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No More Next Big Thing? 564

CthuluOverlord writes "CNET is reporting that Nicholas Donofrio, Big Blue's executive vice president of innovation and technology, made a declaration on Tuesday in an interview with ZDNet Asia. 'The fact is that innovation was a little different in the 20th century. It's not easy (now) to come up with greater and different things. If you're looking for the next big thing, stop looking. There's no such thing as the next big thing.'" Donofrio goes on to explain that he sees innovation as being services or social changes nowadays, rather than simply a better moustrap. What's the verdict? Is tech innovation dead?
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No More Next Big Thing?

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  • Yes Next Thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by denissmith ( 31123 ) * on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:59PM (#14934980)
    The idea that tech innovation is dead implies that we will now recycle the same tech in slightly modified form, because we have discovered every useful thing. I THINK NOT. What is more likely is that Mr. Donofrio suffers from failure of the imagination. Usually, when someone make a claim this outsized and this ludicrous, the next big thing is literally right around the corner. Mr. Donofrio can't see it - maybe none of us can. But it will come, and its implications may be good or may be bad - tech is like that, but it won't stop until we can control matter directly with our minds :-D
    • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pilgrim23 ( 716938 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:05PM (#14935070)
      The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our
      credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period
      when human improvement must end.

      Henry Elsworth
      US Patent Office, 1844
      • Exactly. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) <> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:09PM (#14935128) Journal
        Everyone thinks that progress is going to come to an end, because they can't imagine what the next big thing could be, but that's their failing, not progresses.
        • Re:Exactly. (Score:3, Interesting)

          by networkBoy ( 774728 )
          Next big thing:
          wetware implants ala Jonny mnemonic and/or borg type enhancements. Don't think so? Just look to the military for augmented soilders, or the commercial arbitrage market, where total and instant recall of all possible data about the deal would be an impressive advantage. People who are not geeks would submit to the knife if it could give them the possibility of riches.
          • Re:Exactly. (Score:3, Insightful)

            by wulfhound ( 614369 )
            Never mind that.. imagine the kind of conversational skills and knowledge a wireless Google wetware implant would give you? You'd be rid forever of that "who?" moment when the girl you're chatting up starts talking about how great some movie director or fashion designer you've never heard of is. Never fail another exam, get lost in another town, or be unable to find somewhere still serving drinks at 12pm.

            Of course, whether you'd want those amoral masters of search having access to your innermost thoughts is
        • Re:Exactly. (Score:3, Funny)

          by cayenne8 ( 626475 )
          "Everyone thinks that progress is going to come to an end, because they can't imagine what the next big thing could be, but that's their failing, not progresses."

          Yeah...well, just wait till I finally perfect my "flux-capacitor"...then we'll see if innovation is dead!!


        • Re:Exactly. (Score:3, Insightful)

          I think I have read somewhere that the idea of "no more big things" was thought to be true in the 1890's or thereabouts, during the Industrial Revolution. They thought they had invented just about everything. Telephones and electric power were pretty far-out concepts then, and when considered, seemed to be proof of the idea that everything had been invented and developed. Really, when you look back and see that the internal combustion engine had been invented and examples made and working fairly well then,
      • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:3, Interesting)

        by pilgrim23 ( 716938 )
        Oh yeah, and this one too:
        Everything that can be invented has been invented.
        Charles H. Duell

        U.S. Commissioner for Patents

        • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Valdoran ( 887940 )
          And don't forget, 640k should be enough for anybody.
        • by Mayhem178 ( 920970 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:00PM (#14935694)
          Um, you might be interested in this: urban legend []

          Here's the important excerpt from that page:

          Rumor has it... that a Patent Office official resigned and recommended that the Patent Office be closed because he thought that everything that could possibly be invented had already been invented!

          While that statement makes good fun of predictions that do not come to pass, it is none the less just a myth. Researchers have found no evidence that any official or employee of the U.S. Patent Office had ever resigned because there was nothing left to invent. A clue to the origin of the myth may be found in Patent Office Commissioner Henry Ellsworth's 1843 report to Congress. In it he states, "The advancement of the arts, from year to year, taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end." But Commissioner Ellsworth was simply using a bit of rhetorical flourish to emphasize the growing number of patents as presented in the rest of the report. He even outlined specific areas in which he expected patent activity to increase in the future.

          Taken out of context, such remarks take on a life of their own and are perpetuated in publication after publication whose authors, rather than check facts, copy and quote each other. For example, recent publications have attributed the "everything that has been invented..." quote to a later commissioner, Charles H. Duell, who held that office in 1899. Unlike Ellsworth, who may have been merely misquoted, there is absolutely no basis to support Duell's alleged statement. Just the opposite is true. Duell's 1899 report documents an increase of about 3,000 patents over the previous year, and nearly 60 times the number granted in 1837. Further, Duell quotes President McKinley's annual message saying, "Our future progress and prosperity depend upon our ability to equal, if not surpass, other nations in the enlargement and advance of science, industry and commerce. To invention we must turn as one of the most powerful aids to the accomplishment of such a result." Duell adds, "May not our inventors hopefully look to the Fifty-sixth Congress for aid and effectual encouragement in improving the American patent system?" These are unlikely words of someone who thinks that everything has been invented.
          • While everything has not been yet invented, I'd wager that virtually all technologies that could be combined in a novel way have already been patented.

