The New Industrial Age is upon us according to Chris Anderson, visionary, writer and entrepreneur. A byproduct of war it is that the single minded focus on victory and creating the technologies to get there produces a peace dividend. The space program of the 1950’s and 1960’s was in no small measure a direct result of technologies developed during the Second World War. Similarly the Internet and computers were derived from military technologies.
Drones are next according to visionary, according to Chris Anderson. Anderson is, in fact, so sure of it that he has founded 3D Robotics, a company producing drones for civil applications. Anderson calls much of the development that we’re seeing now “the peace dividend of the phone wars.” What he means by that is the enormous competition created between Apple, Google and others for dominance of the smartphone market has resulted in enormous gains:
[T]he sensors, the GPS, the camera, the ARM core processors, the wireless, the memory, the battery — all that stuff, which is being driven by the incredible economies of scale and innovation machines at Apple, Google, and others, is available for a few dollars. They were essentially “unobtainium” 10 years ago. This is stuff that used to be military industrial technology; you can buy it at RadioShack now. I’ve never seen technology move faster than it’s moving right now, and that’s because of the supercomputer in your pocket.
The one caveat that I would add is that the patent suits now flying between some of the major hardware developers and manufacturers threatens to put a break on the breakneck development and innovation. It is siphoning off creativity and funds into less productive pursuits, like law suits and the accumulation and warehousing of patent portfolios. It’s quite right and productive to use patents for protection. It’s quite another to use them as weapons in a virtual arms race.
At present, however, creativity is thriving. The venture capital firm True Ventures has taken Chris Anderson’s contention to the next level. They recently published a blog post contending that we were living in a new Industrial Age. The availability of hardware together with the advent of funding platforms like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter means that just about any tinkerer can prototype an invention:
Building factories is no longer a prerequisite for building products. Add to the mix emergent technologies such as 3D printing and inexpensive laser cutters that put prototyping capabilities onto a kitchen table, and we suddenly are facing an extraordinary revolution in hardware-based innovation.
It is, according to True, a “tectonic” shift. They also contend that “Hardware is the black diamond of startups.” What they mean is that starting an hardware company is like skiing a expert trail. It’s super challenging. It can also be super expensive. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
The lesson for content producers in this is that we now have an opportunity to create the “stuff” that will populate these new platforms. New gizmos are great. I love them. But without a compelling reason to use them, in many cases compelling content, there’s no reason to use them. The challenge for all of us who are more on the content side is to know about the next best thing in hardware and to craft our content so that it can be readily accessible on them.