Wired 40 for 2004

Here. “These 40 leaders have demonstrated an uncommon mastery of technology, innovation, globalism, networked communication, and strategic vision – skills essential to thriving in the information age.” The top 10:

1. Google
2. Amazon.com
3. Apple Computer
4. Genentech
5. eBay
6. Samsung Electronics
7. Yahoo!
8. Electronic Arts
9. Pixar
10. Cisco Systems

Infosys is at No. 11, Microsoft is at No. 27, IBM is at No. 13 and Intel is at No. 24.

Tapscott: Do Your Best, Partner the Rest

ACM: Ubiquity interview with Don Tapscott: “The important issue is not how much you spend on technology but how you harness the power of technology to execute a business strategy and new business designs. That’s the core of the argument. My view is that the corporation is going through the biggest change in its architecture in a century and that vertically integrated corporations are unbundling and becoming focused corporations that work within broader networks or business webs and that we’re in the very early days of this change. It’s happening on a global scale as the tonic of the marketplace globally is being brought to bear on every business function within a corporation. The reason is that the Internet drops transaction, interaction and partnering costs…When it comes to organizations, I’m not talking about decentralization or centralization. I’m talking about vertical integration or not. You can be a highly centralized company that’s not vertically integrated. There is no yo-yo on this one. The trend for the last 50 years is crystal clear and one way towards unbundling. It has accelerated hugely in the last decade because the Internet drops transaction, interaction and partnering costs between firms. Companies can now focus on what they do best, partner to do the rest. Focused companies working in business webs perform better. This will continue for decades, as companies go through the process of defining what’s core to them, finding the cluster of activities where they can differentiate, create barriers to entry, and so on. The big, controversial change is this is now happening on a global basis. It’s not just manufacturing or clerical work. It’s many different categories of knowledge work.”

Steve Jurvetson on Nanotech

Is Nanotech is the next great technology wave, the next trillion-dollar industry? AlwaysOn has an interview of Jurvetson by Bill Reichert:

Reichert: Is nanotech a revolution or is it an evolution? Is it a cover story for 2006?

Jurvetson: To me, it feels like a revolution, like moving from analog to digital music, or moving from trial-and-error medicine to information-driven medicine. But hopefully, it won’t be a popular press headline in 2006: “Nanotech Hits the Store Shelves, Go Out and Buy It in Your Cereal Box!”

I think instead it will be something that pervades and innovates society in ways you never imagined. You’ll see molecular electronics, solar cells will become affordable, displays will be set in plastic, and sheet-sized televisions will become cost-effective. Memory chips will be non-volatile and less expensive.

Will that be exciting? It probably won’t be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, or at least not in the local paper. Will it be in the trade rags? Absolutely. Will Intel and all the chip companies be very interested in how this develops and what impact this has on embedded memories? Again, absolutely. So I think this is going to be an interesting headline in the ’03 to ’05 time frame for respective sub-sectors of the industry, but not for the popular press.

Reichert: Who’s going to lead the way in nano?

Jurvetson: Every single one of the 18 companies we’ve invested in so far in this space has been a university or government lab spin-off; and even if they’re a university spin-off, at some point they relied on government funding.

The reason for the government funding is clear. Companies in nanotech start with large equipment. You don’t have an electron microscope sitting in a garage. That’s not a place where you would be able to do this primary work. And so these startups usually leverage government research and luckily, there’s a lot of it. Nanotech was one of the areas that got a budget increase over what was requested. It’s second only to the space race now in terms of federal funding for fundamental science, over $600 million a year. Even so, the United States is not ahead in terms of federal funding. It’s big worldwide.

There’s also an immense amount of research in large corporations. NEC, HP, IBM, and GE in particular come to mind. They’re doing great work, but are perhaps the exception. What we see more often, for example in the semiconductor domain, are acquisitions. Some entrant gets to a certain scale, perhaps a bit short of their ultimate potential, and then gets acquired. In fact, that’s what happened with one of our molecular memory companies, which was acquired by one of the largest memory chip companies. So some of the large corporations are already watching the field; acquiring companies, investing in companies.

Why Writing Your Own Search Engine is Hard

ACM Queue had a special issue dedicated to Enterprise Search in April. One of the articles (by Anna Patterson) talked about the difficulties in writing one’s own: “There must be 4,000 programmers typing away in their basements trying to build the next ‘world’s most scalable’ search engine. It has been done only a few times. It has never been done by a big group; always one to four people did the core work, and the big team came on to build the elaborations and the production infrastructure. Why is it so hard? We are going to delve a bit into the various issues to consider when writing a search engine. This article is aimed at those individuals or small groups that are considering this endeavor for their Web site or intranet. It is fun, but a word of caution: not only is it difficult, but you need two commodities in short supplytime and patience.”

Anna should know – she has written two search engines.

Retrospective vs Prospective Search

Bob Wyman of PubSub had a post in April which discusses two types of search:

  • Retrospective Search: That which is done by traditional search engines — “Searching the past”. This kind of search typically relies on net crawlers, spiders or other data entry methods to gather files into a historical, searchable collection. While the collection changes over time, at the time of any specific “search”, the collection can be considered to be static. Any single search query will only be evaluated against those documents that were collected prior to the moment the query was submitted to the search engine. On the other hand, the queries in such a system are constantly changing and are thus dynamic.

  • Prospective Search: What PubSub does — “Searching the future”. This kind of search can depend on a wide variety of means to gather newly updated documents but does not rely on a static, historical collection. In a prospective search, a query is registered in a collection of queries and then evaluated against every new document as it is discovered. Thus, while the query is static, the collection of documents against which it is evaluated is dynamic. Also, the entire collection of currently active queries can be considered “static” at the moment that any new document arrives in the system.

    So, a retrospective system is characterized by a static document collection and dynamic, single-use queries while a prospective search system will have, at any moment, a static set of persistent queries and a dynamic document under evaluation. Retrospective systems typically need to store large numbers of documents but have no need to store queries. Prospective systems need to store queries but can discard documents as soon as the collection of persistent queries has been evaluated against them.

    These two styles of “search” address both different and complimentary needs. They are often both required as part of a comprehensive program for discovering and keeping knowledge up-to-date. For instance, it is often useful to first do a retrospective search to discover “what is known” about an area of interest and then to establish a persistent, prospective search in order to be notified “whenever something new appears.” (You might, for instance, search the archives of the New York Times for stories about “copyright law” and then create a “news alert” to be notified whenever they write a new story on the subject.)

  • TECH TALK: Tech Trends:India Action: Digitise Education

    What India needs to do is to leverage the forces of digitisation to build out a digital infrastructure across the country to make up for the various gaps that exist. If there is one area where India needs to focus on, it is education. Atanu Dey, in his May 2001 essay entitled Who Paid for My Education?, lays out the grim reality of Indias utter failure in providing primary education:

    We neglect primary education. Our constitution mandates primary education for all (Article 8 of the Indian Constitution). Yet, 41% of children do not reach grade 5 in India.

    The most devastating impact of our dismal educational system is that we are condemning ourselves to a future of exceedingly low economic development. If there is one thing that growth and developmental economists have learnt, it is this: education is the most important factor in economic growth. Education has more impact on economic growth than natural resources, foreign investment, exports, imports, whatever. Neglect education and you may as well hang yourself and save yourself the pain of a slow miserable death.

    So who paid for my education? It is the poor rural children, thousands of them, who paid for my education by losing their opportunity to become semi-literate. The system is tilted against them and unless there is a radical change in the way that education is funded, they will continue to pay the price for subsidizing the US for decades to come.

    A collection of digital technologies is what is needed to address the education problem in India. These words from Nicholas Negroponte, written in 1998, are as true today as they were then:

    Will the information-rich get richer and the information-poor get poorer? Will the divide shrink, or expand? The question might also be phrased in terms of the education-rich and the education-poor. The latter category includes some 200 million children who do not complete their primary education.

    One-room schools are often believed to be a sad consequence of poverty. But instead of a problem, they may be a solution. These schools, which may make up as many as half the number of primary schools on the planet, are driven by the principle that young children should learn as close to home as possible. The result is an educational environment that is small, local, personal, and age-integrated and that potentially provides a much richer learning experience than larger schools in urban environments.

    My advice to political leaders in developing nations: Adopt an educational strategy that focuses digital technology on primary education, particularly in the poorest and most rural areas.

    Digitisation of teaching content complemented with electronic means of distribution can help India transform its education system and bring primary education to tens of millions who languish in schools with no teachers. The solution is discussed [1 2 3] in an earlier Tech Talk essay, As India Develops.

    Tomorrow: IT Commoditisation

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