The time is now for these new technologies that are in fact old technologies.
Quick, name some of the hot new technologies that are now on stage to lead the new technology revolution. You'll probably name some transportation tech, computer tech and green tech. But how many of those are really new? On second thought, you will find that some of the newest tech is really some of the oldest tech. Technology in and of itself isn't always sufficient to change the world. You need a congruence of smarter technology, economic impetus, social acceptance and a political climate all ripe for change. Here is my list of 10 new techs that are really old tech, with a quick guess why now is their time. I'd welcome your comments and suggestions for 10 additional items.
1. Electric cars. The automobile industry going through a major change from petroleum-based engines to hybrid systems or, in some cases, all-electric. Now that has to be new, right? Wrong. Let's go back to 1902 and the Phaeton and take a ride. Why did the gasoline engine win in the early 1900s? I'm thinking the mobility, range and distribution network had a lot to do with it. And I'm thinking those three factors will drive the second transition to the all-electric car.
2. Efficient public transportation. Jump on and off, frequent schedules, and the ability to quickly branch out beyond the urban center. Sounds like the early trolley system to me. In the 1920s trolley tracks were U.S. You can still ride the trolleys in Europe. Maybe if you could just skip the wires and use hybrids, those trolleys might return.
3. Touch-screen computers. Would you believe I'm typing this on my 1993 Apple Newton MessagePad? No you wouldn't, and you'd be correct. How about on my Windows-based tablet that Bill Gates predicted in 2001 would now be ubiquitous? Right, not on that either. Connectivity, design format, ease of use and useful applications all conspired to keep the tablet computer firmly in the future. Now that is about to change. Even the great gray lady herself, The New York Times, is figuring the tablet will soon move from the future to your hands.
4. Photovoltaic. Sunlight in, power out. What could be easier? It was first accurately described in 1883. What took so long? Well, you needed a long manufacturing ramp to make those cells competitive with the big power plants, and you needed a lot of money to fund those manufacturing facilities. And you needed a lot of innovation to take the basic idea and get it on a roof. You needed government incentives, a marketing plan and a community of installers. It could all happen starting in 2010.
5. Virtualization. Are you looking to lose a barroom argument? Mention to a long-time IBMer that virtualization is a new technology cooked up in Silicon Valley. Now be prepared to hear about virtualization running along quite nicely on 1960s mainframes, thank you very much. Of course, the difference this time around is that virtualization extends beyond the mainframe and IBM-only realm. But IBM did have all the pieces in place way back then.
6. Cloud computing. Remember how we used to chuckle about those 1940s and 1950s predictions that the world would only need four or five big computers? What a bunch of chuckleheads to think that. Now let's see, if Google keeps growing and Amazon keeps growing, that will leave room for three more big cloud companies. I still credit Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff for seeing this train leaving the station early, but those cloud predictors from the 1950s may have gotten the forecast correct.
7. Encryption. OK, we are in the wayback machine for the next couple. Why is it that when the credit card hacker breaks into the banking system, they get the actual user name and card number instead of a bunch of scrambled data? Is it because computer-based encryption was seen as too slow, costly and cumbersome when the financial systems were first built? Was it hubris for those early developers to consider their banking systems unhackable? It certainly wasn't because encryption was a new technology. I'd say on this one it is time to go tell the Spartans, who used encryption.
8. Secure banking. When I bank online, I use a name and password to get to a banking site that shows me a nifty icon to assure me I am on the real banking site and not on some hack site in a former Soviet Republic. That cannot possibly be the summit of secure banking and online transactions. Real online security requires something you have (like a fob that is either hardware- or software-based), something you know and some way to determine who you really are. How old is that idea? Dan Brown could probably write a novel about the Templars' check cashing system.
9. Super insulation. In these green-energy-aware times, it is evident that the best energy conservation technique is to not use the energy in the first place rather than try to get more efficient use out of existing energy resources. You can retrofit your house to waste less energy and use more efficient heating and cooling systems, or you can build a super-efficient system from the start. Time to go on vacation. Maybe those old adobe dwellings have something to teach us after all.
10. Personal, pollution-free transportation. You want to travel a mile or so to the store or the library or school. Or maybe you just want to take a nice trip around the neighborhood. What choices do you have? You could walk around the block. You could put down the top on the convertible and at least feel like you were not so confined. Or you could jump on a vehicle first refined for easy, personal, pollution-free transportation in 1885. That would be a bicycle.
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