by Peter Franklin
Monday, 7
November 2022
Analysis
17:40

Twitter is proof that Big Tech is out of ideas

Silicon Valley hasn't made any significant progress in a decade
by Peter Franklin
Disruptor or more of the same? Credit: Getty.

“We wanted flying cars. Instead we got 140 characters.”

It’s now almost ten years since Peter Thiel expressed his disappointment with the pace and direction of technological change, and time has not dimmed the strength of his argument. The 21st century had clearly not delivered the space age future we were promised in the 20th. In place of science fiction wonders like the flying car, we got smartphones and social media — including Twitter (hence the reference to 140 characters). Not much has changed in the intervening period. The tweet limit is now 280 characters, but the ongoing fuss over Elon Musk’s blue-tick decision shows just how little there is to talk about.

If the internet were still evolving at the same speed that it did in the 1990s or 2000s, then we wouldn’t care about Twitter’s change of management. Indeed, we might not be thinking about Twitter at all. In a truly disruptive tech sector, the website might have been swept aside in the manner of a Myspace or a Bebo.

However, the story of the last ten years is one of consolidation (or stagnation, depending on one’s point of view). The dominant tech companies like Apple and Amazon have tightened their grip on their respective markets, while technological breakthroughs on the scale of the first iPhone (2007) have been few and far between.

Of course, there have been upgrades and re-designs but very little that has genuinely changed our lives. The technologies that we have now were pretty much in place in 2012. Progress has been a matter of  incremental improvement and growth in consumer uptake.

But as markets become saturated and existing products become boringly familiar, we have to ask if Big Tech has peaked. Indeed, the real story at Twitter isn’t the blue-tick palaver, but rather the dramatic downsizing of the workforce. Nor is it the only tech giant going through painful adjustments. According to Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal, Meta (a.k.a. Facebook) is also about to announce significant job losses.

Meta is at least interesting in that the company is visibly trying to make the next tech revolution happen. Its core product, Facebook, is emblematic of a previous era, and Zuckerberg and co. are surely right to change the script.

However, the tech they’ve placed their bets on — the metaverse — has yet to set the world alight.  It could be that hundreds of millions of consumers are ready to strap on a headset and live half their lives in a 3-D virtual environment, but so far there’s little sign that this is the case. Indeed, Meta’s efforts are frequently met with mockery — as when the company announced that its avatars will now have legs.

Perhaps Big Tech needs to focus on the real world instead, where legs come as standard. If the application of AI and robotics produces actual breakthroughs like the fully self-driving car, then that would be transformative. But, despite the promises, it hasn’t happened yet, some partially-automated features aside.

Consumer tech still awaits the Next Big Thing. In the meantime, make the most of your $8 blue-tick.

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Carlos Danger
Carlos Danger
22 days ago

Very true. Peter Thiel’s comment about flying cars hits close to home with me, as my startup is trying to help companies get their electric car innovations to market. It’s tough.
People think that with electric cars we are seeing dramatic innovations, but that’s not really true. Electric cars have been around for just as long as gasoline cars, more than a hundred years. They are old technology.
Innovations like computer driving are hyped beyond their capability, with billions poured into them and so far little sign that that money will be recouped. It’s like that throughout the carmaking industry.
We could be seeing tremendous innovation in cars and carmaking. Instead, through short-sightedness by both carmakers and government regulators we have an oligarchic industry slow to innovate just when we need new innovations most.
Not that I blame anybody in particular, but we could, and should, do a lot better.

Last edited 22 days ago by Carlos Danger
Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
22 days ago

there are some of us who loath the takeover of our lives by electronic technology, and its de-personalisation of every aspect of life, under the auspices of ” progress”: after the telegraph was invented, the telephone came… how is it any form of progress that humanity has now replaced speaking to one another with a reversion to the telegraph?

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
22 days ago

The one thing I’m sure of is that Meta does not have legs.

Sam Sky
Sam Sky
22 days ago

The thing is, flying cars were unrealistic now, and were unrealistic in the 50’s when they were first dreamt up. A lot of the reasons tech has failed is because inventors no longer have a constraint mentality. By this I mean, well the same as how Watt when he invented his improved Steam engine spent years tweaking every part, constantly battling against the iron laws of Physics. Most of the great inventions of the 20th century came from people trying to solve a problem, however they defined this problem in terms of constraints of what is actually possible.
In the current business environment this kind of realistic relation to the world is discouraged because the person who says this won’t work because of A, B, C is constantly derided as negative and anti-innovation. Yet real innovation comes preceisely by confronting these constraints and finding ways around it with ingenuity. And yes, many of these constraints are the same reason X technology wasn’t developed 50, 70 or 90 years ago and you have to have a clear eyed vision of whether those constraints have genuinely changed now.
The current model is beam out bright optimism and then try to make it work later. Hence you get a ton of hot air. I remember a guy from work saying an executive at Honda gave instructions that he wanted an engine that produced air that was clearer when it came out than in, in defiance of any knowledge of combustion engines. And here is the root of the problem: overoptimistic business types, enamored with their own “innotativeness” and enthusiasm. They are also, more importantly, without any engineering knowledge. These people have been setting the priorities for what engineers work on now for the last 10 years. But with the money to determine what receives investment, or not.

Last edited 22 days ago by Ferrusian Gambit
Simon Elliott
Simon Elliott
22 days ago

Sorry, but this is the most trivial analysis. The exact opposite is true. Progress in software, especially in artificial intelligence, and in underlying technologies, especially chip design, are moving faster than ever and with a greater impact than anything going before it. The fact that we do not have new hardware gadgets does not make your case.

