A Reflection on Emerging Technologies

When an emerging technology graduates to an emerged technology, it develops an aura of inevitability. People quickly forget how they managed before the latest innovation; today’s younger generations can hardly imagine life without mobile phones and the internet. They’ve never unfolded a paper map or stepped into a phone booth; they don’t have landlines in their apartment and they’ve never subscribed to cable. Yesterday’s unprecedented wonder is today’s mundane fact of life. 

Though technological development has accelerated, this phenomenon is not new. It is centuries, if not millennia, old, as a few examples will demonstrate. Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine sometime around 1712; no one is quite sure of an exact date. Though Newcomen’s invention, and James Watt’s later improvements of it, led to the epochal change of the Industrial Revolution, Newcomen wasn’t heralded as a great innovator. He lived long enough to see his engines employed, but he never received royal honors or popular acclaim, and historians know relatively little about his life. Newcomen, who didn’t have a marketing focus group or a public relations team, named his company Proprietors of the Invention for Raising Water by Fire. Perhaps that was part of the issue.

Some of the most important developments in computer history took place during World War II, at the Bletchley Park manor house in England. Alan Turing and other accomplished codebreakers, including many women, pioneered tools of encryption and code-breaking, and built precursors to today’s computers. Although it was the site of some of the world’s most successful scientific research and although its innovations transformed the world in subsequent decades, only a few hundred people knew about Bletchley Park. After all, the estate’s work was conducted in secrecy, with military guards and cover stories; the manor’s workers slept under blackout curtains. For decades after the war, the staff of codebreakers maintained its silence; it wasn’t until the 1970s that its importance became public knowledge. 

In recent decades, Steve Jobs’s garage and Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room — both, like Bletchley Park, since immortalized on film — have become emblems of humble beginnings. Apple and Facebook, for better or for worse, dominate today’s corporate landscape. If the past decades of change have taught us anything, it’s that new companies will arise, new paradigms will form, and the world will once again change. New things sometimes arise from the largest businesses, but technology often emerges from neglected corners and unexpected venues. 

Today, blockchain is an emerging technology: It’s received attention and investment, but has not yet crossed to mainstream usage. Somewhere out there, there’s a Bletchley Park of blockchain, a Thomas Newcomen or James Watt of distributed ledgers. At Wachsman, we are keeping our eyes open to find tomorrow’s world-changers. We’re collaborating with the best in the business and look forward to working with more companies and projects, including some yet unfounded and unimagined. The future is on the way.

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