Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

We seem to be in an interesting time where everyone is casting around looking for the next "big" idea, regardless of whether it works, and as a result the only way to do useful "small" ideas that work is to fund them yourself or get ordinary, non-import people to help fund them (i.e. crowdfunding or ICOs). All the attention is on flying cars, self-driving cars, killer robots, alternative currencies, artificial intelligence, 600 mph vacuum transportation, and missions to Mars.

The last time I can think of when the tech landscape looked like this was the early 90s, when everybody was hung up on artificial intelligence, pocket computing, handwriting recognition, voice recognition, WebTV, 3D graphics, and virtual reality. We ended up getting many of those, 15 years later, but the real huge story of the decade was the WWW, which was really unimpressive when it first came out (I remember comparing it unfavorably to Gopher in 1993; Gopher at least was semi-organized).

The WWW overshadowed everything else because the problem it was solving - which many people didn't know they had - was more universal than the problems solved by any other technologies that had just entered the market, and its solution was just barely viable enough to solve that problem. Meanwhile, the tech for many of the other much hotter problems of the time was 15-20 years out; they couldn't actually be solved by the processing power available in 1992. I wonder if there's a similar overlooked-but-universal problem that someone in a garage is working on now, that'll spark a new wave similar to the dot-com boom.




So what do you think are the big problems being worked on today which people are overlooking because the technology isn't as sexy as self-driving cars? I agree with you that funding chases the flashy stuff, and real businesses are built on substance. I'm just curious what you think will end up breaking out from this era of funding.

Obviously hindsight is 20/20, but I heard an interesting tidbit from a famous investor about the dot com bubble: you either invested in Google or you didn't. I wonder if things will turn out similar this time as I still haven't seen a good IPO from a tech company in years (would love for people to provide counter-examples as I don't track this very closely).


If I knew that, I'd a.) be a lot richer than I am and b.) wouldn't tell the Internet.

I just feel that we're looking in the wrong places for the next big idea. The next big idea invariably seems to grow out of the next small idea; ideas that are big from the beginning almost never work. (Gall's Law: "A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.")


I'm sympathetic to the small idea thing (I wrote a long comment to your original reply). But that doesn't seem true in the case of the web and the PC.

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee

This project is experimental and of course comes without any warranty whatsoever. However, it could start a revolution in information access.

- (19 August 1991), the announcement of the first WWW hypertext browser on the Usenet newsgroup comp.sys.next.announce.

TBL knew that the WWW would be "world wide". He explicitly designed it that way.

So I would say the web is small TECHNOLOGY, but not a small idea. It was a huge idea.

Although honestly, I don't think the tech was that small for the day either. GUIs + networking was not super easy in 1991. There were still a lot of unsolved problems (e.g. DOS wasn't even a multi-tasking OS, I remember you had to download WinSock or whatever to use NetScape on Windows 3.1).

Likewise, Wozniak wanted to "own his own computer" so he built one. I don't think that's a small idea either. I guess you can say that it is one that most people wouldn't understand the utility of though.


Linus Torvald's first email re: Linux belongs here:

> I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones.


Yeah that quote definitely crossed my mind. However I think the OP is confusing ideas vs. systems:

The next big idea invariably seems to grow out of the next small idea; ideas that are big from the beginning almost never work.

That doesn't really make sense with respect to ideas. The real quote is about SYSTEMS, from this book:

https://www.amazon.com/Systems-Bible-Beginners-Guide-Large/d...

The system is the realization of the idea. You can have a big idea, but you can't implement it all at once. TBL had a big idea, which is necessarily a big system. So he grew it from a very small piece of code (HTTP 1.0 was ridiculously simple.) There was an unbroken chain from small system to big system.

The misleading thing about Linux is that it IS IN FACT a big idea -- it's just not a technological idea. We already knew how to write monolithic kernels. But the real innovation is the software development process. The fact that thousands of programmers can ship a working kernel with little coordination is amazing. That Linus wrote git is not an accident; he's an expert in software collaboration and evolution.

Linux is a universal hardware abstraction layer, which is an easy idea in theory, but extremely difficult in practice until Linus figured out how to make it work.

So Linux is a big idea too, as well as a small system that grew into a big system.

