John Maynard Keynes wrote of Sir Isaac Newton that he was not the "first in the age of reason: He was the last of the magicians." In his own frequently quoted letter to Robert Hooke in February of 1676, Newton humbly commented that, "What Descartes did was a good step…[to which Hooke] added much several ways, & especially in taking ye colours of thin plates into philosophical consideration. If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." Acknowledging Descartes, Newton placed his reason in the lineage of Augustine, Socrates, Euclid, Pythagoras - all celebrated for their influence on pivotal alterations in rationalizing the natural order using optics, magnetism, and societal lethargy fueled by religion. Their collective insistence that they needed to include in their otherwise rational arguments a concession to the normative assumption of some form of mystical divinity Locked them into frameworks from which modern philosophers still Kant seem to escape!
I saw an advertisement on a billboard in Los Angeles this week announcing some form of smart phone number 6 as the "Next Big Thing" (aka, NBT). According the Wired (Oct, 2014), the NBT is, drum roll please, video conferencing from Google! Whoa! According to Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside in 2013, the NBT is a smart phone that knows "when you take it out of your pocket." WHAT???? And it knows when you're holding it in a position that is likely a picture-taking orientation! Say it ain't so! According to CNET, the NBT is, hold on, make sure your sitting down, a lower price for the same technology. No way! Where's the Nobel Committee?
When Apple CEO John Sculley developed the concept of the PDA or personal digital assistant - the forerunner of the smartphone - in 1987, he thought that he would "reinvent" personal computing. Sculley was not standing on top of the shoulders of giants when he announced the Newton OS. He was - with or without consciousness - indicting our generation with a moniker of the contempt we evidence for what would constitute true, radical, new thinking. The Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) processor that went into the Newton put in motion what has metastasized into our NBT cancer today - the appearance of doing more while repackaging less. Now Apple (NASDAQ: APPL), AppliedMicro (NASDAQ: AMCC), Atmel (NASDAQ: ATML), Broadcom (NASDAQ: BRCM), Freescale (NYSE: FSL), Nvidia (NASDAQ: NVDA), NXP (NASDAQ: NXPI), Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), Samsung (KRX:005930), ST Microelectronics (NYSE: STM), and Texas Instruments (NASDAQ: TXN) work to provide the 6.1 billion RISC processors that power our mobile telephony addiction in a race towards ever expanding triviality for ever lower prices.
What's fascinating, when considered from the broader arc of human thought and societal evolution, is the fact that we've deluded ourselves into the belief that we're making innovative strides forward while we're standing on the hamster wheel of obsolescence. We've done precious little to alter the human experience since 1987 and have reduced our vanity to standing in lines at Verizon and AT&T stores for the privilege of being on the morning news as one of the millions with nothing better to do than have the few pixel advantage over our cubicle colleagues for the five minutes of our diminutive aspiration into relevance oblivion.
Would we know the NBT if it bit us in the butt? Probably not. And would the acclaim of Silicon Valley or Goldman Sachs be the oracle that would proclaim the arrival of the new, the innovative, the structurally significant, transformative disruption? Certainly not. Would the future be clad in the youthful hoodie? The torn up jeans? The black turtleneck? Doubtful.
I watched the world see a 150% improvement in the state-of-the-art in circuit board technology on Thursday of this past week in Anaheim CA. The family-owned Murrietta Circuits roll out eSurface technology - the first covalently deposited, light activated PCB and IC technological platform - and succeeded in producing the first 2 x 2 - boards which will fundamentally alter not only board and circuit design but will transform the way in which we harness power to animate our technologies. There was no fanfare. There was no hype. But in one short week, this little company rolled out a technology based on magnetism and light - the ingredients used by Newton and the greats - to change the world of electronics, manufacturing, security, and energy. Like the popes and bishops in centuries past, the incumbent orthodoxy wasn't there to proclaim its arrival as it was asleep in its bloated monotony.
This week the world will witness the emergence of an investment platform which will, for the first time, launch an African American founded institution beyond "equal opportunity" into a position that can transcend majority owned financial institutions. Playbook Investors Network - the out-growth of a vision stewarded by Rodney Woods and Tracy McGrady Jr. will create a mechanism where the era of racial concessions can end and diverse greatness can be unconstrained. And this vision won't be limited to minority supplier allocations alone but will introduce technologies which can dislocate multi-billion dollar incumbencies. No fanfare. Just getting the job done.
Here's the trouble with the NBT hype. By convincing ourselves that we're making progress when we're actually allowing illusions to pass by on the green screen of virtual reality, we set ourselves and our systems up for massive, single point systemic shocks and failures. We're not the sum of our social media and marketing spend - today's version of incumbent religions in centuries past. We're more than this. And when we start from the basics - fundamental first principles like light and magnetism - and consider where their deeper understanding can inform our present challenges, we run the risk of true greatness built on the shoulders of giants. Here's to the next Newtons: the Wissmans, Murriettas, Woods, and McGradys. You're lighting the path to the Next Big Thing and I'm glad I've been around to witness your dawning! Let the magic begin… again!