BY BRENDAN TULLY WALSH
On the Road to MWCA18 – Part I
Arriving on the Gold Coast some days in advance of MWCA18, we were honoured to join a delegation of Finnish companies invited by Business Finland for a tour of Silicon Valley. Before jumping into our MWCA18 redux (part 2), I thought I’d share some reflections from this unforgettable junket that brought us into the bellies of some of the biggest names in tech including Samsung, Nokia, BT Americas, Facebook and others.
Less well-known, but no less venerable, the Institute for the Future are a think tank with a difference. They’ve been in the valley longer than just about anyone and while consulting Facebook and Twitter on what’s next, they act as a sort of Casandra for the tech world on what we should be very, very concerned about in terms of trust, privacy, security and the general digital invasion into our lives.
We got a full tour of their super cool offices, and copies of their latest work including their very timely paper on state-sponsored trolling.
We also met with SRI an innovation powerhouse that tends to fly under the radar due to some of their more cloaked clients including the US Department of Defense. Visiting them at their beautiful (if Darma Initiative flavoured) facilities in Palo Alto, I got the distinct impression that they were the inspiration for the fictional OSI, the company that built the 6 Million Dollar man.
Literally, the inventors of the Internet (I guess it wasn’t Al Gore after all) with the ARPANET (its predecessor), Hyperlinks and Domains, they were first to build a computer mouse (the little wooden box with wheels pictured below) and even SIRI, drawn no doubt from their call letters.
A not-for-profit, SRI is all about innovation and licensing those advancements out to industry and government. Interestingly, though our hosts insisted that that they “do not make products”, their long-standing, now deceased and sorely missed CEO, Curtis R. Carlson seems to have written the book on it with Innovation – The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want.
One standout demo among the three we were given was their latest AI engine named “Bright”, and pictured below in the bottom right.
Most eye-opening of of all was the visit to Facebook, that for me ended up two meetings on the last day. This was particularly close to home, not just as a user (at times sceptical), but because of our deep involvement in the Telecom Infra Project‘s End-to-End Network Slicing group.
We got a rare inside glimpse into the culture and operational philosophy of a company that has no precedent in history. The sheer size and scale of it alone is difficult to absorb, but its lofty mission is no less gargantuan.
We were hosted by a senior group leader in connectivity, also from Finland as it happens, and himself running what would be a large company outside of Facebook, he gave us an outstanding perpsective on the company, and the core forces driving it.
Touring their new “Building 21” digs, designed by Frank Gehry, we were given a rosy view of the $460B company including reflections on the challenge of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Among the many great stories he shared included a certain, now perhaps famous investor call in which Mark Zuckerberg was being challenged by Wall Street types about the company’s new philosophy as presented. The line in the powerpoint read “We don’t Build services to make money, we make money to build better services.” Evidently, Zuckerberg responded by offering to buy back their shares if they didn’t like the direction of the company.
This wasn’t just a soundbite. The very night before, our host and several of his teams had been up all all night launching a version of WhatsApp for feature phones in developing countries, phones that stand very little chance of returning any revenue any time quickly.
It was with these inspirations in mind that the Silicon Valley leg of our trip came to a close. As we made our way down to Los Angeles with some of our group taking planes, but us on our windy way down beautiful Highway 1, I wondered how the telecom industry would look after all this unbridled innovation.
Still on my mind was on our host’s comment during the presentations that essentially no new innovations had come to the telecom industry since the arrival of the iPhone. Startling, but true.
The question on my mind? Would LA prove that the trajectory is finally ready to change? Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.
For a quick refresher on last year’s Maiden Voyage MWCA in San Francisco, here’s Cloudstreet CTO and Founder Mika Skarp’s review from last year.