-----

This reminds me of Paul Graham's advice: http://www.paulgraham.com/ambitious.html

Let me conclude with some tactical advice. If you want to take on a problem as big as the ones I've discussed, don't make a direct frontal attack on it. Don't say, for example, that you're going to replace email. If you do that you raise too many expectations. Your employees and investors will constantly be asking "are we there yet?" and you'll have an army of haters waiting to see you fail. Just say you're building todo-list software. That sounds harmless.

Empirically, the way to do really big things seems to be to start with deceptively small things. Want to dominate microcomputer software? Start by writing a Basic interpreter for a machine with a few thousand users. Want to make the universal web site? Start by building a site for Harvard undergrads to stalk one another.

I think that's pretty much in line with what's said here. You can have a big idea, a big 10 year goal, but you have to break in into steps. Gates had an explicit goal of "a PC on every desk" and Zuckerberg had an explicit goal of "connecting the world" (at some point, not at the very beginning). But they necessarily started small.


> The next big idea invariably seems to grow out of the next small idea;

Spot on and the key words here are "grow out". It seems that most Big Things simply slowly grow.


Well you didn't live up to your username.


A huge problem is Education. It's hard to tell which way the solution lies in, yet.


I have no idea what the big problems are but VCs are chasing a lot of stupid ideas. The one I can think of right now is Juicero. I can't believe even Google Ventures funded it! Really are people willing to spend $600 for a machine and $8 a pack of juice? What kind of market analysis did they do? And the founder had not engineering background. And they overdesigned the machine. How about something hand-cranked like a pasta press for 10% of the cost? You can even put a eco friendly twist to it.


It's not what you know, it's who you know.


What does the tidbit mean? That the success or failure of a VC / Investor during those times was whether you invested in Google?


> So what do you think are the big problems being worked on today which people are overlooking because the technology isn't as sexy as self-driving cars?

Making computers disappear.


I totally disagree with this.

1. "computers" HAVE disappeared; AKA ubiquitous surveillance is already here.

2. I dont want to see a bunch of people flailing their arms. I dont want a new crop of "lip readers" who are looking at the body movements of others and intercepting their actions intentions (imaging ML/AI/CV applied to watching a crowd of people and IDing all the apps/interactions/intentions they are performing)

3. Organic Humanism will be a thing. Fuck technology - I literally want to walk into Yosemite and not have a single digital thread connecting me to the outside world.

4. Central control. "invisible computers" literally means that ALL power over human thought shall exist in the "cloud" -- where all control/tech/physicality is abstracted from any naive mind.

5. Education flounders; Try teaching some kids about the state of the internet in 20 years when they have never seen a computer in physicality. They have only interacted (unknowingly, ubiquitously, and without their will 100% of their entire little lives) -- entering a FaceGoog.gov datacenter would literally be like Neo waking up in the Matrix vat of human sludge.

So -- as someone who was pushing for and played my tiny part in the creation of the state of things due to my awe of the imagined future of cyberpunk reality. FUCK THIS IDEA COMPLETELY and kill it with fire...

I could go on...


> I could go on

You could, but please don't because you take a one line comment, completely fail to understand it and its implications and then give a whole pile of wild exaggerations based on that misunderstanding.


Please expand. You take one line, attach some deeper meaning to it and then denigrate those who "misunderstand" a single phrase. Also, you attempt to make me look the fool by not understanding the simplistic genius of your comment. If it is so easy to get - then why didn't I get it?

So, no. Your comment is BS - making computers invisible, if its such a deeper meaning that I missed -- explain.

That's as infamous for you as the "you're holding it wrong" statement is for Jobs. :-P

Thanks


> You take one line, attach some deeper meaning to it and then denigrate those who "misunderstand" a single phrase.

No, I read all of your comment and wished you had not written it at all because it is basically just noise.

> So, no. Your comment is BS - making computers invisible, if its such a deeper meaning that I missed -- explain.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubiquitous_computing

To take your comment point-by-point:

> 1. "computers" HAVE disappeared; AKA ubiquitous surveillance is already here.

But does not necessarily have anything to do with pervasive computing, though, when mis-used can definitely be a factor. But it is perfectly possible to have ubiquitous surveillance even in the absence of computers, see the former SovBloc countries. So this does not at all follow.

What you are arguing against is 'the cloud' and the services built upon it, Facebook and Google versus systems at your command and under your control.

If you mix those two then you have something that I agree is problematic but this need not happen.