            Which means I'd going to have some grey or white hairs before the The Next Big Thing can emerge without a flurry of lawsuits. Until then, the only innovations will be in marketing and sales tactics.
            • by rblancarte ( 213492 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:36PM (#14936484) Homepage
              But even that isn't true. We have had a bunch of things that in their own way (and I guess own realm) were a big thing. Think about the Nintendo in the mid 80's - completely reinvented home gaming. Processor innovations have made computers both smaller and cheaper. What was a "laptop" like 20 years ago, compared to now? Hell, even the palm, a simple an idea that it was, seriously changed the way some people use their computers. Now you have other systems that use Windows CE and similar. The iPod has very much taken the market by storm.

              All of these products came to pass without much litigation holding them back. Trust me, there will be more big things.

              Anyone who doesn't think so has no imagination.

              • by inKubus ( 199753 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @05:51PM (#14937072) Homepage Journal
                "No one will ever need more than 640K of RAM"

                I think that this is probably going to be the most exciting 50 years ever--so many new advances and new problems facing the world. I think that this guy needs to stop letting nostalgia get to him.

                When in history have: so many people had the ability to share and communicate ideas
                When in history have we actually had to worry about the carrying capacity of the planet.
                When in history have we had one world government coming into power?

                Ok, those are all social changes. Tech? Shit, too many to list: NANOTECHNOLOGY for one, will change everything from computers to cars to carpet. GENETIC ENGINEERING/BIOTECH will probably create a drug that stops the aging process (in the next 50 years), clones, etc. SPACE, humans will again turn their eyes towards the sky once we are mostly living peacefully around the world. Mars, Venus, probes, space stations, space tourism, space elevators (see NANOTECHNOLOGY), MORE.

                Yeah, it's not as "easy" to innovate, but when was it ever EASY? Edison worked for years on the light bulb and his other inventions, which is probably one of the simplest things we use each day.

                I mean, sure, most innovation today is happening either at a really large scale or a really small scale and so to the "average human" it doesn't seem very cool or sexy (it's not "human sized"). But once people see that these things will create human sized changes in the world, they are going to take notice.

                IBM should FIRE this guy if he's the VP of Research.

      • Stupidity (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CrazyMik ( 842019 )
        Learn from the past man. Didn't IBM once say that there was only a market for 5 computers in the world?

        This is a very sad statement. IBM still operates one of the few corporate R&D lab operations, but have been shifting theri focus to consulting. Yes it can make more predictible returns. But where will the next atomic force microscope come from?

        IBM should find a PR person to babysit this guy.
      • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:3, Interesting)

        by timeOday ( 582209 )
        The idea that there is "no next big thing" is challenging conventional wisdom, which is that there is. You think there is, so does most everybody including me.

        But there is really no insight in reiterating the conventional wisdom. Why do we think there will be a next big thing? More importantly, what will it be and when will it arrive?

        In my opinion, progress is almost inevitable in the long run (barring extinction). But that isn't really the point if you're worrying about pursuing research or choosin

    • Changes/innovations have always first come in increments, followed by rapid periods due to some (relatively) disruptive technology.

      Maybe "the next big thing" in public internet is going to be mesh networks. It's essentially an incremental technology, but it has potential to be massively disruptive to certain businesses.

      I definitely agree with you that Mr. Donofrio suffers from failure of the imagination. It might take a lot of failures, but the next big thing will show up.
    • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:3, Insightful)

      by BongoBen ( 776302 )
      It is preposterous to claim that everything has been invented. And as an engineer, I find that slightly insulting. I personally think that robotics and nanotech are coming up pretty quick. Nanotech especially, given another 10-20 years, is going to be VERY big indeed, and if it lives up to what the researchers and dreamers today think it will, it will likely revolutionalize the way we live.
    • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:5, Insightful)

      by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <{akaimbatman} {at} {}> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:32PM (#14935403) Homepage Journal
      What is more likely is that Mr. Donofrio suffers from failure of the imagination.

      What I think he's really suffering from is a sensationalist headline (he never used those words) and a poor usage of terms. The Slashdot headline has neatly turned a complex issue into a "yes or no" question, when it is nothing of the sort.

      First, let's define some terms here:

      Innovation is the practice of making technology work better than it did before. e.g. Plastic soda bottles are an innovative improvement over glass.

      Disruptive Technologies are rare technological discoveries that result in a complete change in the way we do things. e.g. steam power, trains, cars, airplanes and computers all resulted in sudden shifts in market ability.

