A Contrarian Futurist
The Churchill Club recently asked a handful of VCs to share a couple of non-obvious technologies that we expect to disrupt markets over the next five years. Here are my two predictions.
EyePhones Will Replace iPhones
Remember MS-DOS commands, and the WordStar keystroke combinations we had to memorize? Then the first Macintosh featured a mouse-driven GUI that was game-changing because it removed a layer of friction for both the data going in and coming out. When we tried that first model, we knew we could never go back to a C prompt.
And yet the impact of graphical computing was minor compared to how facial computing will change our lives, and how we all relate to The Collective. Think of it as a man-in-the-middle attack on our senses, intercepting all the signals we see and hear, and enhancing them before they reach our brains.
This is not science fiction, and based on prototypes I’ve seen, it’s a good bet that design teams in Google, Apple, Samsung and various military contractors are building eyewear computers that will render smartphones as obsolete as the first generation of mobile computer. I’m not talking about Google Glass, with its cute little screen in the corner. I mean an immersive experience that processes what we see, and then overlays graphical objects onto our field of view for true Terminator vision. The U.S. military has this capability today, so that troops can see pointers to their platoon members and markers of known IED locations. So now it’s just a question of making the hardware small, cheap and available in four adorable colors.
Not only will our favorite apps on eyewear computers be more immediate and engaging, but we’ll experience new computing capabilities so compelling that we’ll find them indispensible. For example, eyewear computers can record our lives and enable us to summon any relevant conversation or incident from our past. With eyewear computers, we can truly share experiences in real time, transporting ourselves to the perspective of someone on a ski slope, or in a night club, Wimbledon match or the International Space Station.
Just as Terminator did in the movie, we will air-click on actual things we see to interact with, investigate or purchase. We’ll integrate facial recognition and CRM for background data on everyone we meet. When we travel abroad, signs will appear to us in English, and when someone is speaking to us, we can simply turn on English subtitles.
A new generation of games will be more immersive and engaging than ever before.
Five years from today, when smartphone sales are in decline, we will ask ourselves: Remember when we used to spend our days looking down at those little screens?
Cyber Warfare Becomes Okay
Ever since Hollywood gave us “War Games,” the fear of cyber apocalypse has gripped America. We’ve outlawed hacking to such an extent that if you’re shut down by a cyber attack, or your data has been stolen, it’s a federal crime to even probe the attacking computers, let alone disable them. Rather than educate and activate our best and brightest hackers, we prosecute and imprison them.
Businesses haven’t complained, because they’ve never wanted to fight back. You can’t prosecute the attackers even if you find them, and admitting a breach may spook customers and even invite more attacks. So, instead of fighting, we’ve just quietly taken the punches, and wished it all away. But wishing it away is like trying to reduce teen pregnancy by preaching abstinence.
Two years ago I watched a TED audience cheer Ralph Langner for exposing the Stuxnet worm which our government developed to retard Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It was as though the U.S. and Israel invented malware. Somehow, it was evil for us to use cyberspace to stop the most vitriolic, warmongering fundamentalist on our planet from making nuclear bombs. Because cyber is “unconventional,” we somehow consider it to be just as taboo to use as nuclear and chemical weapons.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reported this morning that “Hackers Find China is a Land of Opportunity.” Not only has China allegedly hacked Google and Evernote to spy on its citizens, but it has funded massive efforts to steal information valuable to economies and national security. Attacks on our banks, utilities and defense contractors can be traced back to units in the Chinese military. We even know what building they’re in.
As cyber war rages on around us, I predict that Americans will come to appreciate that cyber operations can achieve our military and intelligence objectives far better than bullets and bombs. Cyber weapons are faster, more effective, safer, and orders of magnitude cheaper than kinetic weapons. Stuxnet penetrated where missiles cannot.
Indeed, the stigma associated with offensive cyber activity is breaking down, now that cyber attacks have exploded in frequency and scale. The banks are now asking the Feds to join the fight, so DHS, FBI and NSA are trying to figure out how to collaborate, without going to jail themselves for hacking or disclosing classified data.
This sea change presents great opportunities for startups to build a new ecosystem of cyber capabilities that defend our nation and support our military and intelligence objectives. We’ve got the best security experts in the world. New startups are enabling the exchange of threat data, using honeypots to collect counter intelligence on foreign hackers, and deploying Hadoop clusters to track botnets. They even develop exploits around newly discovered vulnerabilities to deliver offensive payloads.
Over the next five years, our nation will embrace the capabilities of American hackers to fight back in cyberspace, securing our economy and our lives. Our Defense Department will need fewer bombers, missiles and destroyers, leading to a Cyber Dividend that will fund health care, education and debt reduction.
David Cowan is a partner in Bessemer’s Menlo Park, Calif., office. He invests mostly in network technology, infrastructure SaaS, consumer Internet and cyber security.