> 2. I dont want to see a bunch of people flailing their arms. I dont want a new crop of "lip readers" who are looking at the body movements of others and intercepting their actions intentions (imaging ML/AI/CV applied to watching a crowd of people and IDing all the apps/interactions/intentions they are performing)

I don't want that either. But again, the one does not follow from the other. It's a ridiculous exaggeration. Now, for sure there will be 'bad actors' who will attempt - and who might even succeed - at achieving any or even all of this.

But they do not need ubiquitous computing in order to achieve it, the stuff available today is more than powerful enough to do this.

> 3. Organic Humanism will be a thing. Fuck technology - I literally want to walk into Yosemite and not have a single digital thread connecting me to the outside world.

Some people implanting RFID markers in their bodies (which I consider just about as strange as tattoos or piercings, in other words I'm fine with other people doing it but I would never do it myself) does not translate into you not being able to walk into nature to 'disconnect'. I'm a borderline Luddite myself, don't have a smartphone, do not subscribe to Facebook or Whatsapp. I don't want my car to 'phone home' nor do I want my refrigerator to tell me what to eat or place orders on my behalf. Even so, I do not begrudge others that do want those things and I'd love to see a good chunk of RPF's 'There's plenty of room at the bottom' come to life.

For me the rule with devices is that if I own them they don't communicate unless I want them to and if that's not the case then I won't buy them.

> 4. Central control. "invisible computers" literally means that ALL power over human thought shall exist in the "cloud" -- where all control/tech/physicality is abstracted from any naive mind.

That's utter science fiction and unlikely to come to pass within the foreseeable future.

Again, I agree that control is the key and if this stuff is going to happen then I will do what I can to make sure that control remains with the ultimate beneficiary: the user. So no 'Nest' for me, and no 'Siri' or 'Ok, Google'.

> 5. Education flounders; Try teaching some kids about the state of the internet in 20 years when they have never seen a computer in physicality. They have only interacted (unknowingly, ubiquitously, and without their will 100% of their entire little lives) -- entering a FaceGoog.gov datacenter would literally be like Neo waking up in the Matrix vat of human sludge.

Ridiculous. Getting an education about anything has never been easier than it is today. Computers have never been more accessible than they are today. I had to save for two whole years in order to be able to buy a minimally capable system in the 80's. Today $35 and change will get you a Raspberry Pi that will run circles (and tight ones too) around that good old 6502 and it will allow you to write and run programs that I could only dream of back in the day.

Even your browser serves as a pretty powerful computing environment these days.

Getting hung up on the hardware aspect of computing is weird in a way, after all computing is operations on data, that's a totally abstract thing that it requires hardware at some level is nice and good but in the end it is the results that matter.

If you wanted to have a discussion at what the impact of this change will/would be then you missed an opportunity by filling it in with your wildest imagination set to 'dark' rather than something realistic and with a reasonable chance of actually happening.

So, in closing, you utterly missed the point and no matter how long your list would be I highly doubt it would be more connected to reality than the list you already gave.


Bullshit. If it was "noise" then you wouldnt need to expain yourself. as you are making the arrogant assumption of everyone to 'know' what you mean. Thus you pointing to a wikipedia explanation "see look you should already have known of this wiki page!!!" type of comment.

--

1.1.:

>see the former SovBloc countries. So this does not at all follow

Uh, were the analog agents that were sittin monitoring the activities not the analog (to wit) of the "invisible computer that is ubiquitous???

They didnt gather al their intel passively in the walls with no sensors, human or otherwise. So, I disagree.

I am not arguing against the cloud - but the Stasi, et al, ARE the modern cloud.

2: Now, for sure there will be 'bad actors' who will attempt - and who might even succeed

Sure, but please define for me a "good actor" - how shall one ID a good one? FB? Nope. Reddit? Nope. Palantir? NOPE.

All surveillence tech is being embedded in "good actor consumer services" such that the lines are blurred.

I would submit that your perception of "good actor" vs "bad actor" is simplistic; 'Does the consumer USE the service and not bitch?'== good actor in your world view (this is not an attack, but an obversatorial-question)

3. -- We agree, except:

I want to walk under a natural realm not covered by .gov satellites and invisible computers/sensors watching my every move to make sure I am staying "within the rules". Such environs become plastic at the point where I cannot ensure complete privacy (I wonder why the elite build underground???)

4. Nope. We live in "utter science fiction" TODAY. We all, including yourself, are guity of reading "utter science fiction" and then developing that which we imagine. To quote the Masons/Mayans/Essenes: All existed in thought first.

