Technology is a state of mind

Posted: 08.21.14

Samsung, Apple, Nvidia, Google, Microsoft—they’re competitors. How in the world did that happen?

It happened because what you do is becoming more important than what you’re doing it on. We used to think Samsung built displays, and Apple built computers, Nvidia built graphics processors, Microsoft built an operating system, and no one knew what the hell Google built. So now we know they’ve been selling something different all along, they’ve been selling information and technology and they don’t care what horse it rides in on.

Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang spilled the beans at the Graphics Developers’ Conference when he told the audience that Nvidia is a software company—software might ride in on semi¬conductors, it might ride in on a mobile phone, but the company’s IP is software, and, given that software is simply logic, it’s not just poetic artifice to say companies are really in the business of selling ideas.

Samsung comes to the U.S. Can’t say this is really news. We’re living in a multinational world. Companies go to where the brains or the brawn or whatever it is they need happens to reside. What is important about Samsung’s expansion is that the company is increasing its R&D work here. Company representatives said they wanted to take advantage of work going on in Silicon Valley and the R&D taking place in U.S. universities and consortiums.

Whew, that’s good news. After almost a decade of hearing about how North America and particularly the U.S. is in decline, it’s good to know that North America is still a center for ideas. There’s a flip side too. A startling story from India reports that one in three of Apple’s engineers are Indian. The Indian press is proud to point out that one of every three engineers at Apple is Indian. According to the number of H-1B applications filed over the last 10 years, The Times of India reports that Apple’s dependence on Indian talent has risen. Is that a bad thing? There are plenty of people here who probably think so, but the flow of R&D, talent, and ideas gives India an edge over China.

The tech news coming out of China is of a different sort entirely. Qualcomm’s financial results worried investors because the company had to admit that their licensing fees were getting held up in China, and the Chinese government is claiming Qualcomm is a monopoly and is insisting Qualcomm use Chinese components in their products.

In the long run, that might not be such a problem … for Qualcomm. Qualcomm is selling technology, and it has a reputation for high quality. If a chip inside is manufactured in China, that’s not going to bother the average consumer. China, however, still has to worry that their consumers have more confidence in Western brands like Qualcomm, Nvidia, Microsoft, Apple, etc. Hence, we’ve been seeing the Monopoly card being played quite a bit lately. Microsoft has also been hit with a probe into their monopolistic practices. The funny thing there is that everyone may use Windows, but no one pays for Windows. So if the penalty levied by the Chinese government is a fine based on revenues in China, Microsoft doesn’t have much to worry about.

Selling ideas

We didn’t get a chance to talk about the latest thing in startup conferences: V2V, SXSW’s Las Vegas–based startup about startups. Sitting through the rounds of startup pitches, I was thinking about how these kinds of conferences have proliferated. We’ve been to a few in Israel and Europe, and there’s practically one a month here in Silicon Valley. The wellspring for startup ideas is inexhaustible; entrepreneurial spirit is inexhaustible, though it may be better nurtured in some places than in others.

Researcher-analyst Vivek Wadhwa wrote an interesting story for WRAL TechWire with the attention-getting headline: “America Heading into a Jobless Future.” Wadhwa quoted Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, who said the factories of the future will only have two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog, and the dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.

Maybe that is a scary future if your ambitions are to work in a factory, but I see things in a much different light. I see renewed investment in R&D, ideas flowing like water through startups, and startups popping up like mushrooms after a rain. These are the job generators. Semiconductors, and phones, and PCs, and tablets, and TVs, are boxes for ideas, but stamping those things in a factory is not what people need to be doing. Samsung knows this, and that’s why they’re building a new R&D center in Silicon Valley. Nvidia knows this, and that’s why they nurture worldwide research into GPU technology. And Apple knows this, and that’s why they let China build their products, but they have engineers working all around the world.

People need to create like sharks need to swim.