Futuristics: The coming “job riots”

I was blessed by attending Los Altos High School in the early to mid-70’s.  In my Senior year, during the Fall Term, I took a class on Economics.  The class was conducted at what others would likely considered to be at the university level.  In the Spring Term of ’75, I was doubly blessed to attend a new and quite unique class, for a high school, “Futuristics”.  The class taught us various methods used to forecast probabilities into the future.  We learned Trend Analysis, Delphi Method, etc.  We were also exposed to concepts such as “future shock”, which is what happens to people who live through times of rapid social, economic, and/or technological change.  We were also taken on field trips to Silicon Valley R&D labs and had guest lectures and demonstrations of new technologies.  Combining these two classes in succession was a great boon to me, to ready me for my future career as a Silicon Valley technologist and entrepreneur.

My father having already helped me to start-up my first “real” tech company was also a big help!

I sincerely believe that such classes should be available to all high school students, but sadly, this is rare.

One of the class assignments in that Futuristics class was to write out possible scenarios, using the methods that we had been taught.  I combined my recent gained knowledge of economics with the techniques from the futuristics class to project what was already obviously happening in increases in productivity due to automation, combining what I had learned of robotics and computers from our field trips and guest lecturers from such notable labs as Stanford Research International (SRI) and Xerox PARC (yes, I too was exposed to GUI and the “mouse” in the early ’70s).  Other economists had long predicted that we would see the work week drop to under 20 hours.  I predicted the opposite.  I wrote that workers who had high tech skills would be working longer hours while workers without high tech skills would see progressively worsening employment opportunities.  I foresaw, and still foresee, such severe unemployment that we would see “job riots”.  So far, my predictions from 39 years ago are still on track.  We WILL see “job riots”.

I’m not the only one who sees this issue coming.  Please take a moment to watch this video, “Humans Need Not Apply”.  It spells out things very well:

After the social upheaval of these “Job Riots” will come a new social contract in many of the developed countries.  Capitalism will survive just fine, but a new minimum level of acceptable income will become a social right, new mechanisms for ensuring that those who are capable of working will find employment.  What they are I can’t foresee.  I suspect that different cultures will find their own mechanisms.  Those of us in cultures that venerate the so called, “protestant work ethic” and “rugged individualism” will likely create quite different social contracts than other countries that enshrine more communitarian values.

For an interesting alternative take on the issue, you may wish to read this article:  “How 21st Century Cities Can Avoid 20th Century Detroit’s Fate”

For more on the debate: How will today’s technology change our concept of “work”?

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The Future in the Rear View Mirror

Candice eetimesThe house controller slowly increased the transparency of her floor to ceiling bedroom windows to let the grey dawn naturally wake her.  Cora woke up feeling refreshed, as usual, as she began to smell the coffee already brewing in the kitchenette of her apartment.  “Time to get up,” she acknowledged to herself.  After showering, she grabbed her favorite adaptive outfit.  She mulled over the ePattern she would have the garment display that day.  She decided to wear a bright floral pattern for the morning… she would change to a more biz like pattern after she got to the City.  The adaptive pigments in the garment obliged as she dressed.  The design controller in the garment noted the use of the floral pattern and sent a notification via the Internet of Things to the bank, authorizing the micro-payment to the artist who developed the pattern.  Her husband, as usual, was still asleep, as he was a night-owl chronotype, and had no physical meetings that day to attend.  Besides, most of his video calls would have to wait until his colleagues seven hour time zones behind would rise as well.

As she sipped her coffee, she reviewed that day’s schedule virtually projected onto a blank area on her kitchenette table.  She nervously adjusted the electronic glasses from Dynamic Eye, she was wearing, settling the earpieces into her ears so that she could hear the computer better.  She looked over the weather forecast for her commute flight and acknowledged the flight plan that the computer suggested.

