Are you ready to harness the next big tech opportunity? The world of Deep Tech has launched seven simultaneous global revolutions. AI, augmented and virtual reality, Blockchain, cryptocurrencies, the Internet of things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, and quantum computing. It’s a perfect storm that will drive the global economy for the next decade, to the tune of over 100 trillion dollars.
Eric Redmond’s new book, Deep Tech, outlines the promise and potential perils hidden within each of these emerging technology revolutions–all poised to explode into the mainstream market, whether you’re a Fortune 500 executive or just a hungry entrepreneur, Deep Tech will teach you how to become fluent in deep tech both its language and its possibilities, preparing you to take part in the decade’s greatest opportunities.
Drew Appelbaum: Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Applebaum and I’m excited to be here today with Eric Redmond, author of Deep Tech: Demystifying the Breakthrough Technologies That Will Revolutionize Everything. Eric, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.
Eric Redmond: Yeah, I appreciate it, thanks for having me.
Drew Appelbaum: Let’s kick this off. Can you give us a rundown of your professional background?
Eric Redmond: This is only an hour so I’ll give a truncated version. I’m kind of a jack of all trades when it comes to technology. I first started toying around with computers in the 80s, when I was in 5th grade, I was lucky enough to get to go to a school that actually had some computers, learned how to program, printed ‘hello world’ on an infinite loop, and was sort of hooked ever since then.
In the 90s, the web came out. I had access to that as well. A friend of mine showed me how to break into the computer lab at our local community college. Even though I didn’t attend, we would go there, and it was sort of my first access to the Internet–this is around ‘94. I had very early exposure to the web, all through high school, I made a bit of a minor career for myself building websites for people who wanted them.
From there, I went to college to Purdue University for a computer science degree because I just thought, all right, before my parents talked me out of making comic books because they said, “There’s no money in that.” Who would have suspected the Marvel franchise happening two decades later, but they talked me out of making comic books and said, “Get a nice stable job,” and computers seemed like they would do all right.
They were actually not too thrilled about that either, they said, “Yeah, you know what? Go ahead, it’s better than drawing pictures and funny pages.” So, that’s what I ended up doing and just hopped around. I was early in the open-source movement. My first job, they actually hired me because I had those two very bizarre combinations of skills at the time, sort of the late 90s, early 2000s, and I’ve just been always interested in emerging tech, so I’m always hopping around.
I’m an early Bitcoin miner. I had some of the first apps on there at the Apple app store, they didn’t even have a book on how to do it, so I had to reverse engineer the whole thing. My very first app had two million downloads because there was nothing else to download at the time and my second app had a million after that.
Let’s see, Google Glass, I’m one of the few people that will probably admit to being a glasshole, which is what they would call the guys that walked around with Google Glass on their face. I wore that for a whole year and wrote two books about it actually.
Actually, this upcoming book is my eighth, but they’ve all been on tech and virtual reality. I could go on and on, it’s just an hour, so I’ll end with this book, which is really about collecting that 30 years of emerging technology knowledge and education. Those have been two driving forces of my life.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, why was now the time to share the stories in the book? You’ve been around emerging technology for a while now. Did you have an “aha moment,” was there something really inspiring out there, or something as simple as you had a lot of time on your hands because of the COVID situation?
Eric Redmond: Yeah, I had no time on my hands because of the COVID situation. In fact, I wanted this out last year. No, that was definitely not a benefit. The “aha moment,” for me was, I realized as I’ve aged, and when you age and you’ve been doing something a long time, you tend to move up in your career. So, I haven’t been a practicing engineer, although, I still like to code and get my hands dirty–I haven’t been a practicing engineer for a few years now.
I always say, I failed into management and so I spend more and more of my time educating business partners to understand the value of having technical knowledge. I mean yes, you’ve got to have that technical partner, but it’s one of those things where you can only offload or outsource your brain so much because the reality is, once you understand this tech at a high level, you don’t have to be super deep or even a practitioner.
When you understand what’s coming, what’s happening, then it really opens you up to creativity. That’s really where I think things get interesting, that leans towards the definition of what deep tech is, but I didn’t have a name for it.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to get to go to MIT to what they were calling the deep tech boot camp led by, I like to call now a friend, Josh Siegel. I never had a name for it, it was just always emerging technologies and for him, he was educating me on this concept.
He said, “No, deep tech is an interesting thing because it’s not about the technology per se, it’s what the technology can unlock.” It’s that commentarial creativity that happens just before something is ready for prime time, but in a couple of years, it will be something we can’t live without.
I sort of latched on to that concept really and wanted to write a book that combined those two concepts of–here are the technologies that are out there. I want you to understand them and know them, and then take them back to your job or your life or your tribe and change the world with them.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, a lot of authors have the idea of the book rattling around in their head and you might even have an outline of the book in your head, but during the writing process and just by digging deeper into some of the subjects you’re writing about, you’ll come to some major breakthroughs in learnings.
