Jeff Funk’s 40-year career has focused on how new technologies emerge and diffuse as a professor and consultant. He was one of the first to recognize the potential for smart phones during the late 1990s and early 2000s in Japan, and I worked with several Western companies to help them implement phones and services. He was also recommending to mobile service providers as early as 2004 that they should focus on apps long before the iPhone was released in 2007. The research done as part of this consulting earned me the NTT DoCoMo mobile science award in 2004.
After he moved to the National University of Singapore in 2007, he taught a unique course on the economics of new technologies that helped him become an early critique of today’s startups and venture capitalists. The course, and the supporting research present a methodology that could have helped entrepreneurs and investors avoid many of the loss-making businesses that currently comprise today’s startup bubble. For instance, it identified the challenges for ride sharing, driverless vehicles, and AI and proposed alternative designs/approaches for them, ones that are still relevant today.
He continues to be a voice of reason for startups and new technologies today through writing, speaking, consulting, and influencing on LinkedIn. He has been writing extensively on new technologies and startups over the last few years in Issues in Science & Technology (What’s Behind Technological Hype, 2019), Scientific American (The Downside of Hype, 2020), IEEE Spectrum (AI and Economic Productivity: Expect Evolution, Not Revolution, 2020), Slate (Why ambitious predictions about A.I. are always wrong, 2021), Quartz (AI has a long way to go before doctors can trust it with your life, 2021), Fast Company (Why our fears of job-killing robots are overblown, 2021), Market Watch (AirBnb, Snap, Lyft and Uber are just a few of the many debt … Bullish optimism boosting ‘unicorn’ stocks is more like delirium — and a harsh dose of reality is coming; ‘Fake it till you make it’ is an old trick Silicon Valley…, 2021 and 2022), and National Development (The “Unproductive Bubble” and Commercialization of Science: What has changed and what can be done to revitalize it? both forthcoming 2022).
The basic message of these articles (supported by data) is that startups are far less profitable and technologies are growing far less quickly than they did decades ago. The reason is that there are fewer relevant advances in science and today’s entrepreneurs, VCs, engineers, and scientists are not looking hard enough to find them. Just because something can be technically done in an app, does not mean that it will add sufficient value and thus it should be done. Dr. Funk helps people think through these issues while also helping them understand why there are fewer advances in science.