Why is Silicon Valley still waiting for the Next Big Thing?

In the fall of 2019, Google told the world it had reached “quantum supremacy”.

It is a important scientific milestone compared to the first flight at Kitty Hawk. Harnessing the mysterious power of quantum mechanics, Google has built a computer that needs only three minutes and 20 seconds to perform a calculation that a normal computer could not complete in 10,000 years.

But more than two years after Google’s announcement, the world is still waiting for a quantum computer to actually do something useful. And it will most likely have to wait much longer. The world is also waiting self-driving car, flying cars, advanced artificial intelligence and Brain implants allow you to control your computer devices without using your thoughts.

Silicon Valley’s hype machine has long been accused of being ahead of reality. But in recent years, critics of the tech industry have noticed that its biggest promises – ideas that can truly change the world – seem further and further on the horizon. The enormous wealth created by the industry in recent years is often due to ideas, like the iPhone and mobile apps, that have emerged years ago.

Have the great tech thinkers lost their passion?

The answer, the great thinkers quickly replied, was absolutely no. But the projects they’re working on are much harder than building a new app or disrupting another aging industry. And if you look around, the tools that have helped you deal with nearly two years of the pandemic – home computers, video conferencing and Wi-Fi services, even the technology that helps researchers develop vaccine development – has shown the industry exactly does not lose a step.

“Imagine the economic impact of the pandemic without the infrastructure – hardware and software – allowing so many white-collar workers to work from home and so many other parts of the economy getting underway. digitally mediated, said Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in the history of Silicon Valley.

As for the next big thing, the great thinkers say, give it time. Let’s do quantum calculations. Jake Taylor, who oversaw quantum computing efforts for the White House and is now chief science officer of quantum startup Riverlane, says building a quantum computer could be the most challenging task yet. ever performed. This is a machine that challenges the physics of everyday life.

A quantum computer relies on the strange ways that some objects behave at the subatomic level or when exposed to extremely cold temperatures, like metals being cooled to nearly 460 degrees below zero. Scientists only try to read information from these quantum systems, they tend to break down.

While building a quantum computer, Dr. Taylor said, “you are constantly working against a fundamental tendency of nature.”

The most important technological advances of the past few decades – microchips, internet, mouse-controlled computers, smartphones – have not defied physics. And they’re allowed to get pregnant for years, even decades, inside government agencies and corporate research labs before finally being mass-adopted.

Dr. O’Mara said: “The era of cloud and mobile has created a lot of new business opportunities. “But now there are more complicated matters.”

However, the loudest people in Silicon Valley often discuss those more complex issues as if they were just another smartphone app. That could raise expectations.

Raquel Urtasun, a University of Toronto professor who helped oversee the development of self-driving cars at Uber and is now Uber’s chief executive officer, said non-experts who understand the challenges “may have deceived by exaggeration. driving startup Waabi.

Technologies such as self-driving cars and artificial intelligence do not face the same physical obstacles as quantum computing. But just as researchers don’t yet know how to build a workable quantum computer, they don’t yet know how to design a car that can safely drive itself in any situation or a machine that can. anything the human brain can do.

Even a technology like augmented reality – eyeglasses that can layer digital images on top of what you see in the real world – will require years of additional research and engineering before it is perfected. .

Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Meta, formerly of Facebook, says that making these lightweight eyeglasses is like creating the first mouse-controlled personal computers in the 1970s (the mouse itself). to be invented in 1964). Companies like Meta had to design a whole new way to use the computer, before cramming all of its parts into one small package.

Over the past two decades, companies like Facebook have built and implemented new technologies at a rate that seemed unprecedented. But as Mr. Bosworth said, these are mostly software technologies built with just “bits” – digital pieces of information.

Building new types of hardware – working with physical atoms – is a much more difficult task. “As an industry, we have almost forgotten what this is like, and call the creation of augmented reality glasses a ‘once in a lifetime’ project,” said Mr. Bosworth.

Technologists like Mr. Bosworth believe they will eventually overcome those obstacles and are more open about how difficult it can be. But that’s not always the case. And when an industry has infiltrated every part of everyday life, it’s hard to separate the waving from realism – especially when it’s giants like Google and celebrities themselves. like Elon Musk is attracting that attention.

Many people in Silicon Valley believe that waving is an important part of pushing technology into the mainstream. The hype helps attract the money, talent, and trust needed to build the technology.

“If the outcome is desirable – and it’s technically possible – then it’s fine if we take three or five more years off,” said Aaron Levie, chief executive officer of Silicon Valley firm Box. year or whatever”. “You want optimistic entrepreneurs — there’s a bit of a distortion field about Steve Jobs,” which helped convince people to buy his big ideas.

The hype is also a way for entrepreneurs to attract public interest. Even if new technologies can be built, there is no guarantee that people and businesses will want them and adopt them and pay for them. They need to be comforted. And perhaps more patience than most people inside and outside the tech industry will admit.

“When we hear about a new technology, it takes our brains less than 10 minutes to imagine what it can do. We instantly compressed all the aggregation infrastructure and innovation needed to get there,” said Mr. Levie. “It’s the cognitive dissonance we’re dealing with.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/24/technology/silicon-valley-next-big-thing.html Why is Silicon Valley still waiting for the Next Big Thing?

Fry Electronics Team

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