Did you have any of these breakthroughs or learnings along your writing journey?
Eric Redmond: Yeah, absolutely. I wouldn’t say I knew all of these technologies deeply. Some, I did, because I used them, AI being one of them or Internet of things or cryptocurrency, for example. Some of them I actually knew nothing about, but I knew just based on the fact that I’ve been doing this for three decades and have gotten a nose for what’s going to be the next big thing.
For example, quantum computing. I knew nothing about it, and so I ended up taking a few courses on quantum computing. I realized that you can’t actually understand quantum computing without understanding quantum physics. I started taking quantum physics courses and realized, you can’t understand quantum physics without understanding, deeply, linear algebra.
I started taking all these math courses that I kind of slept through in high school and college because they were requirements, but I never intended on applying them. So, I probably spent a year really digging deep into the quantum computing world, and then I was able to get hands-on experience with IBM’s quantum computers, and Microsoft’s quantum computing lab, and I really spent the most time learning about that before even writing the chapter on it.
Where the Future Comes From
Drew Appelbaum: Now, in your mind, while you’re writing the book, who did you see as the main audience for the book? Who is the book for? Do you need a knowledge of tech going in, do you need to work in tech to have takeaways here?
Eric Redmond: Ideally not, I would actually prefer this to be non-technical people. My other books have all be written mostly for non-tech audiences. Until I wrote my most recent one before this, which was a baby book that I wrote for my kids. It’s called Computer Science for Babies and it’s literally just a baby book that’s teaching boolean logic, that’s kind of what I really decided that I find it far more rewarding, rather than teaching technical people how to be slightly more technical.
Teaching people that have no interest or background in technology the wonders of what they’re missing out on. Look, this is where the future comes from. This is where great fortunes are made, and you can be a part of it or you’re just going to struggle trying to fake it.
Drew Appelbaum: I think people might have a grasp on it but not really. Can you talk about how fast tech actually moves? Especially when you’re sort of top of class and then seemingly overnight, you’re obsolete?
Eric Redmond: Well, that’s the worst about writing about merging technologies, and a very good example about that is the chapter I wrote about blockchain and cryptocurrencies I wrote last year.
All of my examples were from the 2017 Bitcoin spike, for example, that went all the way up to $20,000. I talk about the Winklevoss twins and it’s like wow, at that point that it hit around $20,000, once it hit $10,000, they were each individually billionaires because of how much Bitcoin they owned, and I was speaking to that.
Now as we speak, Bitcoin is $60,000 a coin, so you know, not only are the valuations of some of these technologies being increasingly realized, there’s now an entire industry going on right now called NFT, non-fungible tokens, and you’ll hear about Beeple’s art being sold online for 69 million dollars in non-fungible tokens, which puts him above Salvador Dali in terms of his art valuation.
I really would have liked to have talked about that in the book, but at a certain point, you just have to cut it off and publish it and hope that at least, 98% of it will be relevant by the time people read it.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, I think it’s still a really good story about getting in early and understanding first about what change can happen. Whether they got it at 10k or 15k, it’s a very relevant story. I think that my next question is, to other technology, some of them really take off, a-la Bitcoin, 5x in value in three years. How about the tech that isn’t so fast to adapt and why is the world so slow at adopting certain new technologies?
Eric Redmond: Yeah, there are some technologies that are slow because they’re hard. An example of that, I think being autonomous vehicles. It’s not that the world doesn’t want robot cars that don’t need a driver, because who wouldn’t fantasize about the idea of just hopping in your car, it taking you to work, or you go to a bar and it just takes you home and you don’t need a driver or anything, it’s your car, it just comes to you when you need it and then it goes away when you don’t.
That is a legitimately hard problem just because everybody really focuses on the AI aspect of it but there are a whole lot of unanswered questions. For example, Elon Musk is convinced you don’t need LiDaR technology, for example, that you can do everything with cameras and really good AI. Then you’ve got Waymo, which is the AV company backed by Google that says no, you absolutely need LiDaR for all of these technical reasons.
The jury is still out on who is right. The early stages, it’s going to take a long time to really shake out the tech to the point where we have a definitive answer, and it feels safe because you don’t want something that’s right 99% of the time when human life is involved. Because that means, one in a hundred is going to have disastrous consequences. You really need these six sigma safety ratings and we’re just not there yet.
There’s that side of it, a technical side. Then, there are technologies where it’s really about just the fact that it’s weird or there are regulatory hurdles and so I’ll bring up cryptocurrencies again.
An example is New York City that has this concept they call Bit License, which is a rule they enacted and said that if you want to be involved in the cryptocurrency game, you’ve got to have this license. I think it was made in 2014, and it was a very protectionist move on Wall Street’s side because they didn’t want this weird thing.