      After a disruptive technology hits the market, a tumultuous cycle of new businesses and old businesses betting their livelihood on the new technology is created. They compete fiercely for the attention of the early adopters, and very few emerge to be winners. Nearly everyone in this cycle "loses", but this is often ofset by the competitive advantage the technology provides in other areas of business. This was were computers were a decade or so ago. Before that, microelectronics were the disruptive technology that put Silicon Valley on the map.

      Innovation, on the other hand, is usually about solving people's problems by applying technology in new and "innovative" ways. Most consumers may not think that a squeezable ketchup bottle is "innovative", but then they probably don't remember using a knife to get a flood of ketchup onto their plate.

      The problem that Mr. Donofrio has is that he's using "innovation" to describe both innovative ideas and disruptive technology. Specificly, he's saying that computers are no longer a disruptive technology, and have entered a more stable period. He's basically correct.

      Unfortunately, he doesn't understand that "the next big thing" will be a technology that probably has nothing to do with his business. For example, someone could invent an anti-gravity device tomorrow. The result would be another major disruption as shipping, transportation, space travel, and other industry raced to keep up with the disruption caused. So it will come, but he won't be able to predict its arrival.
      • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        "Disruptive Technologies are rare technological discoveries that result in a complete change in the way we do things. e.g. steam power, trains, cars, airplanes and computers all resulted in sudden shifts in market ability."

        Even this statement is a little off. Cars, airplanes, and computers really didn't make a huge sudden shift.
        Look at airplanes. The first airplane flew in 1903. Even by the start of WWI ten years later they where still little more than toys. It really wasn't until the 1920s and 30s that the
        • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:3, Interesting)

          by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) *
          You're only looking at their market penetration without looking at the disruption they caused. Each of those technologies resulted in an overnight industry of new companies trying to capitalize on the technology. In all cases, no critical mass would be achieved for several years, but massive amounts of money would be spent in the meanwhile.
    • Re: Yes Next Thing (Score:3, Insightful)

      by binarybum ( 468664 )
      "The next Big Thing" should be a massive drop in Big Blue's stock value and subsequent removal of Mr. Donofrio. The moment an executive in your innovation department says that all the really good ideas are used up - you drop his uninspired ass. Can you imagine Donofrio trying to get another job in this field after making a ridiculous statement like this? Time to switch to accounting Donofrio.

      The era of nanotech could very well be right around the corner, and I assure you Mr. Donofrio - this will be a "bi
  • by Kelson ( 129150 ) * on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:59PM (#14934982) Homepage Journal
    Sounds like the "Everything that can be invented has already been invented" myth [].
    • Yeah, you often see this from people who come up with a good idea but then are stuck trying to come up with another. Instead of the obvious: "I can't think of anything good", they make an ass out of themselves and proclaim that "Everything has been invented already, there's nothing left!"
  • by eln ( 21727 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @01:59PM (#14934983)
    Around the turn of the last century, people used to say basically this same thing. I think this is going to be one of those quotes that people laugh about in a hundred years.
  • From the sound of this article, they should add another one to the list [].

    This is just like Albert Abraham Michelson announcing (in 1896) that physics is dead and complete with nothing left to discover. Since then, I think there have been some shocking advancements.

    I tire of articles [] that basically say, "Look, look, we found a person who holds an important position in the corporate world and they said something without thinking (possibly just to make shock value news)! Let's all point and laugh."
    • by OwnedByTwoCats ( 124103 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:24PM (#14935926)
      I thought the Michelson quote had another sentence: "now, if we can only figure out why these salts fog our photographic plates..." Or was that an ad-lib by my Physics Professor? (Dr. Thomas Eck, CWRU)

      The thinking was that to the room of physics knowledge in 1896, the radioactivity door led only to a small closet of additional knowledge, rather than opening out into the wide, wide world.

      In 1896, noone knew what made the sun shine. Now we do.

      IMHO, precision chemistry (e.g. nanotechnology) will lead to some amazing things, but not at all the ones that people expect. K. Erich Drexler's universal manipulator will not happen, and a space elevator is a lot more likely. Precision fibers and laminates will do surprising things. MEMS and biotechnology will shake things up.

      As fossil fuels dwindle and become more expensive, energy conservation will become more important, as will turning plant material into liquid fuels. There will be much innovation in how to do things using less energy, or less fuel. The accelleration in processor power will slow down, as thermal and quantum effects become more and more important and harder to overcome. But storage technologies, hard disk and flash will continue improving.

      All of the changing ratios of relative costs will keep innovators busy finding better solutions to the changing problems.
      • I thought the Michelson quote had another sentence: "now, if we can only figure out why these salts fog our photographic plates..." Or was that an ad-lib by my Physics Professor? (Dr. Thomas Eck, CWRU)

        assuming gp is right and the year of the michelson quote is in the 1890s, then likely your professor was adlibing

        the first photographic image of any kind was made in either the late 1830s or early 40s (cant' remember, but the image itself is preserved at a UT library)... the first "propper" "photographs"

      • I suspect that the depletion of fossil fuels will spur the development of Nuclear Fission technology so that energy will be perpetually cheap, at least for the next million or so years on Earth.

