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