Brainpower is Getting Cheaper

Edward Hugh and Marcelo Rinesi write in The Straits Times:

The ‘new new economy’ way – one that recognises that well-educated human minds are as much of a commodity as any standards-compatible central processing unit – involves software written by bright maverick programmers (maybe tucked away in an East European ‘transitional economy’), the incredibly cheap communication infrastructure of the Internet, and literal warehouses of Indian mechanical-mental workers typing away for what to us may appear as bargain basement wages (but which are still more than they could otherwise earn).

This is how individual ingenuity, cheap technology and cheap intellectual labour defeat corporate R&D and expensive technology. Any American company that insists on playing by the old new rules, using a top cadre of shut-in experts, geographically centralised operations and sub-planetary mindsets, will find itself outflanked, outsmarted and eventually outstripped by a few guys with the right network.

Politicians and losing businessmen call it ‘unfair competition’, while the businessmen that are making money out of it prefer the expression ’emerging outsourcing platforms’.

We see it simply as an extension of Moore’s Law to human beings, which can be put simply like this: The knowledge, expertise and ingenuity that you can rent for US$10,000 (S$17,300), or US$1,000, a year is rising exponentially.

Andressen on What’s New

Marc Andressen in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle talks about the next new things in the form of “digital industries”:

Digital photography, digital music, digital video, digital gadgets and gizmos. Mobile telephony, mobile data, high-speed wireless, broadband, satellite.

Just across the board. Everywhere you look, it’s proliferating like mad.

Digital cameras for this Christmas are so cheap and so good it’s unbelievable. Consumers are adopting digital video in their homes at phenomenal rates, whether it’s digital satellite, digital video recorders or DVDs.

Digital music is enormous. And what’s happening in the record industry is going to happen in the TV and movie industries. Half a million movies are being dialed up on the Internet each day. I mean, it’s like rolling. You know, it’s happening.

Telephony is changing very quickly. The people who did Kazaa for music sharing have another thing called Skype, which is free, peer-to-peer Internet phone calls. They’ve nailed it.

Wi-Fi is proliferating like mad. Broadband is proliferating very quickly.

On the business computing side, there’s another set of changes. The server hardware landscape is commoditizing (prices are dropping) right now. It’s what happened to the PC in the 1970s and 1980s.

Storage is commoditizing. Network computer is commoditizing. Software is commoditizing.

People say nothing interesting is happening in software. Google, Amazon, EBay, Orbitz, Expedia and — all these Internet things — they’re software companies. They’re not shipping you software in a box, they’re putting the software up on a Web site.

If you peel back those companies, all they have are software developers. Software developers, a big server complex and a big marketing campaign. It’s a new kind of software company, and it’s exactly the kind of thing we should get excited about.

The Second Tech Boom

David Kirkpatrick (Fortune) takes a look at the emerging, new economy – one where technology is embedded in all that we do, and efficiency and productivity are the norm rather than the exception.

No manufacturing company of consequence operates without a sophisticated enterprise resource planning software infrastructure, whether from SAP or another supplier. Increasingly these systems are linked with sophisticated supply chain and finance automation so companies know where things sit in their pipeline, how much inventory they have, and how much it all is costing them.

Ordering over the Internet has become routine. This is as true for manufacturing giants as it is for consumers. Steel beams, for example, no less than books are now ordered online–probably more, in fact, as a percentage of the total. As a result, when demand increases in one place, its consequences can be felt efficiently, and immediately, elsewhere. Wal-Mart led the way with its long-ago deal with Procter & Gamble automating shelf replenishment, but now that kind of connectivity is, again, routine. We aren’t in the vaunted real-time economy yet, but we’ve moved much closer.

Communication in general between workers inside companies and between companies is now automated by e-mail and web portals. Corporate edicts can be disseminated at unprecedented speed, as can business orders.

Meanwhile, news travels faster and more efficiently. Columns like this one can be written and published immediately, to a group that has indicated its interest. You get the information you want when you want it, whether it’s here or on MyYahoo, or the New York Times Online or Google News. How could that kind of efficiency not help an economy grow rapidly?