        I'm not sure what the implications of this will be but I'm betting that the vast differences in Human existence in different nations today will be gone by the end of the 21st century.

        We've mined less than one ten millionth of the Uranium on earth. See here [] and here [] for the implications.

  • Nicholas sounds rather like the legendary Charles H. Duell, former Commissioner of the U.S. House of Patents in 1899, who was reported to have urged then-President McKinley to close down the Office, saying, "everything that can be invented has been invented".

    Now, I know this particular story is apocryphal, but it's interesting that we're hearing basically the same line a little over a century later. Odds are real good it will be wrong this time, too.

    Nick ought to know better...but he seems to be suffering
  • Really! (Score:5, Funny)

    by CrackedButter ( 646746 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:01PM (#14935002) Homepage Journal
    Let just wait till macworld 2007 shall we? ;p

  • Is tech innovation dead?

    Let's examine that.

    The World Wide Web was hailed as a big innovation in the late 90's. Initially Bill "The Genius" Gates (III) didn't give it much thought in his ground-breaking (if you dropped it from a great enough height it could break some very brittle flooring) book, but the bandwagon was suddenly moving like a conestoga wagon with a super charged 426 hemi under the hood. Problem was start-ups and pundits alike predicted a massive and sudden revolution. A shame the infra

  • Is that so? (Score:2, Informative)

    by hajo ( 74449 )
    Everything that can be invented has been invented.

    In 1899, then Patent Commissioner, Charles H. Duell reportedly announced that "everything that can be invented has been invented."
    • Exactly... this guy should be fired or moved into some a department where he cant do any damage. If he truly believes that innovation is no longer possible then he has lost the ability (if he ever had it) to recognize innovation when he sees it, which is not what you want from the guy in charge of technology and innovation at your company. Give him a raise and move him into "Accounting" or make him a Microsoft liason or something.
  • .... To Wall Street. Then they won't have anything to throw money at.
  • then renovate.
  • WTF!? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cataclyst ( 849310 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:02PM (#14935032) Homepage

    What about the up and coming functional genomics?!?
  • Innovation stifled (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Neil Watson ( 60859 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:04PM (#14935050) Homepage
    Innovation may be stifled but it's not for lack of ideas. The coporate influence in copyright and patent laws are the choke point.
    • Like most propaganda, anecdotal evidence rarely holds up to true scrutiny. Seriously, I think inovation does still take place, but as technology marches on, that inovation moves from the macro level to the micro level. Such things rarely sound exciting and Earth shaking, yet ofter really are. And, they are all being patented and folded into consumer products.
  • Voicing my opinion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:04PM (#14935052) Homepage Journal
    There is one killer app to come. Voice recognition, especially, subvocal input is the next big tech innovation. Lots has been done but no one has come close enough to nailing it to create/capture the market.

    More generally biomimetics and innovation from molecular biology will eclipse the innovation that has followed upon the IT revolution.

  • Segway (Score:2, Funny)

    by Locarius ( 798304 )
    Oh come on... how can he claim innovation is dead? There are tons of innovative [] products that have flooded the marketplace.
  • by CatWrangler ( 622292 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:04PM (#14935058) Journal
    Cold Fusion could happen by 2099 no? We could also cure cancer, AIDS, and a whole host of other things. Yes, alot of "invention" right now is actually synergy more than anything else, but there still is progress out there. Biotech, human genome project, robotics, etc. Now with current leadership in place, we might be enjoying these things on beach front property in Topeka, Kansas, but all the same, invention will continue.
  • A funny quote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bull999999 ( 652264 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:05PM (#14935062) Journal
    "Research ! A mere excuse for idleness; it has never achieved, and will never achieve any results of the slightest value."
    -- Benjamin Jowett (1817-93), British theologian.
  • by __aaclcg7560 ( 824291 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:05PM (#14935079)
    As one of my college instructor told me, the next the big thing has already been around for at least ten years before anyone bother to take notice. The Internet been around since the 1970s but no one noticed until the web browser and general access became available in 1995. The concepts for a lot of late 20th century technology (i.e., TV, radio, radar and microwave ovens) that we take for granted today was developed in the 1900s through 1940s. The next big thing may already exist right now, we just don't know about it until it appears on Slashdot. ;)
    • by saltydogdesign ( 811417 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:33PM (#14935413)

      As one of my college instructor told me, the next the big thing has already been around for at least ten years before anyone bother to take notice.

      So... the Macarena could be the Next Big Thing?
    • by Rorschach1 ( 174480 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:45PM (#14935531) Homepage
      My bet for the Next Big Thing is automated fabrication technology. And yes, it's already here - and it's gotten a lot cheaper in the last decade. 3-dimensional inkjets that make plastic parts, selective laser sintering for metal parts, that sort of thing.

