Infrastructure: the new venture area

For technology watchers, looking for upcoming trends, it’s always of interest to see where the venture capital sector is investing. Of course, not every business that attracts VC investment succeeds. But it’s an indicator of where attention is focussed.

MIT’s Technology Review carries an article which reviews this area of IT. With a report from the recent Venture Summit East conference (that’s East as in US East Coast – in Boston), it provides three useful insights.

First – start-ups are beginning to recover from the downturn. It’s been a dry six months for public offerings but a few are starting to come through again.

Second – what the angels are investing in now is new technologies that can assist the oldest of commercial imperatives: saving money. In particular, reducing the cost of infrastructure. The article cites two, perhaps surprising, examples.

Virtualisation is today’s hotspot; but  opportunities exist to update the “outdated” technology behind it. And there’s still a need to reduce the cost of storing and managing data which is an order of magnitude (or more) greater than the cost of acquiring it.

And third – that while VC priorities are still informative, the emergence of so much cheap and scaleable cloud infrastructure means that some startups with really viable ideas don’t need venture funding. In fact, they may be damaged by it with a push to go too far too soon. Technology watchers, take note!

• What VCs Are Investing In, Technology Review, 26 May 2009

BarCamp Brighton – second day

The second day of BarCamp was illuminated by several conversations about the future of Social Networks (is there one? will multiplicity kill them off? is Facebook past it or you ain’t seen nothin’yet? what about identity sharing with XFN and similar frameworks?).

I learned a bit more about Twitterbots. Twitter is one of those services which I know about but would, I think find overly intrusive into my working day. Partly that’s just me being older, I guess, but there’s a personality element to those sort of choices as well. There were a couple of people at least who are doing research into social network analysis: Aleks Krotowski of Linden and The Guardian’s tech team, and Beth Granter of Sussex Uni. I suggested a connection with Peter Gloor who’s a guru of this stuff at MIT’s Sloan School, who I met on a company IT Field Trip I organised to MIT last May.

Jeff Barr ran a session on Cloud Computing, for me an update on what Amazon Web Services has added to its portfolio since I first met Jeff on a Study Tour two and a half years ago. AWS lowers the entry barriers for startups, and enables enterprise IT to test things out or do big short-term projects without major capital investment on infrastructure.

So overall, what a great event! From the initial publicity, it could have seemed like a geekfest for students, but the great value was the whole spectrum – people with that kind of sharp insight, established hi-tech companies, start-ups and more – and the chance to absorb a much younger IT culture than the one I’ve spent the last twelve years in. And for free, thanks to the sponsors! If you get a chance, go to one!

Amazon Web Services
Peter Gloor at MIT’s Sloan School
SocialSim Aleks’s blog

MIT’s top 10 emerging technologies – 2008

MIT 10
MIT’s Technology Review publishes an annual hit list of ten top emerging technologies – not all of them IT, but IT is always well represented.

This year’s list includes a technology for wireless power; there are quite a number of these developments around these days, including some the TR10 missed such as Splashpower in the UK. It includes “Modelling Surprise” – not magic, but developing a scenario modelling methodology that takes into account disruptive surprises of the past. Also modelling uncertainty is probabilistic chip design, which recognises the range of computational areas where absolute precision is un-necessary and thus enables power consumption of devices to be reduced: this technology may also come into its own as component sizes continue to reduce and the physics of uncertainty come into play in mainstream design.

Sandy Pentland’s Reality Mining is also in the list: by enabling mobile devices to “recognise” each other when they’re in range, data can be gathered about the social or professional encounters between their owners. Knowledge of their personal networks can then help facilitate serendipitous meetings (think “I didn’t know you’d be here!”)

Visit TR to review the complete list.


• Technology Review’s Ten Emerging Technologies of 2008 (Tech Review, March/April 2008)


MIT students first to search video lectures for spoken content

I said I wasn’t going to just link to articles. But this one from MIT’s Technology Journal contains the links I’d otherwise want to research for myself. So have a look.

In brief: there’s been a lot of research over the last thirty years in speech to text rendition, and products on the market. But MIT appears to have cracked two additional problems. First, many lecturers aren’t native English speakers – a top university is a polyglot, international community. So software that’s designed for standard English (or American) won’t do. Second, of course, in lectures there are many specialist terms not in a standard lexicon (whatever the subject).

So for MIT to offer its students a Lecture Search online tool, based on videos of lectures, is pretty remarkable. Read the story here: Searching Video Lectures (MIT Technology Journal, 26 Nov 2007).