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Back to the Future

By Teresa Rodriguez

Some of the folks that have been on the tech train since the beginning chime in on the ever-changing state of the industry. From self-driving cars to self-sustaining homes, these seasoned veterans have made big bets on what’s to come. Here’s where things are headed next, and what excites them most about the future.

It’s got to be hard to be a futurist when the present moves so fast. Here, Robert Scoble gets playful with some of today’s hottest gadgets. Photo by Spencer Brown.

Virtual reality

Decades ago, it was Marc Andreessen, co-founder of the web-browser maker Netscape, and his team of developers who were leading the charge and creating an easy way to access the elusive World Wide Web. Now, Andreessen has his own venture capital firm (one of the biggest on the block). And instead of spending his days behind a computer writing code, he’s investing in companies that are considered bleeding edge — just as Netscape was many moons ago.

Like Scoble with autonomous cars, Andreessen sees virtual reality as a key investment. He joined Oculus VR’s board when his firm, Andreessen Horowitz, led its $75 million Series B round of venture funding. In total, Oculus VR raised $91 million with $2.4 million of that via crowdfunding. At the time, Oculus had only released a development prototype of its headset. A year later, Facebook acquired the company for $2 billion. Smart bet, Marc!

Self-driving cars

Robert Scoble — futurist, author and Tesla owner — says that although it is inevitable, people are resistant to change. “When Uber started, who actually wanted to use their phone and get into a stranger’s car? People resisted the change, but it caught on. That is the same with self-driving cars. The ethos is that people want to be in control when they are driving,” Scoble says. “We’re sold driving as a part of our culture. It rep-resents freedom. Just think of the great American anthem, ‘I drove my Chevy to the levee.’ It just doesn’t sound as good when we say, ‘My robot drove me to my appointment.’”

Self-sustaining homes

The home is the front line of technological disruption, and one where the public has proven to be less resistant. Along with security and connectivity apps, plus home systems like Nest, Alexa-enabled devices and Google Home, rapidly advancing technologies promise to turn our homes into self-sustaining closed circuits. Imagine a home as self-reliant as a tree.

If it were up to Gregory Malin of Troon Pacific, a leader in developing sustainable homes, we would live in a world where homes could power themselves. Malin began his career in residential real estate in 2000, when the most technologically advanced item in the home was a drawer dishwasher by Fisher & Paykel.

“In the future, our homes would collect their own water, reuse it to water our yards, and function purely on energy captured from the sun,” Malin predicts. With recent advancements in technology, this will likely become a reality sooner rather than later.

The expansion of tech

Technology is no longer relegated to computers, tablets and phones. Today, tech is inseparable from virtually every aspect of modern life. Technologies reserved for “power users” and hobbyists today will become the must-have, easily accessible consumer items of tomorrow. On this note, stay tuned for even more user-friendly 3D printers and ubiquitous AR/VR. Down the road, look for artificial intelligence, blockchain and quantum computing to make major strides.

Wearables

Twenty years ago, the idea of wearing a computer on the body was unheard of, but today we just call it life. GeraldJerryJ. Wilmink is an American health entrepreneur, biomedical engineer and inventor in the wearables space. “Wearables are electronic technologies or computers that are incorporated into accessories which can comfortably be worn on the body,” he explains. “They perform many of the same functions as smartphones but have the added advantage of being intimately connected to the user’s body. As a result, sensor-laden wearables can provide information regarding the user’s physiological state, fitness level and vitals.” Every year, more than 300 million wearable devices are sold worldwide, generating $30 billion a year. The U.S. wearables market has grown by 254 percent since 2014 and it is expected to reach $7.6 billion in 2018, says Wilmink. He believes that wearables are poised to revolutionize the way health care is provided. Wearable sensors are the gateway to the collection of big data, which can be used to develop intelligent algorithms and deep learning models. These methods allow developers to feed raw data into a computer, which automatically discovers the proper representation needed for classification, detection and even medical diagnosis.

Investing in unicorns

So, where do the elders invest with so many new forms of technologies springing to life on a daily basis? How do they keep their eyes on the ball and make money in a hypercompetitive and ever-changing world? We asked Dick Kramlich, managing director of the venture capital firm Green Bay Ventures with decades of astonishing success under his belt. Kramlich’s firm invests in various industry sectors, but its successful investments have one thing in common: “They are all unicorns.”

“We have a vernacular we use when investing,” Kramlich says. “To find the unicorns, we look for predictive sales, high gross margin, heavy spending on development, and discipline that leads to cash flow positive results in the relatively near future. What we’ve done for three straight years is invested over $17 billion into unicorns. Never has there been anything like this in the history of venture capital investing.”

This year, Green Bay Ventures’ IPO lineup was a virtual murderer’s row, featuring companies like Mulesoft, Dropbox, Spotify, Docusign, Xiaomi and Bloom Energy.

“If you look at these six companies, they all fall into these four categories,” Kramlich says

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