      The general public hasn't really seen it yet, and it's still out of the price range for home use. Plus, the selection of materials is somewhat limited, but it's improving. There's no doubt in my mind that at some critical point of price and functionality, the market is going to explode. How long before a single machine is capable of building the physical housing of a device, plus conductive circuits, passive components, semiconductors, and moving parts? Imagine the innovation that will inspire, when you can electronically design and distribute everything from doorknobs to handguns, to be fabricated by people everywhere at minimal cost.

    • It's entirely possible that you are right. The next big thing could be...wait for it...computers! I'm not entirely joking. We have had such an increadable pace of advancement in computer tech over the last twenty years, that it has become acceptable to be less and less efficent with them. Take the on going $100 laptop story. Given that a C-64 level hand crank powered portable computer could easily be produced for WAY under $100, it shows a distinct mentality of waste that there is so much hoopla over g
    • The next big thing may already exist right now, we just don't know about it until it appears on Slashdot. ;)

      Well, until it appears on Slashdot at least twice, anyway. And you'll know it's really the next big thing if it appears twice in the same day!

    • My bet is...robots. Not those huge industrial installations with welding torches, but walking, talking, dish-washing and grocery visiting robots from 50's Sciense Fiction.
  • Greets! I ran a panel on this in 2003 at the Hyertext conference [ [] ] I think Pete came closest to getting it right - predicting a 'hot or not' for the general web - now see Digg [ [] ]. We also ran a special issue linked to the panel in JoDI [ [] ]
  • As others have already pointed out, the guy's statement has been made before. Perhaps he wants to leave a legacy, and as he is saying that IBM has pretty much collapsed as an entity for innovation, perhaps he wants to get into a book of stupid quotes from the early 21rst century. By recycling idiotic comments others have made in the past, he only proves he can't even come up with an original saying. If he was my head of tech innovation, he would be looking for a new job tomorrow.
  • As long as innovation is crushed at the patent level, then yes, the NBT is never going to happen.

    Things like planes, computers, cars and phones all happened because someone took something, and made it better. Now we have scum sucking lawyers fighting over simple lines of code, and even now our own DNA.
  • the opposite (Score:5, Interesting)

    by opencity ( 582224 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:09PM (#14935121) Homepage
    Got it exactly wrong. The curve, whether or not you like Kurzweil, is headed up. The interesting part is the next 'fracturing of the equilibrium' will, as usual, be military. It took from 1905 to 1944 for the last one to reach the common man. Now we're at the mercy of Moores' law so instead of 39 years ... 39 minutes?

    (please excuse the mixed buzzwords)
  • Come on!!! (Score:5, Funny)

    by 3770 ( 560838 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:10PM (#14935141) Homepage
    We haven't even invented faster than light travel, time travel, teleportation or cloaking devices.

    We haven't even invented a self repleneshing beer can.
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:11PM (#14935155)

    And I'll even go so far as to say the reason why there will be no next big thing - it's our broken-ass patent system.

    Someone, somewhere out there has part of your brilliant idea buried in a vaguely worded submarine patent. Soon as you hit the big time - wham. Some greedy patent grubbing jerk will sue you for daring to make use of "his idea" that he's been sitting on not using for the last half a dozen years or so.

    Only big business has enough lawyers these days to explore uncharted waters. Which means that business will be in charge of innovation. Which means that no product/idea/whatever will get the green light without a financial analysis conducted by a committee of people who will 99.9% of the time tend to be conservative, or maybe even just plain clueless as to the new idea's implications.

    The days of the solo guy in the garage coming up with the thing that changes the world are over.

  • CNET got the 'next big thing' in News by reporting this :)
  • There is no such thing as the next, big, unpatented thing.
  • This man will lose his job within a week. Pretend you're IBM, a tech company that just got done telling everyone it could in the last decade that it's not a dinosaur. Then this guy opens his big fat yap and undoes three years of work in Asia.

    (Yes, I'm also an IBM stockholder. Don't laugh; I've made money.)
  • Well, then if there is no point in looking for The Next Big Thing(TM), then maybe we should start looking for The Next Big Thing After The Next Big Thing(TM).

  • It's like MJ (Score:3, Insightful)

    by silverbax ( 452214 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:16PM (#14935209)
    It's like Michael Jordan - the Chicago Bulls did not know they were drafting the greatest NBA player in history, who would create massive revenue for the business and revolutionize endorsements and salaries for players.

    The Next Big Thing will happen in part because nobody really knows it's going to catch lightning in a bottle. If everyone knows about it, speculation and hype erode profitability.

    IBM's comment is just ridiculous. There's the famous patent comment from the last century which others have pointed out. Then there's the Web, which both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates thought was a waste of time at one point. Video game consoles were considered a fad, and not a viable big business. So was digital music, broadband, online shopping, mobile phones and small-scale stock brokers.

    There are always things which can be gigantic market and economy changers, even if they aren't The Internet or Radio or The Combustion Engine.

