Why Is Silicon Valley Still Waiting for the Next Big Thing?

In the fall of 2019, Google informed the world that it had achieved a “quantum advantage”.

It was a significant scientific milestone that some have compared to the first flight on Kitty Hawk. Using the mysterious capabilities of quantum mechanics, Google created a computer that took only three minutes and 20 seconds to perform a calculation that conventional computers could not perform in 10,000 years.

But more than two years after Google’s announcement the world is still waiting for a quantum computer that is really doing something useful. And most likely, it will wait much longer. The world is also waiting for cars that drive cars, flying cars, advanced artificial intelligence and brain implants that will allow you to control computing devices using only your thoughts.

Silicon Valley’s hilarious machine has long been accused of being ahead of reality. But in recent years, critics of the technology industry have noticed that its biggest promises – ideas that could really change the world – seem to be on the horizon. The great wealth gained by the industry in recent years has largely come about thanks to ideas such as the iPhone and mobile apps that emerged many years ago.

Big thinkers in technology lost their temper?

The answer, these great thinkers respond quickly, is absolutely not. But the projects they are involved in are much more complex than building a new app or destroying another aging industry. And if you look around, the tools that helped you cope with the nearly two-year pandemic – home computers, video conferencing and Wi-Fi, even technology that helped researchers develop vaccines – showed that the industry has no chance exactly lost. no step.

“Imagine the economic impact of a pandemic without the infrastructure – hardware and software – that allowed so many white-collar workers to work from home and so many other parts of the economy to run digitally,” said Margaret O’Mara, a professor at the University of Washington. specializes in Silicon Valley history.

As for the next big deal, as great thinkers say, give it time. Take quantum computing. Jake Taylor, who led quantum computing at the White House and is now a senior researcher at the quantum startup Riverlane, said creating a quantum computer could be the most challenging task ever performed. It is a machine that challenges the physics of everyday life.

The quantum computer relies on the fact that some objects behave at the subatomic level or when exposed to extreme cold, like metal cooled to almost 460 degrees below zero. When scientists just try to read information from these quantum systems, they tend to break down.

Creating a quantum computer, Dr. Taylor said that “you are constantly working against the fundamental tendencies of nature.”

The most important technological advances in the last few decades – the microchip, the Internet, the computer with the mouse, the smartphone – have not challenged physics. And they were allowed to nurture years, even decades, in government agencies and corporate research labs before eventually achieving mass implementation.

“The era of mobile and cloud computing has created so many new business opportunities,” Dr. O’Mara said. “But now there are more complex problems.”

However, the loudest voices in Silicon Valley often discuss these more complex issues as if it’s just a smartphone app. This can inflate expectations.

People who are not experts who understand the problem may have been misled by the hype, ”said Raquel Urtasun, a professor at the University of Toronto who helped oversee the development of self-driving cars at Uber and is now the CEO of self-government. Waabi launch management.

Technologies such as cars and artificial intelligence do not face the same physical barriers as quantum computing. But as researchers do not yet know how to create a viable quantum computer, they do not yet know how to design a car that can safely drive itself in any situation, or a machine that can do everything the human brain can do.

Even technology like augmented reality – glasses that can overlay digital images on what you see in the real world – will require years of additional research and engineering research before it can be perfected.

Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Meta, formerly of Facebook, said that the creation of these light glasses was similar to the creation of the first personal computers with a mouse in the 1970s (the mouse itself was invented in 1964). Companies like Meta need to develop a whole new way to use computers before stuffing all its parts into a tiny package.

Over the past two decades, companies like Facebook have created and implemented new technologies at a rate never before possible. But, as Mr. Bosworth said, these were mostly software technologies built solely from “bits” – fragments of digital information.

Creating new types of equipment – working with physical atoms – is a much more difficult task. “As an industry, we’ve almost forgotten what it is,” Mr Bosworth said, calling augmented reality glasses a once-in-a-lifetime project.

Technologists like Mr. Bosworth believe they will eventually overcome these obstacles, and they are more outspoken about how difficult it will be. But this is not always the case. And when the industry has penetrated every part of everyday life, it can be difficult to separate the wave from realism – especially when this attention is drawn to huge companies such as Google and celebrities such as Elon Musk.

Many in Silicon Valley believe that waving their hands is an important part of advancing technology in the mainstream. The hype helps attract the money, talent and faith needed to create technology.

“If the result is desired – and it’s technically possible – then it’s okay if we’re three or five years behind or something,” said Aaron Levy, executive director of Silicon Valley Box. “You want entrepreneurs to be optimistic – to have a little bit of this field of distorting Steve Jobs’ reality, ”which helped convince people to accept his great ideas.

The hype is also a way for entrepreneurs to arouse interest among the population. Even if new technologies can be built, there is no guarantee that people and businesses will want them, accept them and pay for them. They need to be persuaded. And perhaps more patience than most people in the technology industry and beyond recognize.

“When we hear about new technology, it takes our brain less than 10 minutes to imagine what it can do. We are instantly squeezing all the infrastructure and innovation needed to reach this point, ”Mr Levy said. “It’s the cognitive dissonance we’re dealing with.”

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