An Innovator’s Vision

To innovate you have to see patterns from the past and project them into the future. Lucio Lanza talks about a likely pattern for the future.


I had the pleasure of talking with Lucio Lanza, managing director of Lanza techVentures, when I was researching my article on design innovation earlier this month. One thing that sets successful business people apart is their ability to see patterns, to correctly identify how those patterns fit together and progress and, based on those, to know which way to evolve a company or where to invest.

We heard a very similar message from Joe Costello, CEO of Enlighted, during his DAC keynote. In that talk, Costello described how Enlighted had built sensor devices, how they had designed the necessary infrastructure, and how they had gone about developing apps for their commercial office automation system. Toward the end of the keynote Costello said, “Over time, you have to give up most of what you built during the first five years of your company. You have to turn the verticals into a set of horizontals to be able to attack the world, and that is hard. That is how you scale.”

Lanza knows exactly what Costello is going through. “You get some platforms that become well accepted, so there becomes a strong pull on those platforms. That happened to a certain extent with PCs, where nobody cared about the processor. The visible layer of the platform was not even the operating system. A certain kind of application becomes important. The driving platform then became the iPhone. This was more interesting because the iPhone operating system became irrelevant and another layer happened—and this happened really quickly. It was the layer of applications, but it was more than just software. Nobody cared about how fast it was anymore. Today, it has moved from just being applications to what they impact on society. How can things change in society? We are in the middle of that right now.”

Lanza knows how to tell a story, and he has many examples for how technologies have started and evolved from the past, each illustrating a particular point or highlighting why things happened the way they did. Lanza admits to having missed some of these changes while they were happening. It is always easier to be wise when you have history to help you. But you can learn from the past and attempt to use that wisdom to look for the most likely paths into the future. “Talking about the future, the enabling of things via the Internet of Things (IoT) is probably going to be the thing that creates the impact on society. That impact will be huge.”

But Lanza knows you can’t do it all at once. You have to tackle something such as lighting, which is Costello’s strategy. “You are going to horizontalize each of the things,” says Lanza. “Now you have platforms on which you can build things and the next thing is to try and find out which verticals within that horizontal, will move up.”

The microprocessor was a horizontal, the PC was a vertical based on that platform. The iPhone is a horizontal, applications are vertical. We are currently building the horizontals for the IoT and the first few verticals are being assessed. This is taking us further in a direction when computational power and performance are becoming less important. “Things are never obvious. It is clear that having more computational power, a better floating point, or a faster floating point other than graphics, does not help anybody. So what is pushing? The way to think about it is to stop for a second and think – if we are talking about applying computers to more social aspects, more soft dimensions than just computer speed, very likely computers have to learn. In order to learn, does the CPU have to be faster? No way. Last time I checked on human beings, we don’t have a very fast computer for a brain.”

One way that Lanza sees technology having to evolve is memory. “For the first two years of our lives, all we are doing is getting stuff into memory and comparing it to what was there yesterday. When the result is different than what we expected, we put that into memory and try and remember why it happened that way. Then we build this humongous learning machine that allows us to make predictions and allows us to handle surprises and to become social. It is all about memory. This is the fundamental unit—connecting memories and their contents, quickly. That is the way we work, and this needs to happen on computers. It is happening, but nobody is asking to see it. Memory technology is moving faster than any other technology.”

If Lanza is right, most of the industry is looking in the wrong direction. But there may be baby steps that the industry has to make to get to his vison. We are developing new memory structures, but we continue to think about connecting them to processors in the same way as we did in the past. This may be the root of the problem for industry. We have invested so much in the processor/memory interface that we are loathe to look in another direction. As a minimum, it means throwing away most of the software that has ever been written, and we are still running COBOL programs written decades ago.

Change is hard, and we need a new horizontal to become available on which innovative verticals can be constructed. I get the feeling that the IoT is small in comparison.

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  • realjjj

    The future is not about things at all.

    A developed economy is based on services, what comes after?
    The shift is from things to the body and then the mid.

    You want to get rid of physical things and aim to feed, enhance, host the mind.
    A brain-computer interface enables full presence VR (it feels 100% real). That’s like the printing press but for everything. Goods and services will cost towards zero in VR.
    The basics are still needed in the real world but those must to be commodities. Energy is almost there due to renewables and food, shelter and so on,need to follow.
    Healthcare goes hand in hand with this as what matters is to keep the mind alive. Robots are closely linked too.
    Longer term, robots render the idea of an economy futile and we escape materialism. That’s a huge opportunity as humanity will be free to innovate and evolve without the current constrains.

    Things are the past. Trying to make things more relevant is swimming against the tide.