Believe it or not, the pocket calculator very nearly did not make it to market. The utility of this now indispensable tool was seriously doubted by Hewlett Packard in the 1960s and product development may have ceased altogether if outside investors hadn’t intervened. According to the American entrepreneur, venture capitalist, hedge fund manager, and social critic Peter Thiel, the semiconductor industry was another field that would have collapsed had venture capital not stepped in. Venture capitalists were real risk-takers during those days. When computer companies like IBM, Microsoft and Apple made inroads into the emerging field of personal computing, investment firms took a real gamble. Their decision to invest in untested products with uncertain futures was bold and revolutionary. An era of technology with real “durable returns” blossomed as a result of their vision and what Thiel calls “transformative” technology began to fundamentally change the lives of people around the world.
Not all Technology is Created Equal
In Thiel’s provocative manifesto, “We wanted flying cars, we got 140 characters instead,” Thiel says that investors are now moving away from the risk associated with transformational technologies to less risky (and less ground-breaking) ventures. He points out, rather dismissively, that these more conservative ventures are designed to solve “incremental” problems, nothing too innovative or noteworthy. Although the Internet has become something formidable and pervasive, the common-place online retail outlets and any number of “yet another” social media platform are not revolutionary material. Too many promising technologies languished, Thiel argues, because of insufficient funding and limited vision. What happened to plans to mass-produce Ford’s atom-powered concept car? Why haven’t limits been pushed in terms of space travel and exploration? Finally, Thiel points out that although heavy investment in electronics and computer processors helped that industry take off, the quality of the associated software remains comparatively poor and unremarkable.
The Promise of a Few Good Examples
I admit the prospect of traveling in space fascinated me as a kid. No doubt countless hours watching episodes of Star Trek fueled my fixation. And it is true that we have not been to the moon since 1972; NASA launched its last shuttle flight in 2011 and efforts to send people into space seems to have stalled. And yet, maybe it’s my bizarrely optimistic angle on things, but I can’t agree completely with Thiel’s assessment on the state of technological innovation. Inroads in space exploration are being made with the growth of such companies as SpaceX. As creator of the “world’s most powerful rocket” (The Falcon Heavy), SpaceX stands poised to make history with a rocket capable of successfully sending passengers, cargo, crew and fuel into orbit. NASA moved forward with plans to explore the planet Mars and developed a series of technologies designed to facilitate this historic mission. Similarly, software does exist that can analyze large amounts of data and apply it to floodplain protection and planning along river corridors, all critical public health and safety issues. You only have to know where to look.
Our Engineering Software is Revolutionary
I think it’s fair to say that civil engineering software available on the market today operates on a simple user interface design. Everyone is following each other’s design, click here, open this window, type this in, connect this, convert that, right click there, and blah blah blah. These engineering modeling software platforms have changed little since first appearing on the market years ago. You could even conclude that civil engineering software has stagnated over time due to a variety of factors; Thiel’s assessment would seem to ring true in this case.
However, not all software is equal and CivilGEO’s engineering software represents the very best in what is known as “building information modeling” or “BIM” along with intelligent design. Our software brings together standard engineering computations with real world data sources to create precise civil engineering modeling scenarios that are effectively represented in highly realistic 3-D visual format. We released our first product based upon the US Army Corps of Engineers HEC-RAS 1-D and 2-D river modeling software. This technology represents water resource engineering in its most innovative and advanced form. The capability to bring in data from nearly any source, AutoCAD drawings, MicroStation drawings, ArcGIS geodatabases, LiDAR elevation data, precise world elevation data, high quality aerial mapping, FEMA flood maps, along with advanced data processing on both the workstation and in the cloud for automatically extracting cross sections, constructing roadway crossings, generating floodplain mapping, and much more did not exist just a year ago and represents a huge step forward in terms of advancing the capabilities, quality and value associated with civil engineering software.
Thiel makes a statement in his Manifesto that is worth repeating:
“Many companies pursue the wrong model—they seek to be almost as good as the default product, rather than (as should be the case generally) so much better than the default product that customers will rush to switch.”
Advances in technology may have stalled in certain areas. After all, nothing quite compares to the remarkable changes ushered in through invention of the steam engine. But, just as not all technology is created equal, so too not all software is created equal. Some are vastly superior to others. Some might even be called “revolutionary.” You just need to know where to look.