To keep your job in this new world, you’d better be doing something that benefits from a digitized economy. And to compound the problem, as Intel CEO Craig Barrett has lately been pointing out — we emerge from this recession with several billion more people having entered the global economy. Many of these people are willing to work hard for much less than the typical American. And much of today’s work, as we’ve discussed here repeatedly, can be outsourced abroad over the wire.


Remail is an IBM Research project to reinvent email to address three critical issues facing email:

Pressure to Respond Quickly. People report feeling pressure to be more responsive to their email. Messages arrive continuously throughout the day, contributing to the sense of urgency to respond quickly.

Losing Track of Email and the increasing fear of doing so. High volumes of email cause important items to quickly move out of view. Users must hunt down their mail, often having to scroll to other parts of their mailbox. This problem is exacerbated as email arrives in a single, undifferentiated stream. The mailbox becomes an assortment of items requiring action, informational items, and items with no value to the user at all (e.g., spam).

Overwhelming Volumes of Mail. People are overwhelmed by the volume of new email they receive each day. They report spending increasing amounts of time simply managing their email. Email is an endless cycle of catching-up and falling behind. New messages arrive regardless of the activity the recipient is engaged in, causing a backup in the user’s mailbox. To prevent this backup and stay on top of action items, people have developed the habit of checking their email frequently, adding to the overall disruption email can bring.

Wonder how this compares to Chandler.

OpenRISC 1000

Slashdot has a pointer to OpenRISC 100, an open-source design of a system-on-chip, designed by Flextronics. “It is a 32-bit general-purpose microcontroller implemented on UMC 0.18um targetting embedded applications with maximum clock frequency of 160MHz.” Am wondering: could this be used as a base to design the thin client – the USD 50 client (excluding monitor) that I’d love to see happen?

TECH TALK: My Mental Model: requires Ecosystems

One of the things I have realised with the expense of some time and cost that it is not good enough to just have an innovative product or service. When one is targeting nonconsumption markets, just solving one problem may not be good enough. Let me explain with an example, and then we will get to the deeper learnings.

When I started thinking about the SME growth problem, my initial belief was that what they needed was a low-cost eBusiness software just like the big enterprises. But as I looked deeper, I realised that even if I created the mini-ERP software, there were not enough computers in the enterprise to ensure they made optimal use of it, and more importantly, for me to make money at that time, the plan was to rent the software to them because they would probably not have interested in (or would have been incapable of) making a single, large upfront payment. So, now, I had to look at both the computer penetration and enterprise software problems.

As time elapsed, we created a solution for the computer penetration problem thin clients, server-centric computing, open-source software and remote management. We also developed an integrated server-software solution, to ensure that the backend infrastructure for messaging and security would be good. We were ready to sell our software to SMEs. So, who would do the selling?

It was then that I understood that the problem was much bigger than I had anticipated as a technologist. There is no software distribution network for SMEs. There is no way for SMEs to be educated on the potential for using computers to their full potential. There is a channel, but it largely consists of hardware resellers, who are not sophisticated enough to talk to end-customers about the solutions for their business growth. The realisation slowly dawned on me that we needed an SME Penetration Ecosystem, rather than just the hardware-software bits that I was trying to put together.

I could have saved myself quite some trouble had I been a student of economics or read Bhaskar Chakravortis book The Slow Pace of Fast Change. In economics, there is a concept of co-ordination failure. This is dealt with by Debraj Ray in his Economics textbook Development Economics.

This insight came to me as I understood Atanu Deys plan for transforming rural India by setting up RISC (Rural Infrastructure and Services Commons) centres to concentrate investment from multiple infrastructure providers to create a common platform for service providers. The way to address the co-ordination failure in rural India was to bring all the entities together at the same time, and demonstrate how they could all benefit if each of them did exactly what their business was.

Tomorrow: requires Ecosystems (continued)

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