Well, now, this is a regulatory hurdle that if New York actually wants to be a part of this ecosystem, they’re going to have to find a way to work around it or repeal it or soften the rules because it’s really creating a lot of problems. This is why there are so many crypto companies in New Jersey because they just have to go across the state line to do business. So, that’s just one example of a lot of times there are regulatory hurdles or hurdles of imagination.
People can’t imagine a world where this exists in the mainstream, and I think it’s a big reason why a lot of people still haven’t tried virtual reality despite the fact that you can get an Oculus Quest for 200 bucks and try it on. I think it seems too weird to try it yet.
The Gartner Hype Cycle
Drew Appelbaum: I think it is really interesting how you talk about how hard it is to quantify the economic impact of some of these new technologies simply because they’re too early. You can’t even imagine where they would go. How do people put valuations on emerging tech?
Eric Redmond: Poorly. But I would say, I always go back to a couple of mental models, which I think are pretty good. One is just a Gartner hype cycle, and just be aware of the hype cycle. The whole idea is that as a tech moves from the research lab, which is always obscure, towards being something that starts being written about it in the popular press, it moves up this cycle of hype to the point where it’s almost over-hyped and it’s going to be revolutionary.
All of these promises are made. I always say because of the kind of job I have, which is helping people separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of what’s worth investing in and focusing on. I would say sometimes the worst days of my life are when a new emerging tech is written about in Forbes because that means I now have to talk about it no matter how weird or not ready it might be. I have to have a point of view on it. It peaks at hype.
Now, what I tell people is don’t jump in, and if you have already missed the early phase of the Bitcoin revolution, for example, if you weren’t there minting and mining Bitcoin in 2009 and ’10, you aren’t going to be a billionaire probably out of Bitcoin, and you almost certainly weren’t going to hold onto it long enough to matter anyway. A lot of people have this sort of FOMO about cryptocurrencies because they’re like, “Oh man, if only I would have bought these.” You would have sold it a long time ago.
In 2012, I bought a cup of coffee in Beijing for half a Bitcoin. That half Bitcoin would be worth $30,000 right now. You just can’t think about things in those terms, but what’s interesting is after the hype and it starts dying down, in the Gartner Curve, they call it the trough of dissolution, but this is the point where people are kind of giving up on the technology because they’re like, “Oh, there is nothing there.”
We’re kind of that way right now with a few things, such as 3D printing. You don’t hear a whole lot about 3D printing like you did a couple of years ago, you couldn’t read anything without 3D printing is going to revolutionize everything. Autonomous vehicles are in the space too. This is where the magic really happens because this is where it is out there in the world, and the people that really believe the most in this are the ones that are really drilling into it.
They are finding real use cases for it and they are also starting to improve the technology and that sometimes can take a decade really, when something is hyped to the point where it is actually, “Oh okay, now this is something we can use.” So, what I tend to tell people is to look for those technologies that were hyped five years ago because in five years if they continue on the trajectory, that’s when they’re going to become mainstream.
The technologies I write in this book are for the most part, other than quantum computing, which I kind of put off on its own because it’s revolutionary in a completely different way. But those other six technologies, we’re either at the tail end of the trough of disillusionment or on what’s called the slope of enlightenment when they are just starting to take off and become these mass-market products.
Drew Appelbaum: Yeah, so in the book, you do offer an in-depth look at seven technology sectors and you want the reader to understand them and their transformative possibilities. Can you name a few of them and why did you choose these seven?
Eric Redmond: Yeah, absolutely. I start off the book with AI. It’s got to be. AI is a qualitatively different technology than we’ve ever had before. There’s a really great old video from about 10 years ago called, “Humans Need Not Apply,” and what he talks about in this video, and I definitely recommend watching it, it is just 15 minutes and it’s fascinating, and he talks about this leap from mechanical muscles to mechanical minds, and that almost all tools that humans have made up until very recently have been mechanical muscles of varying degree.
Whether it’s cars that allow us to move faster than we could ever run, or move ourselves, or big heavy equipment, but also small things like a pencil, which is sort of a device to allow us to write down thoughts, so we don’t need necessarily a giant printing press and you can write your thoughts on an individual level. Just tiny things like that. There are little hints of mechanical minds throughout history but never to the point where we’re getting to the age where we can replicate entire tasks and entire jobs that people have.
Autonomous vehicles are a great example. There have been dreams of self-driving cars since the 1930s. There was actually a world’s fair exhibit that was called Futurama and it was sponsored by GM. They were showing, “Oh, in the future we’re going to have cars on tracks,” and to them, the future was going to be in 20, 30 years but it turned out to be a very hard problem. It turns out that the missing component of making cars autonomous and self-driving was AI.