As she walked outside, she noticed that several children were walking down the middle of the street headed for school.  She ruefully recalled that in her youth, she would never have been allowed to walk to school, much less wander down the middle of the street.  Of course, the meaning of “street” had changed in that time.  Back then, cars, actually driven by people, had exclusive use of the streets.  Besides, most of the streets were blocked off to cars these days.  Many had had the pavement removed and turned into pedestrian malls.  In the older suburban neighborhoods, the ones with single family houses, the courts and cul de sacs were usually converted to parks and playgrounds.  Her grandparents had converted their old garage into a bonus room and had the driveway torn up to expand the front garden.  Her own grandchildren were grown now and off to various careers.  Of course, she kept close tabs on them through their social media posts, that much hadn’t changed in her lifetime.

As she got to the corner, the car that she had authorized pulled up.  It was right on time, as per usual, having been computer scheduled.. and rescheduled… as she made her way through her morning routine.  She usually chose to ride-share, as that reduced the cost of hiring a car for her trip to the heliport.  She glanced over to the corner of her DynEye display where her computer agent reported that her co-riders all had excellent reputations as she hopped into the car.  She reflected on how different cars were now than in the past.  Given that car accidents never occurred with driver-less control, the cars were ultra-light, lacked bumpers, side-mirrors, or even headlights.  They did have ultra-thin appliques, emissive displays, part of the paint, that lit up at night, indicating the car company and advertisements for other products.  She preferred BuzzCar, of course, but would accept ZipCar as a second choice.

The ride took her past new construction, yet another old-style shopping mall and parking lot being torn out to make way for new style apartment buildings interspersed with plazas and gardens.  Most of the new buildings were semi-arcologies that looked like Mayan temples, pyramids with lush hanging gardens at each level, and an interior garden atrium.  There were restaurants and unique shops on the lower levels.  Most of the apartments had only tiny kitchenettes / wet bars to store snacks and drinks, as it was cheaper and more convenient to eat at restaurants in the building.  It was also more socially interesting to meet up with friends and neighbors for meals.  And if you really did crave privacy, one could always order a meal to be delivered in just minutes directly to the kitchenette by autonomous robo-waiters through the service corridors hidden away in the building, the modern equivalent of the dumb-waiter from the Victorian era.

The car pulled to a gentle stop at the heliport nearby one of the bigger new apartment buildings.  Larger drones were taking off and landing nearly constantly, their multiple rotors generating a pleasant low hum.  Looking up, she could see thousands more drones higher overhead, crisscrossing the sky.  Some of those drones carried people, but most were carrying just cargo.  She walked into the heliport lobby, where her credentials were wirelessly accessed and her face scanned .

It was an odd holdover from the days where nearly all aircraft were piloted by people, but to fly, one still needed a pilot’s certificate.  However, the FAA had, eventually, agreed that given that drones had paved the way for fully automated aircraft that didn’t really need a pilot, so had created a new category of pilot, the “Commuter”.  Training for the Commuter Certificate included understanding weather limitations and emergency operations.  A commuter pilot had to demonstrate the ability to hand-fly her aircraft to a safe landing.  Cora enjoyed hand-flying the tilt-rotor aircraft that she regularly flew.  But as she mostly flew within the Class B airspace above the City, she rarely got the chance.  All aircraft, manned or unmanned, was under the Air Traffic Computer’s (ATC) direct control.  The aircraft’s autopilot followed those control instructions to an accuracy measured in millimeters and milliseconds.  Only in the rural areas outside of the Class B airspace were pilots able to turn-off their autopilots.

Cora walked around the tilt-rotor aircraft that she would be flying today.  It was the latest model CyPhy Works ship, which Cora prefered since it had the most stable and smooth ride.  The aircraft had two sets of thin high wings, fore and aft.  At the wingtips were nacelles that held electric motors that powered the four long propeller rotors.  Slung under the wings was a sleek fuselage with a large clear polymer canopy that stretched from the forward wing to under the front of the fuselage, much like a old-style helicopter.  She compared its “N-number” to the one she had reserved that morning and began her Pre-Flight Inspection.  The on-board computer began its internal checks while Cora walked around the ship.   Her DynEye glasses’ build-in camera recorded each item and sent a copy to her insurance company as proof of the readiness of the aircraft.  The insurance’s companies Artificial Intelligence (AI) based agent’s image recognition software agreed that all was in order and gave its concurrence that the aircraft appeared to be airworthy.

