What Tomorrow Will Look Like

Eric Savitz of Barron’s attended the Future in Review conference, which looks ahead to the world in 3-5 years. His report:

Let’s just say that the future looks a lot like the present, only with more of everything — more broadband access, more wireless technologies, more data storage and more competition for the West from China, India and the rest of Asia. Here’s a sampler:

  • Connie Wong, president of Hutchison Whampoa Americas, predicted that in five years, all mobile-phone handsets will be made in China, Taiwan and South Korea, with Nokia “transformed into a service provider.” She also expects widespread use of handsets for watching video, and an explosion of consumer-created content.

  • Tim DiScipio, chairman of ePals, which provides “school-safe” e-mail systems, made the scary observation that, according to Department of Education data, the fastest-growing segment of Internet users is kids two to five years old.

  • Tom Standage, a reporter for the Economist, concluded Wi-Fi isn’t likely to be the way consumers connect to the Internet outside the home, noting that there are only 30,000 public hotspots, less than 0.1% of the world’s access points, and half of those are in South Korea. “To an engineer’s proximation,” he quipped, “there are roughly no hot spots in the world.”

  • Martin Tobias, a Microsoft alumnus who is a partner with the venture firm Ignition Partners, alarmingly predicted that his former employer won’t ship its new version of Windows, known as Longhorn, before 2009. He didn’t seem to be kidding.

  • Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes and CEO of Groove Networks, forecast that within five years, 3.5-inch disk drives — the kind in desktop PCs — would offer two to five terabytes of storage, while laptops, with 2.5-inch diameter drives, will have one-terabyte drives. How much is that? Well, George Zachary, a partner at Charles River Ventures, repeated a recent comment from Microsoft executive Rick Rashid that with a terabyte of storage, you could record and store every conversation you have for your entire life. And with two terabytes, you could capture and store 360-degree photos of every minute of your life. Ozzie also made the point that the real security issue for computing is that systems need to be “complacency-immune,” since people don’t do many simple things they could do to protect themselves. Said Ozzie: “People are the fundamental problem.” They usually are.

  • Bill Janeway, vice chairman of Warburg Pincus, a big proponent of software delivered as a service, forecast “the death of the applications software industry,” with SAP as “the last man standing.”

  • Beau Vrolyk, another Warburg Pincus partner, seemed unimpressed with grid computing — linking many computers to take advantage of otherwise unused computing “cycles.” Noting that the average user would be hard-pressed to use more than a few percentage points of a computer’s number-crunching ability, he said: “There are still problems that can be solved with more computing power, but they are interesting mostly to esoteric scientists.”

  • What India Needs

    Gurcharan Das writes in a letter to Manmohan Singh:

    Growth, you said, is the best anti-poverty programme, I hope you will repeat this to your colleagues when they try to pressure you into populist programmes that our deficit burdened treasury cannot afford. The best way to distribute the fruits of growth, as we both know, is through better schools and better primary health centres. This is the only way to give reforms a human face (and not leaky poverty programmes). However, the reform of education and health is not just about spending more money. It is about making teachers and nurses accountable, so that they will, at least, show up.

    Like it or not, India s general elections have become municipal elections. What matters to the rickshawala is that the cops not take away a sixth of his daily earnings. The farmer wants a clear title to his land without having to bribe the patwari. The sick villager wants the doctor to be there when she visits the primary health centre. The housewife doesnt want the water tap to go dry while she is washing. This is how government touches ordinary peoples lives, and in successful societies people take these things for granted. You might say that these are local subjects, but to ordinary citizens you are the face of the government and they expect this from you.

    Where does the illness of governance lie? Why dont employees of the central, state, and local governments do their jobs? In the Far East , for example, citizens get far better service. Is it because we protect labour excessively in India , to the point that they no longer feel accountable? This was my experience in the private sector, at least our labour laws have taken away accountability and diminished our companies competitiveness. Thus, you may have to tackle labour laws despite your partners.

    If you buy my argument about governance then your focus will shift from policy to implementation. Hold your finance minister accountable for the behaviour of income tax officers. Judge your home minister, for example, for eliminating harassment of honest NGOs who get foreign donations. Reward your economic ministers for eliminating red tape foreign investors repeatedly tell us that they prefer China over India because of our red tape.

    In the end, even if you make a small but perceivable difference, you will break the anti-incumbency factor, which is a code word for poor governance. If you do not, then you will be asking for the return of the BJP in 2009.