SAN JOSE, Calif. —Ambient computing, robotic cars and tough times for traditional banks were some of the controversial predictions made here at the Churchill Club’s 17th annual Top Ten Tech Trends event.
Five leading venture capitalists were on hand to prognosticate while following a few simple ground rules—each prediction has to be a breakthrough trend that isn’t obvious and will hit the mainstream in the next five years.
Rebecca Lynn, General Partner of Canvas Venture Fund, predicts startups are going to “disintermediate” traditional banks with a raft of personalized services for lending, insurance and real estate transactions that banks won’t be able to match. She sees banks becoming a platform for financial services startups that will need their infrastructure backend. But she doesn’t see Bitcoin being a big player in this new age of banking services.
“I don’t have high hopes for bitcoin over the next five years,” as an alternative currency, said Lynn. Fellow panelist Steve Jurvetson, a partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), cited a Goldman Sachs study that predicts a massive shift by millennials to peer-based lending.
“They see a new generation that doesn’t want to deal with old banks,” he said. As for Bitcoin, Jurvetson says he isn’t excited about it as a currency, but thinks it could be very useful facilitating a new era of automated, machine to machine contracts.
Shervin Pishevar, Managing Director of Sherpa Ventures, sees “ambient computing” services that will anticipate our needs. In the next five years he sees artificial intelligence advances leading to services that anticipate what you need based on patterns of past behavior. Instead of going to a search box, these “invisible computer” services will be proactive so that, for example, when you’re flight is delayed the Uber service reschedules your pickup automatically.
Jenny Lee, Managing Partner at GGV Capital, made two somewhat connected predictions. The Virtual Me is the idea that advances in sensors and wearable technology will lead to an unprecedented accumulation of data about one’s health, travel and spending that is aggregated into personal digital profiles that “know more about you than you do.”
Lee predicted that this could lead to things like a kind of proactive Siri digital assistant that reminds you to exercise more, or to stick to a diet. Other panelists weren’t as upbeat.
“If a machine is going to learn how lazy we really are and tell us we eat too much, that might not be something people want to hear,” said Pishevar.
The Economy of Me is a prediction that by 2020 there will be twice as many mobile Internet-connected devices (44billion) as there are today and consumers will be able to shop for goods and services on a worldwide basis far more easily than they can now.
‘Ambient’ Computing, Disruptive Banking Startups Top VC Predictions
The End of Auto Nation, Self-Driving Cars and Hyperloop
Bill Gurley, General Partner at Benchmark Capital, thinks that in the next five years ride sharing and other transportation services like Uber (in which he was an early investor) will put a dent in the long-held trend in America he called Auto Nation that most every adult owns a car.
“The 230 million cars in the U.S. are idle 96% of the time, that’s a huge waste” he said.
Jurvetson, a believer in self-driving cars championed by Google and others, thinks the “rise of the Robocars” is inevitable. “I’ve been in several self-driving cars and I think they are already safer than driving with my parents. Every automaker is working on this,” he said.
Last year Tesla founder Elon Musk posted a blueprint for Hyperloop, a high- tech vacuum tube network for personal, high speed transportation. Pishevar sees it becoming a “fifth mode of transportation” in the next five years.
Hyperloop Technologies, a company he co-founded, is working on a two-mile track designed to transport people at 700 miles an hour. “If we can move cargo and people at those speeds, you could get from L.A. to San Francisco in half an hour,” he said.
Jurvetson lauded the idea, but thinks that even if a working hyperloop system is built, it won’t clear regulatory hurdles in the next five years.
The panel reacted positively to Lynn’s prediction that in the next five years 50 percent of computer science graduates will be women (less than 10 percent are today). She cited Girls Who Code and other programs designed to encourage girls to try coding.
Native Mobile Apps Dominate
Gurley predicts native mobile apps will dominate the mobile Web alternative. He said studies show consumers vastly prefer native apps to using a mobile browser, which he said can be “a huge pain because you have to log in and search for what you want.”
Lee was a bit skeptical. She says she already has 50 apps on her smartphone and it’s hard to find the one she wants at any given time.
Jurvetson expects that billions of people will be connecting to the Internet for the first time in the next five years thanks to the advent of low-flying satellites and new airborne transponders.
“The entire earth will be bathed in broadband and that will be profoundly important for people not online already,” he said. “They can have access to online education, be entrepreneurs and bring the American dream to everyone on the planet.”
Gurley said he admires anyone willing to make the effort but said it will require a “herculean effort” and doubts anything like it deployed in the next five years.
Jurvetson said the Skynet concept isn’t anything he’s invested in, “but I believe in it.”