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The Tumultuous Year of 2007
Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times has been working on a book concerning “what’s been happening beneath the surface – in the plumbing and wiring of the world – that’s roiling politics in so many places,” while items like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump take center stage?
My answer begins with a question: What the hell happened in and around 2007?
2007? That’s such an innocuous year. But look again.
Steve Jobs and Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, starting the smartphone revolution that is now putting an internet-connected computer in the palm of everyone on the planet. In late 2006, Facebook, which had been confined to universities and high schools, opened itself to anyone with an email address and exploded globally. Twitter was created in 2006, but took off in 2007. In 2007, Hadoop, the most important software you’ve never heard of, began expanding the ability of any company to store and analyze enormous amounts of unstructured data. This helped enable both Big Data and cloud computing. Indeed, “the cloud” really took off in 2007.
In 2007, the Kindle kicked off the e-book revolution and Google introduced Android. In 2007, IBM started Watson – the world’s firs cognitive computer that today can understand virtually every paper ever written on cancer and suggest to doctors highly accurate diagnoses and treatment options. And have you ever looked at a graph of the cost of sequencing a human genome? It goes from $100 million in the early 2000s and begins to fall dramatically starting around...2007.
The cost of making solar panels began to decline sharply in 2007. Airbnb was conceived in 2007 and change.org started in 2007. GitHub, now the world’s largest open-source software sharing library, was opened in 2007. And in 2007 Intel for the first time introduced non-Silicon materials into the microchip transistors, thus extending the duration of Moore’s Law – the expectation that the power of microchips would double roughly every two years. As a result, the exponential growth in computing power continues to this day. Finally, in 2006, the internet crossed well over a billion users worldwide.
In time, 2007 may be seen as one of the greatest technological inflection points in history. And we completely missed it.
Yes, right when our physical technologies leapt ahead, many of what the Oxford economist Eric Beinhocker calls our “social technologies” – all of the rules, regulations, institutions and social tools people needed to get the most out of this technological acceleration and cushion the worst – froze or lagged. In the best of times social technologies have a hard time keeping up with physical technologies, but with the Great Recession of 2008 and the political paralysis it engendered, this gap turned into a chasm. A lot of people got dislocated in the process.
How could they not? What happened around 2007 was that connectivity and computing got so fast, cheap, ubiquitous and leveraged that they changed three forms of power – in really differentiated ways – all at once: the power of one, the power of machines and the power of ideas.
What one individual or small group can now do – the power of one – to make or break things is phenomenal....
So no wonder many in the West feel unmoored. The two things that anchored them in the world – their community and their job – are feeling destabilized. They go to the grocery store and someone there speaks to them in a different language or is wearing a head covering....They go to work and there’s now a robot sitting next to them who seems to be studying their job. I celebrate this diversity of people and ideas – but for many others they’ve come faster than they can adapt.
Wall Street History will return in two weeks...or right after yearend.