at the forefront of the overspending.
As a business culture, we've invested billions of dollars in bits and bytes and gadgets and features without investing similarly in the organizational changes necessary to deploy that technology effectively. Technology exists to build a better brand or to improve customer relations — pick your objective. But we have been implementing technology over the past few years almost without regard for the changes that it demands of our organizations. And that's where the great opportunity lies. Quit looking for the next big thing. Put the technology that's sitting on the shelves to work, and do it with a clear purpose. Empower your employees to get something done. Change the process. Make a contribution to organizational effectiveness.
Bob Davis focuses his investments for Highland Capital Partners on information technology. Davis founded the Internet company Lycos in 1995, serving as CEO until its merger with Terra in 2000. He then served as CEO of Terra Lycos until he joined Highland Capital Partners in April 2001. Davis is also the author of Speed Is Life: Street Smart Lessons From the Front Lines of Business.
Chairman, EDventure Holdings
New York, New York
Most capital spending goes into technology in one way or another. As businesses start to spend, the technology industry will benefit. One new technology that is exciting is local-area wireless, which is growing very quickly: It's in hotels and coffee shops and up and down city streets. It got its start in university towns, Silicon Valley, and downtown New York, but it will spread. Soon you'll be able to walk through the airport and have online access anywhere. (It might even relieve overcrowding in airport lounges, if we're lucky.)
Wireless will make computing more sociable. Instead of going to some corner or finding some special place to log on, you can stay where you are, with other people, while you connect. It becomes a shared activity, like watching television, rather than an individual one.
Another promising area will be identity management: managing and controlling access to personal information. For starters, it's going to be the focus of an interesting commercial market, which will be filled with companies looking to manage identities for online services. These companies will have to learn how to handle their customers' rights to control their personal data. The winners in this game will be those who understand that people want to regulate their information without being confused by the tools that help them do it.
Esther Dyson (email@example.com) is chairman of EDventure Holdings, publisher of the monthly technology-industry newsletter "Release 1.0," and sponsor of the PC Forum and HighT-ech Forum conferences. Dyson is an active investor in emerging-technology companies and writes a regular column for the New York Times syndicate.
President and COO, Sony Computer Entertainment America
Foster City, California
Technology doesn't drive anything in and of itself. It's what you use to enhance someone's productivity, entertainment value, or overall experience. We offer great entertainment. Entertainment is where the opportunity is right now. It may be why ours is one of the few technology sectors — or perhaps the only one — whose grew market last year. Our business never got into a recession or a slump. The video-game industry grew from $6.6 billion in 2000 to $9.4 billion in 2001.
Between the original PlayStation and the PlayStation 2, we offer over 1,400 titles. There's something for everyone. Our demographics are changing rapidly. Across the video-game industry as a whole, 43% of players are female, and the average player is 28 years old.
Our next move is to take the PS2 into an online environment. It's a natural evolution for interactive entertainment. There may be other consoles that are technologically better than the PlayStation, but they don't deliver anything compelling in terms of entertainment. That lesson can be applied to technology as a whole. When we had technologically impressive PDAs, they were too difficult to use. As a result, people weren't enamored of them. Older technology with an elegant, user-friendly approach was better. As we work on taking PS2 online, we'll keep that in mind. We will focus on enhancing entertainment value: How do we change a player's video-game experience?
Kazuo Hirai is an 18-year veteran of Sony. He became president and chief operating officer of Sony Computer Entertainment America in 1999 and has overseen the development of North American PlayStation operations since 1996.
Chief technology officer and executive vice president
of corporate strategy and marketing, Lucent Technologies;
President, Bell Labs
Murray Hill, New Jersey
It's inevitable that we'll see a tech recovery and a telecom recovery. These sectors make up the fabric of how the world works and plays. They're embedded in people's daily lives. But as the broader tech sector recovers, the telecom industry won't be the leading indicator. Instead, you will see general economic improvement that will allow service providers to begin growing revenues. Only then will equipment providers begin to build out networks again.
One thing is certain: We won't make the same mistakes twice. Now we're looking to the development of new products at Bell Labs that are exciting not only for the short term, but that are also capable of real, long-term revolution in the industry. We're excited to announce things like a single-molecule transistor, a product that uses multi-antennae to boost wireless connections, and software that enables the convergence of data, voice, and video networks onto a single infrastructure backbone.
Most important, these new data, wireless, and optical products have a remarkable level of intelligence. They can survey the network and discover what other elements are available, and then they can configure themselves. These are tasks that used to take 100 or more people to solve and configure by hand. Intelligence in networking is absolutely the next wave of technology.
Bill O'Shea is Lucent's chief technology officer and executive vice president of corporate strategy and marketing. O'Shea also serves as president of Bell Labs, where he has worked since 1972.
Hector de J. Ruiz
Chief executive officer, Advanced Micro Devices
Over the past few years, we've talked about technology as if it were a stand-alone product — something that either does or doesn't "sell well." But it is really an enabler for an awful lot of the great products that have made life better for all of us, including cars, computers, PDAs, and phones. Because technology enables these things, any broad recovery will be felt immediately in the technology arena. Tech is the sweetener in the lemonade, you might say. That said, I don't see any significant signs of a recovery in the next quarter or two.
When recovery does come, communications will be the technology category to watch. There is no question that the need and the demand for connectivity is there, and the communications revolution is just beginning. Whether you are in the office, at home, or in the car, you want to connect intelligently to the relevant things in your life. There are 6 billion people in the world, and only a small percentage are broadband connected right now. That's a tremendous opportunity.
This slowdown has given companies the opportunity to innovate. We already know that technology is capable of doing things beyond anything we ever imagined. But let me underline this: The engine of real economic growth is not technology but innovation. And only the companies who are customer-centric in their innovation will succeed.
Hector de J. Ruiz was named CEO of Advanced Micro Devices in April 2002, succeeding the company's founding CEO, W.J. Sanders III. Previously, he was AMD's president and COO. Ruiz came to AMD from Motorola, where he spent 22 years as an engineer and executive in various positions both in the United States and overseas.
A version of this article appeared in the July 2002 issue of Fast Company magazine.