We imagined it -- that which we imagined is made manifest.

5. "easier" does NOT mean accessible -- Sure it may be easy to get an education at an extremely high level, assuming you have the -rereqs "BUILD MORE PYLONS" -- yeah - tell some unknown genius from rural wherever that education is easy... that's different than ACCESS GRANTED to said education.

You're an accomplished, privileged, educated, great person... so why cant the gulley-dwarf pull himself up buy-his-mud-straps? You had to SAVE $ in the 80s? Where did you get such to save??? How did you eat if you were instead saving????

(Poor people, without access to resources, cannot even begin to understand the idea of "saving" when they cant defer EATING to save...)

---

We disagree... So, show me how the browser shall save the educational aspirations to those without food, water and power.


> If it was "noise" then you wouldnt need to expain yourself.

Right, you ask for a larger explanation and then turn around and use that as a new grounds for your complaint.

Really?

I did not need to do anything, I did you a service by spending a bunch of time. You could have just as easily educated yourself on the subject.

> but the Stasi, et al, ARE the modern cloud.

No, they are not, not even close. Having dealt with the Stasi at two occasions I guarantee you that they are not the same.

> Does the consumer USE the service and not bitch?'== good actor in your world view

You must have missed my writings on Google 'AMP' then if you think that is my position. So no, you are simply wrong here.

> I want to walk under a natural realm not covered by .gov satellites

So change your government and use your vote. Educate your fellow voters and hold your politicians accountable.

> and invisible computers/sensors watching my every move

Paranoid much?

> to make sure I am staying "within the rules".

You mean like speed cameras? I can't stand them, especially not when they result in fines. Better still, in spite of all the cameras on our highways car theft is still a problem. So my conclusion - for now - is that unfortunately the system works as intended, well enough for me to get caught speeding, not so well that a car thief can't make his getaway.

> Such environs become plastic at the point where I cannot ensure complete privacy

There are plenty of places where you can have complete privacy and most likely will always be able to have complete privacy. But this will come at a cost: you most likely will have to make a conscious effort at this, it will not be automatic.

> (I wonder why the elite build underground???)

Tell me, why do they? Again, paranoid much? The 'elite' do not as far as I know build underground.

> We imagined it -- that which we imagined is made manifest.

So, you'll have to imagine something better. If all you can see is bad stuff to come out of tech then this discussion is utterly pointless. You and a lot of people here have the collective power to steer these things and to re-imagine them in a positive way rather than to hand the keys to the weapons locker to your boss for a paycheck. Ethics matter.

> "easier" does NOT mean accessible -- Sure it may be easy to get an education at an extremely high level, assuming you have the -rereqs "BUILD MORE PYLONS" -- yeah - tell some unknown genius from rural wherever that education is easy... that's different than ACCESS GRANTED to said education.

We'll have to disagree on this.

> You're an accomplished, privileged, educated, great person...

Oh is that so?

> so why cant the gulley-dwarf pull himself up buy-his-mud-straps?

Well, I was one of those gulley-dwarfs when I started out and between the public library and a pretty heavy physical job I managed to claw my way out of what would have otherwise been either poverty or crime. So much for your assumptions.

> Where did you get such to save???

The mail room of a bank. You know, hauling mailbags heavier than I was.

> How did you eat if you were instead saving????

Mostly very cheap pasta and peanut butter sandwiches.

> (Poor people, without access to resources, cannot even begin to understand the idea of "saving" when they cant defer EATING to save...)

Right. Well, again, at the time and given my knowledge of my surroundings I was relatively poor. But at the same time I'm well aware that being born in the country I was in was a very high degree of privilege. But don't come to me with your 'accomplished, privileged, educated' bs because that came at a pretty high price.

> So, show me how the browser shall save the educational aspirations to those without food, water and power.

You must have missed Africa coming online in the last decade and the kind of change it is bringing.

If you're in a dark mood of sorts I'm fine with that but the one thing you can't argue with if you want to stick to the facts is that the internet has enabled a very large number of people to either get or improve on their education.

For me the greatest achievements of the internet are the Khan Academy and Wikipedia, the runner up after those would be the Gutenberg project. Open access is changing the world as we speak.


>>>the internet has enabled a very large number of people to either get or improve on their education.