We need a machine to be able to perceive the world in the way we do and think in the way we do and react in the way that we would react, and once we’ve got that nailed, what’s the future for people who make a living driving cars, for example, or driving trucks or heavy equipment? There are actually a lot of pit mines now, they’re increasingly becoming entirely automated, which is a lot easier to do because it is sort of a closed-loop system. It’s not as complex as driving out in the world.
But because of that, there are a lot of questions now of, “Okay, as we have these computers that automate a lot of work that we thought only humans could do because we have these mechanical minds, what does that mean for humanity as a whole? What is our future now in this where the computers are acting as a cognitive labor tool on our behalf?”
First Mover Advantage
Drew Appelbaum: Now, what does it look like when you have one of these revolutionary ideas and maybe you take the first few steps forward but you’re one of the first entrepreneurs in a new space. How tough is it to be there alone, and how often do people succeed when they’re at that point or they drop out or pivot because there is no early buy-in?
Eric Redmond: Yeah, actually I can tell you statistically, first mover advantage is largely a myth. I tend to tell people, “Look, you know it’s great that you believe in this, but you don’t have any special opportunities here. You are going to be doing a whole lot of heavy lifting of convincing people there is value here.” You know just thinking back, right? Even relatively recently we had Yahoo, we had AltaVista, which was replaced by Google.
We had Sears, which was doing really well, replaced by Amazon. We had MySpace, which was doing all right replaced by Facebook. So, it turns out that the first-mover advantage, about 50% of first movers end up going out of business in the first few years whereas only 8% of the secondary movers, those that wait and look for a way to improve on the offerings of the first movers, they are at only 8% failure in the first couple of years.
It’s because the hard work of shaping the market is done. All that hard work of convincing people, “Hey, there is a value to a social network. There is value to AI. There is value to 3D printing.” The reason I always hound on this is because as much as I love the first movers, I’m a scientist at heart. I love research labs and I love to see the early believers rewarded. It is also never too late to get involved until it’s way too late and it’s just sort of this commodity.
There’s this narrow slice of time where it’s like all right, the first movers have moved on, but there is no one who necessarily has dominated the market yet, and that is sort of the sweet spot. That is what the Deep Tech book is about. Here are these technologies and now is the time to attack. Don’t look and say, “Oh, I could never get into 3D printing because 3D printing is being dominated by HP,” for example.
Well, no. HP leveraged their existing printing capabilities to come up with improvements on 3D technology, but this doesn’t mean they’ve won the market. We’re still in the early game here.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, in the book on the topics you just mentioned, you do a really great job of breaking them down and then you give more resources on each topic at the end of every chapter. Do you have any other suggestions about where folks can go for additional resources after reading your book?
Eric Redmond: Yeah, absolutely. I’m a big fan of YouTube videos. I am a big fan of Udemy or online courses, just I absolutely love that stuff. I never really felt like I understood math until running across a whole stream of sort of intuition-based math videos on YouTube. I didn’t specifically put them in the book, mostly because I was really giving suggestions on other print media because it in itself is a print media, and I find that crossing those barriers tends to have some temporal problems.
Drew Appelbaum: Well Eric, we just touched the surface of the book here but I just want to say that writing a book, which is really going to help folks understand the future of tech is no small feat, so congrats on being published.
Eric Redmond: I appreciate it.
Drew Appelbaum: Now, I do have one question left and it is the hot seat question. If readers could take away only one thing from the book, what would you want it to be?
Eric Redmond: Yeah, a great question. That is a hot seat question. I think the good thing about this book is there is only one thing to take away really, and that is that it’s valuable and important to understand the technology that is driving and revolutionizing the world, no matter what your role is. You don’t need to be a technologist, you don’t need to be a STEM person. You could be in marketing, you could be in sales, you could be a teacher.
I actually get a lot of contact from folks because of the pandemic, teachers saying, “Hey, what are some technologies that I could leverage to help create a sense of presence for my students who currently feel very remote?”
It’s really not about the technology itself. It’s about the creativity and the problems and opportunities that you bring to bear, and the perspective that you bring to bear and leveraging these tools to make the world better for you the way you want to see it, not necessarily about becoming the next tech titan.
Drew Appelbaum: This has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out this book. Everyone, the book is called Deep Tech and you can find it on Amazon. Eric, besides checking out the book, where can people connect with you?
Eric Redmond: Well, I am on LinkedIn a lot. I am actually starting somewhat of a book tour now that the pandemic is clearing up. I am trying to set up a world tour where I’ll actually get to go to some of these conferences in person and beyond that, you know I am around.
Drew Appelbaum: Well, best of luck with your book being published. Congratulations and thank you for coming to the show today.
Eric Redmond: Yeah, I appreciate it.