The aircraft ready, Cora boarded and begain the on-board pre-flight confirmation that her flight plan has been fully uploaded to ATC and that the ship’s autopilot is ready to execute it.  The hydrogen in the tanks for the fuel cells being sufficient for the intended flight plus the FAA regulatorily required reserve, ATC gave its concurrence.  All indications being nominal, she authorized the autopilot to taxi from the multi-story hanger (like an old-style car garage) up to the roof-top helipad.  The two main wheels built in electric motors propelled the ship while the front wheel castered as the autopilot steered the ship up the ramps.  At the top, the ship waited momentarily as an incoming aircraft hovered momentarily above the pad, touched down, shut down its rotors and taxied past Cora’s ship on its way down the ramp to the hanger below.  Air Traffic Computer queried Cora one last time to see if she and her ship were ready.  She taped the screen in concurrence and the ship taxis forward, the rotors spun up to take off speed and the main wheels ran up to full power to speed the ship to a running take-off.  Once in the air, the craft accelerated rapidly and the rotors, previously upright, began their gentle tiling down to their propeller configuration.  By the time the ship was above a thousand feet, it had fully converted from a quad-copter to being a four motor airplane.

As she was only going across town, the flight was conducted at only 1,500 meters, which at 300kph only take her ten minutes.  As she came up through the overcast, the sun’s glare was automatically blocked by her DynEye glasses.  Cora relaxed and took in the view.  Once upon a time, a major city like this would have been grey bleakness.  But today, her eyes beheld a city that was mostly green with parks, green belts, rooftop gardens, and tree studded plazas, all to combat the heat-island effect that cities used to be.  Looking forward toward the City center, the tall towers beckoned to her, or at least to the autopilot.  As her appointment was in one of those towers, her flight would end on the roof-top helipad.  The aircraft began slowing as the tilt-rotors leaned back to their quad-copter orientation as it came in for a soft touch-down on the roof.

A very quick ride down the elevator, as the aircraft flew to a nearby heliport, deadheading to pick up its next passenger, Cora’s mind turned to her appointment.  As the elevators doors opened, she spied a young man behind the reception desk.  He wore a very fashionable, designer mask.  Cora suspected that it was probably fab’ed by his 3D printer that very morning, to keep up with the very latest of fashion.  Originally, wearing masks had been the exclusive province of the rich and famous, the celebrities desperate to avoid the prying spy drones of the paparazzi.  But that had spawned a fashion for wearing masks, that quickly become yet another fashion statement, often worn more to show off wealth, than to hide it.

The receptionist, though he didn’t know her personally, greeted her by name and jumped up to open the door to escort her personally to her meeting.  Of course, her face, being unmasked, was scanned and recognized by his reception desk terminal.  As she entered the secure area for the group conference meeting her DynEye system acknowledged the office computer’s command to stop all broadcast and to encrypt its ongoing recording with the approved security protocols.

And given this… the rest of this day’s diary entry is only available to authorized viewers only.

Update 11/8/2017:  Remember, I wrote the above three years ago… and now this is what Uber is dreaming of doing:  https://www.theverge.com/2017/11/8/16613228/uber-flying-car-la-nasa-space-act

Profiled by the Display Daily Newsletter

I, and my work on PenTile technology, was profiled by the Display Daily Newsletter available online here:  http://www.display-central.com/free-news/display-daily/vision-future-displays/

Start-ups: The Right way, the wrong, and my way…

The Right Way…

Maybe refined silicon was in the water? Or maybe it was traces of photo-resist? But it seemed that growing up in Silicon Valley, I just naturally wanted to be a high tech entrepreneur since I was able to ride my bike with the training wheels off. I wasn’t alone either. I used to hang around the local pool with a girl named Patti… Patti Jobs, had this cute older brother named Steve… (yes that Steve).

Sure, lemonade stands, everyone did that as a kid right? Well, I didn’t wait for customers to come to me. For months, I asked neighbors to save the green plastic baskets that strawberries were sold in. I then took ripe lemons, limes, and a few leaves, placed them in the baskets, wrapped them attractively in clear plastic wrap, and sold them door to door.

