The Next Decade: The S Curve of Machine Learning

A little over 20 years ago, I read something from a technology analyst that completely changed the way my early twenties self thought about the world, that has stayed with me ever since.

I had already been using the Internet for about 8 years at that point, initially as an academic network and now in the early days of its commercial use.

I was one of the founders of a technology company and had just moved to San Francisco to set up the U.S. operation for. At the time I thought I was pretty much on the cutting edge because I had an ISDN line in my apartment, which was essentially like a much faster version of dial-up. (It could even bond two channels together for a 128kbps experience.)

The analyst was talking about Yahoo! and in particular its 12 month target stock price. The details of that are lost to time, just like the company itself essentially. (Hello Verizon.)

The comment that he made was that you need to think not of the world as it was then (small numbers of millions of people on the Internet, almost all using 28.8kbps dial-up) but rather the world as it will be. The comment that stuck with me was something to the effect of “Imagine everyone has an always-on high speed Internet connection and you can take that as a given. Now what kind of applications can you build on it?”

Timing is always the hard part but that concept has influenced not only my thinking but the three companies I have started.

I was reminded of it again when listening to Ben Evans talk about S curves and what the future might look like in another 10 years. He touches on mixed reality and crypto-currencies but he spends a good deal of time providing one of the clearest business explanations for machine learning that I have seen. Well worth a watch.

BTW, my favorite line is “every person in this image is a cell in a spreadsheet and the entire building is an Excel file” when talking about automation and referencing this scene from the 1960 Billy Wilder movie The Apartment:

Everything I need to know in life I learned from watching television.

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