For me the greatest achievements of the internet are the Khan Academy and Wikipedia, the runner after those would be the Gutenberg project. Open access is changing the world as we speak.

1000%% agree on this, but being in the position I am; I am in a position to have the perspective that allows; where I have benefited from it all, contributed a tiny amount to some of it - but not tarnished by money+power to see that this is still not enough.

Look - I think very highly of you, but I am also of the position that just because some person did well on their internet eureka, doesnt automatically make them a good person.

Too many pricks made millions in the tech industry, then attempted to paint themselves as nice people after-the-fact.


So, what's stopping you? Get there first and do it right!

That's the only way anything will ever be done different.

I'd rather see someone with your present attitude do this than 'one of the pricks to make millions in the tech industry'. The trick will be to maintain that attitude in light of future developments. You can count on me to remind you if you ever deviate from the true path ;)


I am trying...

Wanna help make Municipal Government a Good Thing (TM) -- then join me.

Ill reach out to you to see how you might want to do a Tech-Talk to the city of [East-Bay-city] Where I am cloudifying-them shortly...


Which would be ... ubiquitous AR? What is the end vision for this idea?


See Vinge's novel Rainbows End. It's a combo of the AR plus having sensors/effectors/networking embedded in all the stuff around you for computing to work with. The "internet of things" starts to go that way, but what I've heard of hasn't sounded that impressive. Seems like it needs to get way better at security and interoperability, though it's not my field.


Ubiquitous computing without proper security and interop is a non-starter.

The present day internet of things to me looks mostly like companies that are in the 'goods' business that are desperately trying to get into the 'services' business because they would like themselves some slice of that recurring revenue.


Yes, I want to buy things that can talk only to my network, while apparently they want me to pay to host XYZcorp's botnet.


Make someone rich, as is any idea.


Except that the WWW didn't come up out of the blue and take over just because there was a problem to solve. It was an evolution of markup languages that had been evolving for along time, melded with newer networking stacks. The timing was also good in that it hit at the same time as telecommunications started to enter the homes, not just schools and business. And it didn't take over in its initial days either -- it had a few updates before it went mainstream, not the least of which was Netscape creating a friendly UX.

So you may be right that something else may be lurking in a garage right now, waiting for that same combination of pieces to fall into place. But it isn't as simple as just finding the problem. Timing and execution mattered for the WWW, and it will matter for everything else.


Here are two boring problems:

Affordable housing and affordable health care.

For each, the current system only wants to create more cost and not benefit the consumer. Somewhere the bottom will fall out.

Maybe independent housing communities will start being a thing where the land is cheap?

Maybe medical tourism is where its at?

Probably neither of those solutions will really work out.

They're big problems, though, with real money in solutions. Technology will likely help provide an innovative path forward.


In the place that I live in, Medical Tourism is growing . It is a place named Kerala, the southern most state of India, with high literacy rates, and relatively high human development Index compared to other parts of India. Most health tourists are from middle eastern countries, though.

I wouldn't be surprised if a term like Keral'ed come up in health care sector, like Bangalored in IT.


Medical tourism is an idea worth going after if it's something you're passionate about. There are players in the space but it's still early days.

- marketplace play - moral good - huge market


I'm not convinced that it always works like this. Flight, for example, was always one of the "big" ideas that people were quixotically chasing. It just needed the right technical solution.

It involved a revolution in the theory and practice of aerodynamics and the ground-up engineering of a complex system unlike anything that existed before. But it worked and it changed the world.


The WWW never got any industry hype because it wasnt designed as a money making product unlike the others on your list.


> I wonder if there's a similar overlooked-but-universal problem that someone in a garage is working on now, that'll spark a new wave similar to the dot-com boom.

Bitcoin.

Seriously, it exactly matches your requirements. Typically dismissed by everyone on their first encounter, it nevertheless solves universal problems related to something everyone uses -- money. And it's only just barely viable enough to solve that problem in limited cases right now, so I predict there will be a torrent of people responding to me with all the reasons why it can't be bitcoin because X, Y, Z. Just as any technical person would have said about the web in '96.


> Typically dismissed by everyone

Yes, there's no bitcoin hype at all.

> it nevertheless solves universal problems related to something everyone uses -- money.

You know what is a simpler, more energy efficient, universally accepted, easier to use, time-tested, fungible, stable, and better in almost every way form of money is?

Money.

All the tulip mania or dotcom stocks or Florida swampland or whatever bubble fueled by something valueless without any underlying guarantees will never supplant actual money.