Leejon 0
Leejon 0
22 days ago
Reply to  Simon Elliott

But what is your ‘case’? Other than a misunderstanding of the word ‘progress’?

Fran Martinez
Fran Martinez
21 days ago

That’s what happens when you allow monopolies. Big Tech has bough every startup in the last decade and let them die…

Aaron James
Aaron James
22 days ago

Twitter is proof that Big Tech is out of ideas

If only this were true. This has to be the most wrong article ever written anywhere!

Ever hear of ‘Transhumanism’? That is the WEF’s entire plan – the ones who matter have a neural link (as Elon is working on) to the internet and AI. Naturally this means all the humans linked this way will also be mentally linked to each other too – with AI.

And what about AI? How about when it escapes into the ‘wild’ and is in every thing from toasters to Nuclear Power plants to what ever? You will not get it back into the bottle….

wiki, that total cesspool of the agenda mis and mal information. defines it like this:

“”Transhumanism
Transhumanism is a philosophical and intellectual movement which advocates the enhancement of the human condition by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies that can greatly enhance longevity and cognition””

ever hear of The World Economic Forum’s head scientist – Dr. Yuval Noah Harari ? Basically Satan’s toolmaker…there are loads of videos that should frighten the he** out of you. like this one at random https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vrkTl9Sv6Y really watch a bit – and this is not even where he gets really scary….. You ought to hear what he thinks the ‘useless people’ answer is (everyone not a techie, and a few grunt workers, as he thinks automation will do most work..)

OK there is that – he says already they can read thoughts by the way

But how about mRNA? How about DNA vaccines? How about ‘Gene Therapy’ about genetically having the ability to do anything they wish – and if you fallow Dr Malone (patent holder of mRNA tech) you will not believe what they can do with that. And we know what they think of informed consent.

OK – how about Digital Currency? So every penny in and out of your ‘Wallet’ is tracked by your bank account with the Central Bank. It will be on your phone, by the way – so every second you are GPS, every person near you is also recorded near you – then the cameras everywhere – they have almost perfect Facial recognition – and if masked, Gait Identification, and if you write, Syntax Identification, and Retina scan Identification, finger print – your Genome, your DNA will be on it – you will be OWNED! Your Social Credit Score will be your life. Do something they do not like and your ‘money’ will not spend – or on how you want it anyway…..

Hey – it goes on and on – but this writer is standing on the rail road tracks looking South as a Bullet Train coming from the North is about to splat him like a bug…. ‘Nothing to see here’ SPLAT!

Saul D
Saul D
22 days ago

3D printing. Robotics. IoT. Alexa/Echo and everyday voice and face recognition. Huge joining up of data. And, just now, generative AI which is about to explode and rewire your head.

Snapper AG
Snapper AG
22 days ago
Reply to  Saul D

AI has yet to make one person’s life better. Alexa and Echo are gee gaws to amuse the masses. iPhones, Google, Facebook, etc. are largely the same. Empty amusements that don’t make us better off. There’s no productivity gain, no increase in output, i.e. no actual progress.Arguably, they make us worse off. That’s what Thiel and others mean.
If massive technological change leads to minimal improvement in standards of living, it’s not progress, it’s a diversion.

Last edited 22 days ago by Snapper AG
Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
22 days ago
Reply to  Snapper AG

Excellent comment. And excellent article by Mr Franklin. I’m sure you dont litterally mean AI isn’t making one person’s life better, it’s definetly helped many millions. But may be a net -ve, and become even more so if generative AI & the other next gen tech goes main stream. I see rationalism (or more precisely Left brain thinking in the Ian McGilchrist sense) as the main underlying cause of our current malaise. Various contemporary artists are trying to cure this with works that bring back a sense of the numinous. Some have been horrified by the recent trend for “AIs to fix paintings” – which they see as the exact opposite of needed re-enchantment.

Or to give a more topical example, Virtual Reality is begining to take over from sexbots as perhaps the best cope for incels. But even above average young men are indulging, and then finding when they get intimate with a real lass, they can’t get physically aroused. “Oh, I must be demisexual, it’s as we dont have a strong enough emotional bond..” Well maybe, but fare more liekly they have PIED due to indulging in too good porn.
That said, I try to remain mostly optimistic about tech., as unless God is going to directly take a hand I dont’ see what else is going to save us.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
22 days ago
Reply to  Snapper AG

If i grow a beard and learn to speak via my rectum, will I be able to understand all this?

Mr Veen
Mr Veen
21 days ago

It can’t hurt, but remedial reading lessons are probably a better use of your time.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
21 days ago
Reply to  Saul D

None of which compares to the real effects of the invention of functional, large scale automatic switching for the telephones. Real privacy; no more operator in the middle. A revolution in every aspect of life.
The invention of the telephone gets all the attention. But it was barely better than the telegraph until we got the auto-switchboard.
Now if someone could come up with truly effective auto-moderation for social media sights, so as to avoid the horror, I think you’d see a real lasting change.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
22 days ago

What about the actual progress in space technology, that converts courtesy of Mr Musk? That’s exactly the sort of thing Thiel wanted. Also there were a whole bunch of flying car startups in the valley in the last ten years. You haven’t heard of them mostly because the tech still isn’t affordable and regulations aren’t friendly to such ideas, but it’s not due to lack of trying. All in the last ten years.