Last week, I was in Las Vegas for “Super Mobility Week.” I spoke at CCA and received an award on behalf of Sprint at CTIA, but one of the highlights for me was actually sharing a cab to the airport with Chetan Sharma. Chetan is one of the smartest and one of the nicest guys in the industry. I met him several years ago when he moderated a couple of panels that I was on at GigaOm’s first Mobilize event and it’s been a pleasure to catch up with him whenever our paths cross.
With my own career at an inflection point, I am especially impressed by how Chetan has been able to manage his consulting business. He has kept it very small so that he can focus attention on his family, and yet he has a huge impact on the industry. The work that he takes on leverages his knowledge, experience, and insights to their fullest. That is what I aspire to as well, so it was great to have the chance to reconnect again last week.
But you, my dear readers, probably could care less about that. What I think would be interesting to you is what we talked about in that short cab ride. The most meaningful discussion was about Chetan’s most recent paper “Connected Intelligence Era: The Golden Age of Mobile,” which I had just read on the flight out to Vegas. (You should read it too.) Chetan’s question for me was “what do you think, is this a new cycle, or the old cycle?” I have to admit that my mind probably hadn’t thought about it enough to be prepared for the discussion, so I had to mentally work through a few concepts first…
In the paper, Chetan references theories on economic cycles put forth by Nikolai Kondratiev, Joseph Schumpeter, and Carlota Perez. It is Carlota’s writings on “Technology Revolutions” that I’ve paid the most attention to since they are both more recent (and therefore informed by the Digital, Internet, and Mobility revolutions) and more specific to technology. The first mental hurdle I had to get past, in my mind, was that Carlota looks at long cycles (PC/Digital, Internet, and Mobility are all in the same “Age of Information and Telecommunications”, which followed the similarly long “Age of Oil, the Automobile, and Mass Production”, “Age of Steel, Electricity, and Heavy Engineering”, and the “Age of Steam and Railways”), while I tend to think in short cycles, the Digital Revolution, followed by the next cycle of the Internet Revolution, followed by the next cycle of the Mobility Revolution, etc. So, when Chetan asked me his question, he effectively was restating what he had included very early in his paper “Where are we in the big economic cycles? Are we in the golden age of the last technology cycle of information and telecommunications that gave birth to the Internet and the modern wireless ecosystem as we know it or are we perhaps on the verge of a new age that will transform human history for the next 50 years?”
I think it’s clear that we are at the beginning of the next “short” cycle. Big data analytics, connected devices (Internet of Things), and cloud all point to this next revolution, which Chetan calls Connected Intelligence and that I’ve been calling the Intelligence Revolution. What’s harder to answer, as Chetan readily acknowledges, is whether this short cycle is part of the current long cycle (the Information Revolution) or part of the next one. As Chetan points out, we probably won’t know for sure for at least a decade, but in the cab, I started to formulate a test that might help us think about it.
During that short conversation what came to mind was “what do the products look like?” I can think of easy things like advertising as a means of creating economic value from “connected intelligence” but it’s harder for me to think of other “products” of this new capability with more direct economic benefits. In the steam era, the products were clear. In the steel era, the products were clear. In the oil era, the products were clear. In the information era, the products have been clear. If this is a new era, the products aren’t yet clear to me.
Another way to think about it is in terms of how the revolution increases productivity. It’s pretty easy to see how industry, steel, steam, oil, and information have increased productivity. I think we need to consider whether “connected intelligence” has the same “big bang” transformative impact.
To his credit, Chetan does a good job in his paper outlining potential products and potential productivity improvements for existing products and services. But it doesn’t really seem to me like a huge leap. So, my vote is that this “Intelligence Revolution” is really just the next step in the “Information Age” and not the beginning of a new age.
What do you think?