The hedgehog and the fox

“A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing”

- via Isaiah Berlin

In the last 20 years or so, there were a few important things that drove everything else in tech. The internet would reach everyone, and so would mobile phones and then smartphones. Cloud would become everything. Social would be a new pillar next to Search. Smartphones would be the new universal computing platform. Software would eat the world. At one layer down, perhaps, Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon would win this cycle. 

If you were a hedgehog, and knew one or two of those important things, then you'd have done pretty well at understanding everything that was going to happen in tech over those years. You'd also have spent a lot of time arguing and being laughed at on the way. Today, though, those things are no longer really predictions so much as the grounding truths we live with. They have a lot further to run - smartphones will go from close to 3bn to over 5bn users, for example - but there's nothing very contrarian to them. And it's not clear what the next 'one important thing' is. What is the new, contrarian and unexpected important thing that a hedgehog would believe about technology now? 

On the other hand, there are many things for a fox to know today. The new global platforms, with billions of people owning internet-connected pocket supercomputers, will be the basis for the transformation of lots and lots of different things. We stand on the shoulders of giants, so to speak, and can do a lot with that. Just as Uber and Lyft remake car use and AirBnB remakes hotels, hundreds of new companies are using these technology platforms to remake other industries. Out at one end, that even applies to VR. So we have an 'Cambrian explosion' of permissionless innovation, creating all kinds of ideas, from drones delivering medicine to Pokemon hunts, all on the same shoulders. To think about tech now is to think about many things. 

It isn't clear how AI sits in this - whether the current AI spring (or, more narrowly and specifically, the cluster of techniques around deep learning) represents the emergence of a fundamentally new platform, and a generational change on a par with smartphones or the web, or an enabling technology that will run like a thread through everything - whether it is more useful to think about it as one big thing or the enabler for many smaller ones.