    I can think of quite a few items that might completely change huge sections of business in the next ten-twenty years:

    Wireless everywhere - 'nuff said
    Hydrogen or other alternative fuel vehicles - no commodity driven marketplace for Middle East interests.
    Digital Ink (e-Ink)
    Droids/Automatons (we already have Roomba and Asimo - I am already preparing to be crushed by the first robot rebellion)

  • by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:20PM (#14935262) Journal
    What has come out in the 21st century?

    The Ipod and the mp3 player market, much more advanced 3d video cards, composite 3d accelerated desktops, new video players and microized computers that are pda in size (blackberry, Ipod video, Orgami, etc), a shift from dynamic cgi websites to interactive ones wiht complex javascript and ajax, and the $100 computer that is quite feature filled.

    Whats in the futre? Better wifi and other internet technologies that are wireless, physics accelerators in 3d cards, 3d interfaces, and seemingless networked clusters or SSI(single system image) where you can hook up several computers that act as one whole computer image rather than the traditional cluster.

    Also phones are going to take off as well with bluetooth and other technologies. The europeans already have it because they are not under monopolies who like to sell trusted drm midi ringtones for $3.

  • by rcastro0 ( 241450 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:22PM (#14935277) Homepage
    He is quoted out of context, and is hard to know what exactly he meant
    by "stop looking for the next big thing" quote. As far as I know, he may be saying that his job is not to hold a crystal ball in hand and try to predict the next big thing (neither should you). And he does *not* say there is nothing new to be discovered. He only says it is harder to come by these things in the tech world today. Elsewhere in the article it stands out clear that he is busy seeking to enable innovation, instead of getting worried about what the "next big thing" will be. So clearly he does not discard the power of innovation.

    One cental remark he makes, that "innovation today is more about services, process, business models or cultural innovation than just product innovation" sounds *very* well put, IMHO. Let us not forget which sort of innovation Google, eBay, Yahoo, Amazon, Orkut, LinkedIn, Napster (the original), iTunes, and even Slashdot itself, among others, brought to the world -- hint: it is not technical.
    • So, in other words, he's saying, "Don't try to create the next big thing. Just create the next thing, and let history decide if it's big."

      I'm all for that. Too many people today who are in the business of creating set out from square one with the idea of changing the world. All they have to do is make a change...whether it ends up changing the world is up to too many factors that are beyond their control.
  • by dr_dank ( 472072 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:22PM (#14935284) Homepage Journal
    and not ONE proclaiming that they have the "next big thing".... in their PANTS!

    C'mon people, you can do better than this.
  • Stop looking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by john82 ( 68332 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:24PM (#14935296)
    ...and you'll certainly stop finding.

    How did this guy get that high up in an IBM research org?
  • ORLY (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RyoShin ( 610051 ) <> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:25PM (#14935317) Homepage Journal
    I would like to throw my weight out there and call Donofrio an idiot, at least in relation to this statement. There are still many Next Big Things that we have yet to achieve (though the ability to achieve such may or may not exist, but we won't know till we try.)

    A short list:
    - Hovering vehicles
    - Anti gravity (which is probably related to the above)
    - hand held energy weapons
    - teleportation
    - economical space travel (think "to mars", or, at the least, consumer viability for going to the moon)
    - curing cancer
    - controlling computers with our brains
    - mechanical prostetics that respond either to brain waves or nerves (we're right on the edge of this one- I believe someone had a really basic, bulky unit working, it just has to become available for the common man)
    - growing of artificial organs for transplants (goodbye organ donors!)
    - interactive holographic interfaces
    - solar energy that's +60% effecient

    Okay, maybe that list isn't so short. Sure, many of those fields are being worked on, but nothing concrete and ready for mass use has been created (to my knowledge.) All of those items will help to advance the human race in terms of how we live and effect our environment, as well as populating into space.

    Also, I'm still waiting for my damned hoverboard. Back to the Future Part II is full of lies, I tell you, lies! (I realize that the events in BttF2 don't occur to 2015, but we should be seeing regular hover technology by now if we are to meet the deadline of mass production for hoverboards that can be used by everyday kids.)
  • by putko ( 753330 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:27PM (#14935342) Homepage Journal
    If I were a creative, hard-working guy at IBM, and I heard something like this, I'd be thinking that I needed to get a new job, as I'd have no future at IBM if that is the sort of thing coming down from the top.
    • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @10:16PM (#14938669)
      I worked for IBM when this trend started... they bought the company I worked for, and, unlike many in companies bought by IBM, I stayed around for a couple years (compare 54% attrition in a year vs. 6% attrition in a year for most Cisco acquisitions).

      One really stupid thing that happened before I left was that they decided that each of the major labs would have to come up with at least one product every 6 months, instead of dedicating themselves to research. This was one of Lou Gerstner's last gasps, but it redirected the company focus from doing things that no one else could do, to doing things that made short term profit.

