Horses, cars, and the disruptive decade

There’s an interesting, oft-repeated, story among technology geeks about the difficulty of getting forecasts about disruption right. In the mid 1980s, AT&T hired McKinsey & Co. to forecast cell phone adoption in the US by the year 2020. After racking up what must have been a multi million dollar bill, McKinsey said the answer would be 900,000 subscribers.

They were off by a factor of 120x.

Currently, the forecasts from leading energy analysts and think tanks on Electric vehicle adoption shows ~30% adoption in 2040. Clean energy guru Tony Seba believes things will work out different. He predicts that all new cars will be electric by 2030. In addition, all new cars will be, at minimum, semi autonomous by 2030. And, finally, all new energy will be solar by 2030.

It is very hard for us to predict the future because we are wired to think about improvements linearly.

But, technology growth is never linear and generally occurs due to a combination of technological innovations that combine to make new things possible. The current artificial intelligence wave was not made possible by deep learning algorithms alone. Instead, it took parallel computing (GPUs) and the ability to process big data that made deep learning algorithms effective.

Energy guru Tony Seba calls this “technology convergence.” Convergence happens when a group of technologies come together to make new things possible.This is why technology adoption follows “S curves” — they don’t occur linearly.

To illustrate this, this was 5th Avenue in New York City in 1900. There is one car in the photo.

In 1913, it was hard to spot the horse.

My belief is that we will see the adoption of electric vehicles and solar accelerate in the next decade. Autonomous vehicles will follow closely. It is an exciting time as it will actually enable us to make significant progress to our climate change goals as a global community.

It is a decade that will be similar to prior periods of technology upheaval. For the longest time, the big oil cartel and coal powers will all seem to dominate.

Until they won’t.

Longer version of this note on Medium or LinkedIn.