I formed my first “real” company when I was fifteen years old. OK, so my Dad helped me do it. But everyone needs investors and mentors ! My company, After School Science Enterprises, sold microscopic polymer spheres (2 to 10 micron diameter). I obtained the raw materials from my father’s company, processed it in our garage, packaging it in recycled bottles. My father taught me how to write quotes, keep inventory, write invoices, keep accounts, etc. I did everything myself, of course, having no employees.

This was the right way to learn about entrepreneurial start-ups and business (Thanks Dad!).

The Wrong Way…

Maybe you have seen this? I know I certainly have.

Two guys are eating lunch in the LargeCorp, Inc. cafeteria, bitching about how stupid their boss, the product, and the marketing team of LargeCorp, Inc. are. They both agree that they could do it better. Plus, they both want to be their “own boss”. So they agree that they should develop a better product in their spare time. They both have the same skills and it turns out had had nearly the same idea for some time now.

They build the new and best in class widget. Everyone who see it agrees. So, they get their wives to agree to a second mortgage and set about getting an office and found SmallCorp, Inc. They realize that they don’t have any skills at sales… so they hire the guy in LargeCorp’s sales department that had also been grousing about how he was never appreciated there.

But things don’t go well. They can’t seem to make more than token sales. The team hires the marketing guy that the sales guy insists was a “great guy” he used to hang with at JustAnotherCorp, Inc. The new marketing guy says that they need to advertise in all of the trade magazines, that will accelerate their sales. But that too only increases by a small amount.

After burning through their seed funding, the two founders agree that they need to bring in more capital… so off to Sand Hill Road (or the local equivalent)… and wonder why they can’t raise that Series A.

Lessons to be learned? Good investors look at four risks that I call the four M’s: Management, Market, Money, and Magic.

Venture capitalists invest first in people. Experience counts, quality counts. A start-up needs stars, not just adequate players. The people need to be the type that one would be glad to have next to them in a fox hole when things go south.

The market needs to not only be sufficient to support a start-up, but set to grow rapidly, to allow a new entrant to carve out a large share, to enable an exit with a valuation multiple in a short enough time that the VC fund will see a large Internal Rate of Return on deployed capital. That means the market can’t be one that an established large company already has cornered.

The venture capitalist needs to also be assured that there can be follow on rounds sufficient to allow the start-up to grow fast enough to secure a large share of the growing market. If the VC is concerned that the team won’t be able to secure follow on rounds, then she will pass on the opportunity.

Finally, there has to be Magic. This can be in an “unfair advantage”, some increase in the barriers to entry that the start-up creates by entering the market. It could be an amazing IP portfolio (patents, trademarks, an amazing brand, etc.). Or it could be a really audaciously new and “crazy” idea that no one is likely to follow fast enough to muscle out the start-up.

The wrong way of starting up is a company that ignores these four M’s.

My Way…

It started one day in the mid-‘80s when I looked over the shoulder of a colleague as he worked on an early laptop computer. Typical of mid-80s Liquid Crystal Displays (LCD) it was so low contrast that I asked sarcastically, “Is it on?”

This got me to thinking. It is a maxim of start-ups that one should have several key ingredients. First, it should be serving a very fast growing market. Second, that it should provide a product, technology, or service that is a significant improvement over existing (and anticipated) offerings in that market. Third, there should be an “unfair advantage”, something that increases the barriers to entry AFTER your start-up gets into the market.

I knew next to nothing about flat panel displays. But I’m an autodidact. I began reading everything I could find on the subject… and began filling a notebook on ideas of my own.

As I developed ideas of how to manufacture I spent every other Saturday at the Sunnyvale City Library Patent Collection, conducting prior art searches. This was all done manually in those days, wandering through tall stacks of A4 sized paper bundles, so I was also exposed to a lot of other ideas in the field. It was an excellent education, catching up to the state of the art, often stopping to read an interesting patent that just happen to fall open at random.

On top of all of this autodidactic education, I worked for a few start-ups, two of them in the display space. I learned a lot by observation.

