Today's tech boom is just the beginning

Commercial drones, 3-D printers, self-driving cars . . . the tools coming out of the virtual revolution will be used to take the world -- and tech investing -- to promising new places.

By TheStreet Staff Jan 29, 2013 6:07PM

Parrot A.R. Drone, a drone that connects to an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch via Wi-Fi with a video-streaming camera hovers at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas © Paul Sakuma/AP PhotoBy Dana Blackenhorn, TheStreet

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Just as in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, the current recovery has begun with technology.

But the rolling-over of the technology sector -- which started with Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel (INTC) and is now climaxing with Apple (AAPL) -- serves as a warning that it won't end there this time.


Technology, whether in the form of an iPad or a Google (GOOG) cloud, is, in the end, just a tool. A means to an end. The end, in this decade, will be new products and services that transform our cities and the way we live.


Cloud technologists like Jim Whitehurst of RedHat (RHT), technology publishers such as Tim O'Reily and venture capitalists such as Vinod Khosla have been saying this for some time. A host of new industries, which use the products of today's technology as an input -- just as earlier booms used steel and other commodities as inputs -- are emerging all around America.


Access to tools

In the 3-D printing revolution, companies like 3D Systems (DDD) and Stratasys (SSYS) are emerging first. They hold the promise of producing custom goods at the same cost as mass-produced ones. These companies, too, are just making tools, and it may be that the biggest winners from their rise will be their customers -- who will transform manufacturing in this decade.


Renewable energy is going to put a permanent lid on oil prices. Analyst at UBS see an unsubsidized solar revolution, emerging first in high-cost countries. Biomass fuels pioneer KiOR (KIOR) has fired up its first plant in Mississippi, with the goal being production of cellulosic gasoline and diesel at a price competitive with conventional petroleum products.


Drones, or remotely piloted aircraft, are moving from military to civilian uses, as a recent "Nova" special described, with Boeing (BA) and Raytheon (RTN) helping organize a lobby to push sales. These inventions ride partly on sensors like PrimeSense that are just coming to market.


What is a self-driving car other than a drone that moves on land? That technology, too, is on its way to market.


Different this time

Cloud technology is already moving the center of innovation and economic activity from office buildings circling the city to labs inside the city. Clouds let us test ideas more rapidly and build molecules or even new forms of life an atom at a time, each custom-designed for a specific purpose.


The best access to cloud requires the best communication links, which is why the areas around research colleges are so hot. But startups are also moving to places like Kansas City, because 700 Mbps fiber also offers that kind of access.


In the 1970s the rise of technologies like semiconductors resulted mainly in more technology, the personal computer. In the 1980s the rise of the PC led mainly to new technology, in the form of software. In the 1990s the rise of software led mainly to new technology, the Internet.


It's going to be different this time. As with those earlier booms, just how different it's going to be isn't apparent at the start of the boom. It's not obvious now how different 2019 will be. But the tools are now in place to make it different.


What does this tell investors? The companies that most transformed society and were born in those booms were not publicly traded at their start. Apple was a record company in 1973, Microsoft was not publicly traded in 1983. (AMZN) had not been founded by 1993.

Watch the IPO market. Look for new names in the fields I mentioned. Spread your bets around widely. Then sit back and be amazed. 

When you look at today from the end of this decade, at the end of the current boom, you will call the world of 2013 primitive by comparison.


More from

Jan 30, 2013 10:35AM
Put the Kool Aid down... slowly, and back away from the table. All "tech" is our future? That's triple lens glasses before 40, total degradation of muscle integrity by 30 and a plethora of lounger ailments before early death by 50? Technology "was" supposed to aid us in more complex ventures, not replace the basic functionality of humans. Apps replace the basic function of contemplation and decision in the human mind. No wonder ZOMBIES are so popular... technology is making them. Sorry, but I'll replace button pressing with a well-rounded lifestyle of relevant (not fitness center) activities that challenge my body and mind. Feel free to be assimilated and to surrender all your freedoms to Big Brother. Loser.
Jan 30, 2013 3:13PM
Technology seems to create more problems than it solves. All of these gadgets are just another distraction from trying to solve the real problems of humanity. People watching pointless endless TV, sending goofy text messages, eating gmo foods, taking mood enhancing prescriptions, packing more songs on their ipod, building more smart bombs, and mixing more powerful pesticides isn't going to solve anything. We'd be better off smashing it all under a steamroller.
Jan 30, 2013 3:02PM
Technology? Can it balance the budget and erase the deficit? When robots completely take over manufacturering, and food production, and health care, then can I stay at home, doing only what I like to do, and doing it without being tossed out on the street, homeless, and to starve to death, because there are not jobs at all -- even though we still live in world where you either work or you starve? Ah, yes. Technology.
Jan 30, 2013 3:09PM
Read about the limitations of the Turing machine model, and then let's talk.  Tech evangelists have been over promising since Alan Turing died; too bad we can't get him back to put a hush on the hype.
Jan 30, 2013 9:56PM

The complete list of faltering or bankrupt green-energy companies:

($25 million)*
($535 million)*
($43 million)*
($98.5 million)
($1.2 billion)
($1.46 billion)
($178 million)
($118.5 million)*
($5.9 million)
($529 million)
($400 million)*
($279 million)*
($299 million)
($1.6 billion)
($126.2 million)
($33 million)*
($13.3 million)*
($2 million)*
($10 million)*
($80 million)*
($6.5 million)*
($7 million)*
($5.4 million)*
($50 million)
($151 million)
($16 million)*
($39 million)
($3 million)*
($20 million)*
($100 million)
Jan 30, 2013 3:12PM

Consumers drive the economy, regular people. THAT is a tech boom. The things in this article are of no significant impact in the day-to-day for the folks like CDs, Walkmans, iPods, personal computers, and the like were. There is STILL no Next Big Thing, sorry to dash your hopes people.


We need to bring manufacturing back to the USA so regular folks can do meaningful work again. It isn't always a good idea to apply tech to every problem.


I was in Kuwait a decade ago. They had no fork lifts to unload our truck of equipment, no hydraulic liftback either. About 20 guys in grey uniforms actually hand lifted skid loads out of the truck, skid and all. They said they didn't need a forklift, they have humans.


Think about it!


Feb 1, 2013 3:21PM
"What does this tell investors? The companies that most transformed society and were born in those booms were not publicly traded at their start. Apple was a record company in 1973, Microsoft was not publicly traded in 1983. () had not been founded by 1993."


More bone-headed writing from The Street.  Dana, you do realize that Apple Corps Ltd., the record company founded by the Beatles, was completely unconnected to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak when they started Apple Computer, Inc., right?
There are already plenty of drones that follow the mantra of the Obama Seculars.   It is good!  Yessss, it issss goood.
Feb 1, 2013 8:15PM

It's clearly 2013 when an indiv. can own his/her personal Cloud and stream 5 devices at once, controlling own security.  The Upgrade Place on FB just announced such, Wi-Fi too.  Sweet.


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