      Then others in the company (Sam Pamisano, Bill Etherington, et. al.) decided that individual contributors compensation would be based on the overall profit more than division or personal performance, and that managers and above would still have it based on division, personal performance, then overall profit, in that order.

      Either they believed the engineers working for them had never had any higher math in the area of game theory, or they were simply ignorant that the emergent property of that type of staging is to keep your boss pleased by keeping the division up at the expense of the rest of the company, so the boss is happy and cuts you in on the cake.

      Finally, it was a matter of pride to IBM Global Services that they had so much consulting effort that had been sold that they had a 2 year backlog - WTF? Who could *possibly* be proud of promising something you're unable to deliver in the timeframe you promised it, or having an organization that can't meet the demands of its market?

      It's really unfortunate when a large company that people have depended upon for their livelihoods starts a tumble into short term thinking, and from there, into mediocrity.

      -- Terry
  • Big Things (Score:3, Interesting)

    by umbrellasd ( 876984 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:27PM (#14935345)
    The next big thing always occurs right after the big wigs conclude that there are no more big things.

    It's a common phenomenon in history where there is a cultural lull and pundits are claiming that everything that can be done has been done.

    Just look at biotech. WTF, this executive is a tunnel vision idiot. There are amazing things on the horizon.

  • Innovators, rejoice! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by EricTheGreen ( 223110 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:28PM (#14935355) Homepage
    If Donofrio, IBM's Grand Poo-Bah of Innovation and Technology, is really espousing this as the company line, innovators everywhere can now breath easier in knowing that their largest potential worldwide competitor, one with near-bottomless personnel and cash resources, will no longer be racing them to realize innovative ideas and technologies from the shadowy ether of "just how exactly does {x} work?".

    The basic research space is [mostly] all yours now. Enjoy!

    Sad for IBM, though.

  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:30PM (#14935376) Homepage Journal
    Anyone who goes looking for the Next Big Thing (tm) isn't going to find it. It's not predictable. We never know whether something is going to catch on in a big way, until after it happens. All you can do is sit back and wait to see what people are paying attention to.

    Take a look at Microsoft, for example. They have a huge war chest full of monopoly money and they have been actively trying to create the Next Big Thing for nearly two decades now, and not once have they succeeded. Don't you think that if it were possible to predict the Next Big Thing, that those with the financial and political means to do Whatever They Want (tm) would have a virtual lock on it?

    In technology, the innovations that change everything come from where you least expect them. That's because the big dogs have a vested interest in preserving the status quo.
  • No source of ideas (Score:3, Interesting)

    by forand ( 530402 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:30PM (#14935379) Homepage
    It is no surprise to me that comments like this are starting to appear from people who should know better. In the past century much of the impetus for innovation in the day to day lives of Americans, has come from, at some point, basic research. In the past few decades we have been reducing funding on basic research and thus less is being done. Now with that said Mr. Donofrio obviously isn't aware of other sectors of technology. Biotech is getting funded by both private donors as well as government agencies. I am reasonably sure there will continue to be breakthroughs in that field for at least a few years to come. But all of science relies on developing technologies that are needed to learn more about some basic system. These type of experiments are not being funded. And in the long run if this does not change I could see Mr. Donofrio statement being closer to reality.
  • by wbren ( 682133 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:33PM (#14935411) Homepage
    ...we still have to invent warp drive, phasers, photon torpedos, transporters, and replicators.

    Oh, and androids.
  • Whatever... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:43PM (#14935516)
    It appears that most of the Slashdot crowd agrees this is bunk and, of course, they are correct.

    Our understanding of Physics alone is still so incomplete, that until we know it all (and I suspect that day may never come), there will still be tons of possibilities for the next big things coming out of that field alone.

    Computer technology is still in its infancy. Anyone who thinks it's not going to change as drastically in the next 50 years as it has in the past 50, is fooling themselves.

    Then there's the cool stuff we all want which, we know is possible and is only a matter of time. Cyborg type stuff, for example (and I'm not talking about the previous article on insects). I'm talking about devices implanted in our bodies to give us additional abilities. Imagine having direct internet access from your brain. There's simply NOTHING that makes this impossible and anyone who thinks it won't be a "Big Thing" simply lacks imagination.

    I suspect that's the real problem right there. Mr. Donofrio simply lacks imagination.
  • by HRbnjR ( 12398 ) <> on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:49PM (#14935585) Homepage
    The problem isn't technology, it's cooperation.

    Some time ago, I read an article [] by Tim Berners-Lee which starts off with a description of a technology (semantic web) aided lifestyle where your car will automatically book itself for an oil change with your mechanic, and that type of thing. The thing is, we have all the knowledge and technology to make that kind of stuff happen *today*, yet I still don't think we will see it will happen any time soon.

    The problem is that to take things to the next level like that, we need *extensive* ongoing cooperation between hundreds and thousands of people, organizations, and companies - where such cooperation might not have any short term payoff, or the long term payoff might not be in the best financial interest of those involved (ie, Microsoft realizing a universal platform neutral programming language like Java would mean people don't need Windows). I mean, hell, we can't even get broad agreement on a single XML Word Processing format.