I work on bitcoin, and am very involved in the community. Every single person I have interacted with, core developers included, dismissed bitcoin on first exposure, at least in the early days.

And I suggest that you sometime look into how national currencies work and the systemic risks involved. Bitcoin solves a real problem of trust and institutional moral corruption.


> Every single person I have interacted with, core developers included, dismissed bitcoin on first exposure, at least in the early days.

I was exactly the opposite. I was entranced by how cleverly the blockchain solved the n-party Byzantine Generals problem.

Then I realized the while bitcoin is a neat technical solution, it doesn't solve any real-world problems except committing crimes and fueling a bubble.

> Bitcoin solves a real problem of trust.

No, it doesn't.

For the vast majority of people on the planet, a stable fiat currency is more trusted and stable than e-tulips. Rational people trust banks more than they trust Mt. Gox.

Can you give me an example of a common situation where trust is lacking, where normal people would have been better off using bitcoin than say... VISA or Mastercard?


> Can you give me an example of a common situation where trust is lacking, where normal people would have been better off using bitcoin than say... VISA or Mastercard?

I guess that depends on whether you consider the 2+ billion people worldwide without access to payment networks like Visa or MasterCard "normal"...

I think the better question is whether cryptocurrencies are a better fit than existing options for those people.


> I guess that depends on whether you consider the 2+ billion people worldwide without access to payment networks like Visa or MasterCard "normal"...

how is bitcoin, a "currency" that fluctuates wildly in value, requires a decent computer (or modern smartphone) to hold a wallet, has very high transaction costs, and is incredibly easy to lose (though corrupted wallet, hacking, fraud, etc.) better than say... M-Pesa (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M-Pesa) or PayTM (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paytm) which are widely accepted, runs on a cheap phone, has significantly lower transaction costs, and is significantly better at protecting individuals against fraud and hackers.

> I think the better question is whether cryptocurrencies are a better fit than existing options for those people.

Are they? Seriously, are they? I'm pretty sure the answer is no, (at least not the Bitcoin that exists today) but people who are bullish about the Bitcoin bubble keep trying to force that square peg of crypto-currencies in that round hole of micro-payments.


Sorry, I wasn't referring to Bitcoin in particular, I'm only referring to the underlying decentralized blockchain technologies themselves.


> consider the 2+ billion people worldwide without access to payment networks

Why is a blockchain a good solution for this problem? Operators like M-Pesa have made digital payments mainstream in underbanked Kenya, without any crypto. Seems like the hard problems involve cash-to-bit conversion, building up a network of users, and building trust. None of these are fixed by Bitcoin.


Venezuela.


> Venezuela.

Great example, if bitcoin suddenly developed magic powers that could unseat a dictator, write a new constitution, educate the electorate, and protect the rule of law.

Seriously though, two things.

One, Venezuela has significant problems that magically giving everyone a bitcoin wallet isn't going to solve.

And two, currently the biggest use of Bitcoin in Venezuela is to evade currency controls. Which is criminal activity. Which is one of the only two things Bitcoin has a usecase for (the other being speculation)

So yeah, while a lot of people might be better off if they engaged in criminal activity, you can't use Venezuela as an example of a legitimate use-case for bitcoin.


> currently the biggest use of Bitcoin in Venezuela is to evade currency controls

False, it's actually to mine bitcoin using some of the world's cheapest electricity, thanks to local subsidies.


Empirically, bitcoin hasn't reached anything close to mainstream adoption in Venezuela. Why do you think this is?


Have you seen the price of real estate in Florida? I'd say they did a pretty good job of making all that worthless swamp land pretty valuable.


This is Aladdin City, a heavily hyped and over-sold new city that fueled a real-estate bubble in the 1920s in Florida.

https://goo.gl/maps/Xe3ns9Cd2tv


You'd probably be hard pressed to find a home for less than $250K even there today. And I've seen more than a few wetlands filled in with dirt to build apartment complexes and neighborhoods on in Florida. To be fair, there are several huge over-sold neighborhoods in Florida that never met the hype, but for every one of them there are real success stories too.


My point is the majority of speculators lost most of their money in the short-term, and didn't live long enough to see the value of their investment appreciate, and for most people that would qualify as a failed investment.