In the fall of ’98, Microsoft announced ClearType, a primitive form of subpixel rendering. It just so happened that I had pages in my notebook on how to use subpixel rendering to increase the information and energy efficiency of color displays. So, I put a greater effort on finishing a preliminary patent application and contacted the editor of Information Display, the official magazine for the Society for Information Display, to publish an article on biomimetic layouts and subpixel rendering. I created a fictitious business name of “PenTile Matrix Licensing” that was listed in the article as my contact information. The article came out in the December 1999 issue, which actually reaches people a month later, so it came out in January 2000.

After reading the article a number of people contacted me. Several angel investors contacted me, looking to invest in a new start-up based on my technology. I began negotiations with several US and Asian display companies to license the technology. LG Philips was the most serious, inviting me to visit their R&D center in Korea, at their expense.

During my visit to LG, I was asked many questions about the technology, but I also heard one question repeated several times, “How many people in your company?” They assumed that I was a involved in a real start-up. As I sat in the lobby of the very elegant Intercontinental Grand I thought very seriously about what I had learned during my visit. One thing was very clear, I would need help supporting the technology. The LCD companies would not be able to simply license the concepts and run with them. I would need to supply the working algorithms in the form of an integrated circuit chipcore. For this, I would need software and electrical engineers. I would need to found a classic Silicon Valley start-up company. I made up my mind. I would start a company.

Starting a company takes time. There are so many details. It took several months, but I left the start-up I was working at, with their blessings and good wishes, to work full time on starting up Clairvoyante in June of 2000. As I would tell venture capitalists later, the chicken may have been involved with providing breakfast, but the pig was committed. I was committed!

I set up my “office” in the kitchen at home. I’ve heard other woman say that they too used the kitchen table as their first desk. I like to quip, men start-up companies in their garage, women in their kitchen.

A friend suggested that I talk to a man that she had worked with before, Chris Thollaug. That was the best stroke of good luck as it would turn out that he would be with Clairvoyante until the end, as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). But in the beginning he was a consultant to our team.

I began negotiations with a consortium of angel investors led by a man who had recently been the VP of Marketing of a large chip company. But, as the negotiations dragged on, I became increasingly convinced that they were stalling as my personal savings ran out. Further, I became concerned that the lead angel was not very professional, nor personable. I witnessed him verbally abusing the cleaning service staff at his home. When the deal term sheet was finally presented to us, it was egregiously rapacious. Chris strongly advised that I turn it down. This was wrenching, as I was nearly out of savings and this was the only offer we had. But, I turned it down. Late that evening, the lead angel called me at home, obviously drunk, to verbally abuse me for rejecting the deal. I knew then that I had made the right decision.

Chris stepped up, investing $100K as my first angel investor. I was able to bring in another $200K from two other angels. With these funds, I was able to travel to Asia on a grand tour to talk to prospective partners. Later, during one of those long talks about what the vision for the company would be, Chris and I agreed to convert his investment into founders stock. The VCs I was talking told me that I was “too generous”… but in truth, it was my single best decision I ever made. Chris and I were total opposites in many ways, having completely different, but totally complementary skills sets. Together, we made a great founding team.

In the end, we signed a JDA with Samsung and closed our on Series A the very same week. During the eight years Chris and I managed Clairvoyante, we built up a team of stars, signed up twenty odd client/partners representing 80% of the display market, and filed over 500 patent applications world wide. Together with Joel Pollack, the man we recruited out of Sharp to be the CEO, we sold Clairvoyante to Samsung in 2008.

Interestingly, during the M&A negotiations, Samsung and I negotiated what has to be one of the most innovative post-acquisition business structures. I founded a new company, Nouvoyance, hired my core R&D and engineering staff, and Joel joined me as my Exec. VP. Together we performed all of the post-acquisition earn-out tasks and then some. In 2010, Samsung did it all over again, acquiring a start-up in Israel, Genoa Color, but asking me to manage their team through an Israelis subsidiary I formed, Nouvoyance Israel, Ltd.

Samsung took our technology and featured it in their top brands of smartphones, tablets, and notebooks. Just Google the brand of our technology “PenTile” to see what I mean. I could not have asked for a better validation.

Now, summer of 2014… all of our post-acquistion earn-out goals, for both companies, are finished, the staff all laid off, bonus checks in hand… and I’m free to find my next next.

Maybe yours?