This started as a comment on Silicon Valley Only Has to Win Once by Aaron Renn. It quickly grew to a size that would be grossly inappropriate as a blog comment, so I took it here. Do read the article and prior comments. There’s some capital stuff in there.
Tech can’t be “displaced,”
I think it maybe can, but I’m not quite sure.
The tail CAN sometimes [wag] the dog.
It sure can. In the case of Silicon Valley, of course, we’re talking about the l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-ong tail. The situation is highly asymmetric, but I believe at least the potential exists to go from sharecropping the long tail to wagging the dog with it.
…[old school locales] need to swallow their pride and accept that they can’t ‘beat ’em’ but that they can mostly definitely ‘join ’em’ if they’re willing to embrace the radical implications of the tech economy.
Meh, sounds like the kind of finger wagging that comes from the Mackinac types who love to make an editorial point of never missing a chance to use “legacy” as a code word for “labor.”
I believe Silicon Valley can be beat fair and square, without us all becoming techbrotarians or otherwise stooping to their level.
Are there any tech companies that are really good at doing things in the real world (the world of atoms, not bits)?
I think that remains to be seen. I see that you don’t find their efforts so far to be all that promising. I think those may be trial balloons. They may be honing some formidable competencies when it comes to atoms.
But if those who do atoms better are dependent on “tech,” does it matter?
It doesn’t seem like the funding and startup system of Silicon Valley has the patience to pursue opportunities that require a bit of a longer timeline and more funding and interaction with a highly regulated industry.
If there’s such a thing as true AI, I would expect gaming of complex rule sets to be one of the early (and profitable) applications. ALEC certainly seems to have “computer aided drafting” (of state-level legislation, literally, “code”) down to some kind of science. One thing Silicon Valley does have is cash. I think it’s a safe bet there’s at least one “compliance consultant” who can be persuaded to be the Rudy Hertz of their trade.
Also, you mention the education market. Apple literally started by focusing on the education market. Maybe for higher profit margins (think price differences between textbooks and trade books, or if like me you’re old as dirt, price differences between Commodore 64’s and Apple ][‘s.) or maybe assuming some students will become yuppies who can cut PO’s. Possibly how they won over the creative class, not sure.
…it doesn’t seem that Silicon Valley is all that good at doing anything that requires making a profit and expertise that goes too much beyond using algorithms to do some task.
There’s probably some truth to that. This just happens to be the age of algorithms. An algorithm is a mathematical fact, even if advocates of software patents would like you to believe otherwise. As with any process of pure discovery, at some point the low-hanging fruits will have been harvested. Maybe some of them independently in multiple silos; “secret sauce” being what it is. But not forever. Maybe quantum computing is not too far off. Or maybe history’s verdict will be that age of algorithms is to algorithms as age of dinosaurs is to dinosaurs.
So is the problem that companies are throwing people out of work? The cutting of safety nets for people who are unemployed?
Maybe. I’m quite concerned about safety nets for people who are employed. Basically, the body of code (codebase?) we call “labor law.” We spent the 20th century going from one incremental progress to the next, from wage and hour laws, to OSHA standards, to workers’ comp, and in one fell swoop we’re knocked all the way back to piecework pay. The so-called sharing economy is basically a DDOS attack upon labor law as a whole. Labor (organized or not, take your pick) doesn’t know what hit it. Neither does local political leadership. At some point, questions of legality are moot and all questions are purely de facto. Since the “sharing” “economy” has met zero effective challenge, I think we can probably expect more numerous and more intense launches of business models on a “who cares if it’s legal” basis.
Companies not sufficiently investing in (and participating in, probably more importantly) their communities? The gutting of unions? A largely apathetic public? A federal government that doesn’t want to hurt the goose that lays the golden eggs, for all the hearings on Facebook?
No, no, yes and yes, if you ask me. Companies stopped being citizens of nations, let alone communities, long before Silicon Valley became the thing it is. Likewise, unions had already been thoroughly busted and blasted to hell by Reaganomics (or by inevitable secular trends that coincided with it).
Apathetic public? Big time. Huge time. People talk about teaching kids to code as if it makes sense as a jobs program. Maybe it does, but my casual observation is that 100.00000% of programming jobs only consider people who already have years of programming experience. But I’d like to teach SQL to the kids and the grownups both. Even just a little SQL, maybe just take the curriculum as far as table joins. And then ask the kids (or grownups) in the class some “what if” questions. Like what if I somehow obtained access to the records of both the DMV and one of the major credit cards? What if I could access both TSA and Orblitz? It’s no wonder (and no joke) that the age of algorithms is also the age of “public”-private partnerships. I put public in scare quotes because I want to promote the idea that whatever stake the public has in the public sector, it has an even bigger stake in the public domain.
And besides the hardware and software companies, what about the venture capital firms that fund both incumbents and start-ups, enabling companies to scale and thus have more impact?
What, like Toys Я Us? Guitar Center?
Tech companies themselves can certainly be displaced because their own technology can become obsolete or usurped by competitors.
True, but I’d like to think that when we ask “can Silicon Valley be disrupted” we don’t mean the Silicon Valley incumbents such as they are, or northern California being the locus of the information arbitrage game, but whether we can disrupt the fact that there’s a viable business model that largely consists of building informational ratchets and informational one-way valves (remember, Silicon Valley only has to win once) that function as engines of information asymmetry. There have always been commercial advantages to those who have an intuitive feel for the “going rate” for something. But current information technology is a nuclear weapon compared to that. It’s conceivable to me that they know every individual’s price point for every product and service, and maybe even every individual’s “pain point.”
Perhaps it is a hard-wired feature of the universe that information does not want to be free. But, to quote Sabbah i Hassan X, “We can _______try!”