I don't think the problem with bitcoin is the tech (although I do think the protocol isn't perfect, as hashing times continue to increase). The problem with bitcoin is actually fundamental - once it becomes as big as you say it will, it will be regulated. And once it's regulated, what real advantages does it offer compared to the competition? The reason money works is because people trust that the governments printing it will honor it - otherwise you have people living on communes trading pieces of silver (Planet Money Podcast #777 has an interesting take on this, and later finds out the people were swindling him).

Bitcoin is solving a problem, but not a massive one. It's for people that want minimal government interference like people that live on communes, it's just catered towards a more tech-savvy demographic. I guess you could also argue it's used as currency for illegal activities, so I guess that's a use case for it (hard to imagine The Silk Road could have worked without bitcoin).

Of course I could be wrong, and I don't think bitcoin will disappear any time soon - I just think it's going to become irrelevant.


> once it becomes as big as you say it will, it will be regulated.

How? You can regulate the borders of the system, and indeed most jurisdictions do. But how do you anticipate government controlling who can or cannot make transactions on the chain?


> I guess you could also argue it's used as currency for illegal activities, so I guess that's a use case for it

Except, from my understanding, it's becoming less and less useful for that - high fixed fees, and not really anonymous. Aren't these illegal activities moving to Monero?


Bitcoin is definitely hyped, though. Sure, on this site it gets a healthy dose of skepticism (as it should, I would argue, but that's a separate point), but cryptocurrency in general is currently increasing in hype, not decreasing. Just look at the number of articles written about crypto over the last year (a rough proxy, but still) - it's only gone up. Also, ICOs regularly garnering $20+ million worth of crypto.

I think the OP was referring to something that gets little hype in general (not just on HN) but could have unforeseen disruptive effects. Like that boring thing that no one really discusses much but a small group of committed people are working on.


Bitcoin 3-4 years ago got ridicule, not hype.


A fair point. But if it's been 3-4 years since then (and 8 years since inception), how much longer until bitcoin/crypto become the revolutionary technology that was promised?


No it didn't. I've been actively reading/commenting on HN for 5 years. Bitcoin got a lot of hype 3-4 years ago. The only difference is it gets massive amounts today.


Bitcoin gets compared to gold and has even been described as an "anticurrency" [0] but I think there is an important distinction between bitcoin and gold -- the underlying asset is intrinsically worthless, unlike a gold bar which can be melted into jewelry which can then be sold for instance.

[0] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-09/here-s-wh...


> I wonder if there's a similar overlooked-but-universal problem that someone in a garage is working on now, that'll spark a new wave similar to the dot-com boom.

I've got one for you. I've found a simpler universal grammar for programming languages. All modern programming languages use BNF grammars for syntax, and these have been researched and developed for about 60 years. But sitting unexplored for 60 years, has been another type of grammar, that uses only geometry to notate structure (achieved in practice via whitespace). I believe this new branch of languages will prove far superior to BNF languages in time, once tooling catches up.

I'm self-funding research on this. Like your description of the early web, it's really unimpressive now (http://ohayo.computer, https://github.com/breck7/treeprogram), but think it will catch on and be big. It seems so obvious to me when you improve something so low level that it will have big effects. But it's been hard to convince other research groups, and of course I could be wrong.


The problem with this is not so much that pretty much no one is able to make money off of programming languages, but what may be one of the causes of that effect: Few if any programming languages at least in the past 20 years have been able to make much of an impact at all (meaning, significantly reduce the cost of software development). Pretty much the last one has been garbage collection. So it's always possible we're one good idea away from a breakthrough, but I, for one, am skeptical, and if there were such a revolutionary idea, it would -- like any PL progress -- be slowly carried out and perfected over decades by many research groups.


> Few if any programming languages at least in the past 20 years have been able to make much of an impact at all (meaning, significantly reduce the cost of software development)

Agreed. I think orthogonal things like LLVM and Git have made a significant impact, but other than that it seems advances in PL have just been bringing ideas from Lisp or other 1950's-1970's languages into modern PLs.

> if there were such a revolutionary idea, it would -- like any PL progress -- be slowly carried out and perfected over decades by many research groups.

Also agreed. Although I do hope for my own sake that if TN is as good as I suspect, it catches on faster. Two promising areas of research that could accelerate resource allocation are a crypto in ETNs from the ground up and a neural net aided IDE tool.


So... lisp with optional parentheses?