    Our problems now are more systemic than technologic. We aren't leveraging what we have.
  • by qwijibo ( 101731 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @02:52PM (#14935610)
    In the Dilbert Future, he already predicted the next big thing - the head cubicle. It's basically a helmet with an integrated phone, monitor, etc. This will be a tremendous cost savings for large companies. Instead of having to use valuable floorspace for cubes, they can stack people with their head cubicles.

    Right now, I'm taking up 72 square feet/576 cubic feet (6' deep x 12' long x 8' high) with my cube. That's valuable real estate for someone who, sitting in a chair, wearing a head cubicle, could be accommodated easily by a 3'x3'x4' area. That's only 36 cubic feet. 16 people could be housed in an area the size of my cube.

    Sure, stacking people in boxes seems inhumane and degrading, but since when has that stopped companies from realizing a minor decrease in costs? Given the cost of real estate, companies who don't flock to the head cubicle would be at a very serious economic disadvantage.
  • by Peter Trepan ( 572016 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @03:21PM (#14935900)
    1. Worldwide internet communication allows large numbers of international friendships, dampening public support for all geopolitical war.

    2. Cheap connectivity makes government propaganda impractical in every country

    3. Nearly all software becomes free, as the impracticality of selling infinitely copyable material becomes evident.

    4. Pop culture dies for the same reason, and is replaced by amateur arts and culture

    5. AIDS vaccine is found, triggering second sexual revolution

    6. Tech advances too fast for traditional college to keep up. Other methods of training become more prominent.

    7. Privacy dies. Morality becomes more utilitarian as "public face" becomes impossible
  • Apparently you didn't get the memo: Justin Simoni is the next big thing [].
  • by HPNpilot ( 735362 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:38PM (#14936503) Homepage
    Innovation is certainly not dead, but a lot of innovators are on strike. Think "Atlas Shrugged" and Galt's Gulch. With today's IP environment which heavily favors large corporations whether or not you work for them, I for one refuse to play the game. Did the patent game both under my name and as a consultant, created lots of fun stuff, but for what you end up getting out of it, it is simply not worth the extraordinary time investment. I personally know at least half a dozen just like me, and I'm not exactly the most socially connected nerd...

    What I invent now I do for fun and for just myself and my friends.

  • by Wansu ( 846 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @04:43PM (#14936538)

    Maybe he does lack imagination as some have said but he's got a point.

    Consider the field of electronics. Most of the engineering work during the past 50 years has been refining the fabrication of the transistor and it's application. Regardless of whether you're talking about TV, audio equipment, computers, defense systems, industrial controls or any other product made of electronics.

    It's all been about the transistor. The nobel prize in physics was awarded to 3 engineers in 1947. It took more than a decade to get the transistor into a form that could be used in prodcution. Since then, there have been many refinements including printed circuit boards, integrated circuits and lots of miniaturization of systems. We've gotten lots of mileage out of the transistor because of it's versatility as a controlled source. It can be used as a switch or as an amplifier. The mother of it's invention was the need for a better way of performing these switching and amplification functions than vacuum tubes could provide.

    Transistor technology is mature. Discrete transistor circuitry is already considered as quaint as tube circuitry. Soon, we'll regard standard ICs the same way.

    But where are the glass or plastic light based circuits on Star Trek and 2001 Space Oddessy? The answer is that awaits a breakthrough in physics of the same magnitude as the transistor was.

    Since most of the people reading Slashdot are programmers rather than EEs, I will point out that much of the software we develop runs on machines made of this 50 year old transistor technology. Having machines based on light or water or living tissue or whatever form they'll eventually take is bound to change this.

    But this breakthrough in physics hasn't happened yet. It might be next year or it might be 30 years from now. Look at the time it took us to progress from vacuum tubes to transistors. It's hard to predict. But there will be a certain transition period between transistor technology and whatever replaces it. Only then will we have some idea what the next big thing might be. Whatever it will be, it ain't in sight yet.

  • by Aqua OS X ( 458522 ) on Thursday March 16, 2006 @05:04PM (#14936685)
    As a designer, the first thing that comes to mind is ... "errr, what do IBMs design teams look like?" And by "design" I'm not referring to a pile a of engineers dubbed "designers," or a bunch of art school kids who don't understand how a product actually functions. I'm talking about a real design team with industrial designers, graphic designers, interactive designers, engineers, social and psychological researchers all working in the same building, on the same floor, and drinking from the same water cooler.

    I seriously doubt IBM does this, or does this well. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if they simply dream up garbage and ship it off to a design firm to become pretty. I don't know.

    I know more then a few people who would love to, and know how to, design the "next big thing(s)," but a company such as IBM needs to accommodate an innovative environment. Moreover, they can't rely upon people in a vacuum to develop such an environment. They need to get off their butts and start hanging out in firms like IDEO. They need to see how people innovate on a daily basis.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle