The Quest for the Next Big Thing

Business Week has an extensive report and identifies four tech waves: Utility Computing, Sensors, Plastic Electronics and Bionic Bodies.

Writes Robert Hof: “Did I find the Next Big Thing? Truth be told, not exactly. But maybe, just maybe, I unearthed some trends that seem likely to produce something big. It will spring, I believe, from the proliferation of single-chip computers, tiny sensors, ubiquitous Internet connections, and even new tech-driven social movements envisioned by futurist Howard Rheingold. Together, they’re forming a global digital nervous system whose potential impact seems almost limitless…To make a real difference, ultimately, technologies must transcend gadgetry and become part of the social fabric.”

Howard Rheingold, who was among those interviewed for the article, has his own views on the next Big Things:

First, radio-equipped sensors networks. [PARC Principal Scientist Feng Zhao’s group] aims to create a sort of World Wide Web for sensors, because, like computers, they’re most useful if they can communicate with one another. With a search engine he calls a “Google for the physical world,” a store manager might log on and type in, “How many rolls of Charmin are left?” and get an instant answer from the sensor network. They might even be embedded in roads to measure traffic or in building materials to detect flaws.

Then, wireless networks. [Yogen Dalal, a managing partner at Mayfield Fund] has funded a new company, PacketHop. Its technology lets people and companies create ad hoc networks by turning any mobile device into a data relay station. It sounds like yet another piece of my puzzle: something that lets people take network technology into their own hands and run with it wherever they will.

And in the end, social networks. Surfing the Web, I happen upon an article by Howard Rheingold. The veteran tech observer and author has a new book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, that links nearly all the things I’ve been tracking and much more.
Says Rheingold, who thinks this wave will be as big as the PC and the Net: “The killer apps of tomorrow will not be hardware or software, but social practices.” It sounds a little scary. But maybe that’s a mark of something big.

My view: the next big thing is not as much about technology itself as it will be about the empowerment via technology of those who have been left behind by the digital divide. It is about the SMEs and the people living in the rural areas of the world’s emerging markets. How can we use the newest ideas and technologies to make a difference to them? This is the question I seek to answer through the work that I do now.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.