Close. Except absolutely no parentheses. The important thing is that your words are laid out according to geometric rules, not via character delimiters. This has big implications for static tools, as well as future hardware that can execute trees directly (right now prototypes with FPGAs).


> I wonder if there's a similar overlooked-but-universal problem that someone in a garage is working on now, that'll spark a new wave similar to the dot-com boom.

AR?

(Assuming the recent past of Pokémon GO and the upcoming general availability of Apple's ARKit is anything to go by.)


Hardly overlooked, though


Yes, but AR is really just a means to an end.

ARKit could lead to the discovery of a killer app or two, similar to how Uber/Lyft's ride-hailing app is the killer application for lots of people with GPS-equipped smart phones, even though phones have had GPS tracking for ages but use was limited to mapping apps.


That's a good question to ponder. I like small ideas that turn big. But I have no idea what it could be.

The web was public infrastructure that had commercial applications. Tim Berners-Lee and co. started it at CERN, Andreessen and others worked on it in universities, and Netscape commercialized it. What public infrastructure do we have now that could follow such a path?

-----

And I wonder about the economics and business model. How will it fit within the dominant business models today:

1. Facebook/Google "content + clicks" advertising model

2. the Apple/Android/Amazon locked device + pay for content model

I'd argue that those two business models sort of limit the universe of technological ideas that we consider (or fund if you are VC). For example, the only software you can really sell these days is SaaS (?)

The web is big because it overturned Microsoft's model of selling software, although honestly it took 10+ years to do that. And Microsoft certainly played a big role in the first dot com boom with IE and hotmail.

And you can argue that nobody made that much money in the first .com boom. Yahoo and EBay are probably the exceptions. Amazon really didn't until after the crash was over.

But Intel, Sun, Cisco, etc. made a lot of money by selling shovels. Maybe the analog today is that AWS and Google will make a lot of money selling cloud services to the next big thing? Maybe the incumbents have to "buy into" the next thing -- otherwise it will get squashed.

-----

Maybe it's useful to look back to a previous boom -- the PC boom of the 1980's. As far as I know, the killers apps then were word processing and spreadsheets (for small businesses). I'm reading "The Dream Machine" and it is pretty amazing how people wrote before word processors! I never experienced those days, but I remember my mom literally cutting and gluing snippets of paper to write her papers! But pretty soon she got a word processor.

There is probably some "invisible drudgery" in our lives today along the lines of "creating documents" and "making phone calls and mailing brochures to disseminate information that should be on the web". But it's hard to think of what that is!

I guess I will say that I have PLENTY of unmet needs. There is a lot left that computers "should" be able to do. "The Dream Machine" is reminding me of that -- the vision was augmenting humans, not replacing humans with magic AI that doesn't even work.

But maybe I'm too old or too cynical, but it's hard for me to think of things left that are both technologically possible (in the near term) and economically incentivized. It seems like we have the best version of "The Dream Machine" (interactive computing + global networking) that can be supported by known business models.

So I guess that's why people think the next big thing will require a huge technological innovation like AI, VR, driverless cars, block chain, etc.

I'd love to hear a rebuttal though!

-----

Another thing "The Dream Machine" is reminding me of is how all the ARPA funding on interactive computing stemmed from the military command + control use case. That was driven by the Russians getting the bomb in 1949 and Sputnik shortly after.

So here's my best prediction: there will be some cataclysmic security event. There have been some obvious ones recently, but you can imagine it being even worse. The trend is going in the right direction. That will kick off a boom in funding/tech for offensive/defensive seucrity.

I actually bought a computer security index fund a year or two -- it's NOT doing great. But maybe a public event will change this.

"Security" definitely falls under the category of "invisible drudgery", to the point that we don't do it! Every system we build is pretty exploitable for a low number of dollars!


I'm not a huge crypto fan but among the hot tech fields, a reliable means to build savings / retain value over a multi year horizon is the most universal problem i.e. Bitcoin.


Like everything else, the value of bitcoin depends on its demand. There's absolutely no reason to have confidence that the demand for specifically bitcoin will be any more consistent over the long term than lots of other things. There are lots of things that could happen that could dramatically shift the demand levels.

Speculative, new, volatile are not good characteristics of places to put your savings unless your appetite for risk is quite high.

It's also not a good description of why people are getting into bitcoin as far as I can tell. Most of the people I know invested in bitcoin are invested speculatively because they want to make money as the price goes up, not retain the value they've acquired.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: