Assistive Vs Transformative Technologies

Software is eating the world. Or rather, software has already eaten the world. There isn’t an industry that has not or will not be disrupted by tech. But all tech is not created equal. Some help in making things more efficient (assistive) while some absolutely disrupt entire ecosystems (transformative)

The internet began as a DARPA project. Initially it connected only a few universities. Today it’s pretty much a fundamental right. Since it’s inception it has transformed everything. The way we work, communicate, buy, sell, fight…everything.

Similarly, the PC. Initially they were big and bulky and other than some academic / niche applications, it was not of much use. Technology improved, size reduced, capacity increased and now, well it’s everywhere.

Compare these technologies to almost all the SaaS offerings we have today. The vast majority of these are assistive in that they make things probably 2x or 3x more efficient. But don’t create totally new ways of doing things.

And thats the thing with technology. They seldom start off as being transformative. Sometimes they are in the “assistive” state for a long time before achieving critical velocity and then becoming truly “transformative”. Some never leave the assistive bracket or require significantly more resources / time for them to mature (e.g. self driving tech). Transformative tech begets more assistive tech which begets newer transformative tech…The cycle continues.

Other transformative technologies that come to mind are the steam engine, space exploration and mobile devices.

Why does this matter ?

If you are a VC/Entrepreneur, you are probably looking for those technologies that have the potential to become these category defining transformative technologies (ChatGPT, AI, Self driving, Metaverse(?) etc). There is a lot of inherent risk / reward within them. You have to truly believe and persevere as it can be a long slog. (The vast majority of investments / companies though are in assistive technologies solving a need for someone).

For the common man, it’s useful to be aware of how these technologies can impact your livelihood / personal lives / public policy. Will ChapGPT, make programmers redundant ? (probably not), how about technical writers ? or IT support? Will self driving tech make drivers redundant ? (10% of US labor force works in the transportation sector) Will robots make human connections more elusive ? (loneliness is already a pandemic in our country)

Two decades from now we’ll all be living in a very different environment. It’ll be super interesting to see how our lives have changed and how we look back on our time now.