Predicting The Value Of New Technologies

by Sam Havens, CTO


Famed tech investor Benedict Evans recently published a compelling article titled: ‘Not even wrong — ways to dismiss technology.’ In this piece, Evans outlines several factors which can accurately distinguish between a revolutionary technological advancement and one that evaporates over time as a passing fad. For people like Evans, identifying this disparity early can be the difference between investing in the iPhone and investing in the Sharp Wizard. But what about the rest of us? What if you don’t spend every waking hour analyzing charts and graphs? What if you’re not a technology visionary? What if there were a step by step process to evaluate new technologies using Evans’ trusted theories as a guide? This article is an attempt to do just that.


 “It is unquestionably true that many of the most important technology advances looked like toys at firstthe web, cars, .. even hot water…But it’s also unquestionably true that there were always lots of things that looked like toys and never did become anything more. So how do we tell?” (Benedict Evans)


If one were to look at Evans’ work closely, there are specific guiding principles which one can use to identify the difference between a toy or a fad and something that will disrupt our lives.  Here is a simple procedure based on Evans’ work to help the rest of us:

  • Step 1: Imagine that the technology has gained widespread adoption.
  • Step 2: Compare the reality of step (1) to current reality. The changes will fall into various categories; the two we care about are (a) changes in human motivations and desires and (b) technological changes.
  • 2a: If the change was in human motivation and desire: stop. You are now in “not even wrong” territory — that is, you will not be able to falsify any predictions that come from this line of thought.
  • 2b: If the change was technological: is there a roadmap to get there from the present? If no, stop — you are in the same place as mobile phones were in the 1940’s. Reexamine the technology periodically.
  • Step 3: There is a roadmap from the present to the world in which this technology is ubiquitous. Great, it could. Does the technology matter enough that it will happen? It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking about something you can build with this technology that people might want. Don’t do that. As Evans says, “try to separate the fundamental capability that’s being proposed from the specific uses.” That is, if you are thinking, the ability to do [x] means you could make [y], focus on x, not y.
  • An Example:Edison thought the phonograph would be used for distributing sermons. It turned out that the ability to easily record and distribute sounds was very desirable, but not for the predicted reason. If someone were trying to predict how much to invest in Edison at the time, they would have been better off focusing on the capability, and not the intended application.


Applying This Logic To Conversational UI In Automotive:

Step 1 — It is a common, if not ubiquitous, experience to interact with car manufacturers, sellers, repair shops, and vehicles themselves via a conversational (or any other intention-estimation) interface.

Step 2 — What’s different between our world and Step 1 World? Well, consumers already engage in these behaviors using GUIs, so it doesn’t require a fundamental shift in consumer desires, as long as these new experiences allow them to do what they wanted to with less friction. Messaging already is ubiquitous, so no change needed there.

It seems likely that the world in Step 1 has more voice interfaces than our world. So, we would need voice interfaces to be more useful, and less cost prohibitive. Given the current adoption trends, and the muscle Amazon and Google are both putting behind them, this also seems plausible. That is, there is a technological roadmap that involves incremental changes in technology (Step 3).

In the automotive vertical, this would also require a technological change: information would need to be more accessible via API. Inventory, specials, vehicle specification, OBD2-type information, and service scheduling need to be accessible via API. All signs indicated that we are already moving down this path.

The key assumptions here are:

  • Conversational experiences will allow consumers to do what they wanted to with less friction.
  • Voice interfaces will be more useful and cheaper in the future.
  • All automotive data will be available via API.

As AI powers more and more of our interaction with devices, it is a common belief that this will become the standard paradigm.



In using Evans’ work as a guide to evaluate the future value of automotive conversational UI, the future is clear.  Given the current adoption of existing technologies and the growth of the individual components, mass application of these tools is close to inevitable.  When this shift occurs, the cost effective, scalable and ultra-personalized technology will remarkably benefit both consumers and automakers. In the future, we may look back at our current car buying process without conversational UI in disbelief.

{Sam Havens is CarLabs’ CTO and general brainiac. Read his bio here.}

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