That Farting Sound Of Technological Stagnation

Via Hacker News today, here’s a post from a former graphics developer at Valve claims that the vaunted SteamOS, a Linux-based gaming OS intended to supplant Windows and compete head-on with consoles, is going to be vaporware.

Hey, this is just a thought, but maybe Valve developers could stop locally optimizing for their bonuses by endlessly tweaking and debugging various half-broken dysfunctional codebases and instead do more to educate developers on how to do this sort of work correctly.

The entire Intel driver situation remains in a ridiculous state. I know Intel means well and all but really, they can do better. (Are they afraid of pissing off MS? Or is this just big corp dysfunctionalism?) Valve is still paying LunarG to find and fix silly perf. bugs in Intel’s slow open source driver:

Major Performance Improvement Discovered For Intel’s GPU Linux Driver

Surely this can’t be a sustainable way of developing a working driver?

Anyhow, onto SteamOS/Steambox. Here’s a surprisingly insightful comment I found on Slashdot. I don’t agree that SteamOS is done just yet, but you’ve got to wonder what is really going on. (So where are all those shiny Steam machines they showed earlier this year anyway? Does all this just go into the Valve memory hole now?)

This post is, alone, not an indicator of anything. But it is part of a pattern of American technology companies promising substantial (or just incremental) innovations, and then failing to deliver them on anything resembling a sane time table.

Let’s go through a list of ‘next big things’ that were eventually dropped or put on an indefinitely delayed time table:

  • Google Glass, quashed by prog concern-trolling
  • Self-driving Google Car
  • The Facebook App Ecosystem (died when Zynga choked to death)
    • Facebook was supposed to be the ‘identity layer’ for the internet…
    • …but they’ve had so many problems establishing user identities that they’re just becoming an added layer on top of the government’s existing ‘identity layer.’
  • Real time restaurant demand management software (Groupon Now flopped at launch, as did the company on IPO)
  • Personal cloud storage as a driver of tech IPOs ( and Dropbox have delayed IPO indefinitely; all major tech companies have released clone products that are priced competitively)
  • Google was going to attempt to de-anonymize the web by favoring verified authors in search results, even touting it in the CEO’s book…
    • …but then quietly cancelled the program a couple years later with little explanation.
  • Moore’s Law has not kept up
  • ‘Crowd-funding’ has been marginal and has now earned a bad reputation for enabling fraud and incompetent producers.
  • 3D printing wildly over-hyped relative to its actual utility in the moment
    • Requires more technical know-how to produce quality prints than advertised
    • Insofar as it requires technical ability to use competently, it doesn’t meet the requirements of its florid sales pitch
  • ‘Cloud computing’ has become an increasingly toxic buzzword thanks to the activities of the NSA and other high profile security breaches.

And of course, there’s more.

The problem that Americans have is that they believe that they can innovate and compete globally in the 21st century while relying on theories of economics and politics which are frozen in the 1930s. They just think that they can keep motoring on without making any fundamental revisions or checking some old assumptions made in the FDR era.

Without innovation in the capital structure of society, conditions become too chaotic to effectively innovate in technology. Zero interest rates make it attractive to invest in lengthening company capital structures, but it makes it impossible for those structures to calibrate effectively to the real conditions of society.

What that means is that it becomes affordable for companies to invest in Quests For The Holy Grail, but it becomes impossible to actually find the holy grail. Launching new quests is cheap, actually following through is not possible due to an inability to find accurate price information.

Progressives are mostly comfortable with ‘disruptive innovation’ as long as people remain in FDR’s concentration camp of glorious happy progress. Once people start to chew at the barbed wire, the opinion-making class becomes apoplectic, demanding that it stop immediately. Writers even go berserk when people develop a dispatch service for taxi cabs that uses smart phones — a marginal change if there ever was one.

The trouble that the opinion-making class is in is that they are focused on what’s going on within the barbed wire, and ignoring most of what’s happening outside of it.

16 thoughts on “That Farting Sound Of Technological Stagnation

  1. Pingback: Henry Dampier on Technological Stagnation | A Life Un-Lived

  2. There’s 2 serious technology matters in that bullet list: Moore’s Law slowing down or stopping, and 3D printing.* The rest of the list and most of the “tech” mentioned are amusement toys or consumer masturbation…like “The Cloud.” **

    For we are no longer serious people and apparently even about our amusements.
    We are however serious about Marketing, Sales, Hype.

    It’s just as well that we’re going to have to shoot our way out of the Barbed Wire. Perhaps along the way we’ll become serious again.

    *3D Printing is for professionals. Good. It should be, for those people are called artisans or indeed let us call them machinists.

    **Only an idiot would put anything sensitive on “The Cloud” or in fact touch it at all unless there’s a compelling reason.

    • You are correct that

      > Only an idiot would put anything sensitive on “The Cloud”

      .. when you interpret the cloud as Facebook, Gmail, and talk about putting your personal data and details of your life there. But you seem to mistake some services implemented on top of “The Cloud” for the cloud. The cloud is AWS and Azure and some other SaaS, IaaS companies. The cloud is essentially automating away the jobs of traditional IT server admins and maintenance into massive datacenters that operate with minimal human involvement. This infrastructure is perfectly applicable and can be a valid solution for certain business computing tasks.

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  4. I swear I never understood the point of Steam OS. The point of PCs is that you can do other things besides gaming. How would replacing Windows with some lame Linux distro improve anything? Yet there was the press hyping it for years.

    The tech press is as bad as the political press already. The solution is to stop paying attention. How to kill the press?

    • The idea came about when MSFT was trying to squeeze out competing software stores, and had alienated a lot of the gaming customer base and developers with their half-broken Games for Windows Live platform.

      Because a lot of indie devs with big profit margins (and little indies who die like flies) are/were using tools that make it a lot easier to publish to Windows/Mac/Linux/Android/iOS in one go, the cost of porting to Linux has plummeted… unless you’re programming really high-end graphics that need to use cutting edge drivers.

      The other notion was that they were going to use it as an OS for an ‘open console’ (like a non-shitty Ouya) which would get more PC gamers to move their units into the living room. That would allow Valve to torpedo the ailing console businesses of Sony and MSFT.

      It was actually not a bad idea if they’d been able to move fast enough on it. They did not move fast enough on it and the opportunity is now less attractive than it was. Also, because they moved too slow, it’s less attractive to developers.

      MSFT has also changed its stance radically, which kills the entire impetus behind what Valve was trying to do. I bought the stock at last year around the bottom.

      The console business is also pretty self-evidently shitty at this point, and if Valve has cratered into becoming an inconsistent company instead of a widely-admired company as had been the case, there’s no real point to ‘disrupting’ a shitty line of business when your existing line of business is already minting profits.

      Developers have in general had a lot of trouble with Valve over the last year, because what they were told was the strategic plan has wobbled so many times and gone through such radical changes that it has depleted a little credibility. Imagine if changed their entire philosophy and design several times over a one year period, charged a lot of money to Amazon webstore owners and then destroyed webstore without any warning, and then finally released a radically different version of the store with no warning except to the largest publishers. That’s basically what they did.

      I just know a lot about this because I’ve worked with a couple people who sell on Steam and had to deal with all this stupidity over the mountain of garbage that is Green Light.

      They also went from a highly-curated Apple App Store type model, moved to an Google Play / App Store / Amazon App Store model, discovered that it horribly fucked things up, and only started to fix things with one huge update recently, which was actually a very good set of changes, but not the sort of development pattern that the company is supposed to be following.

      “The tech press is as bad as the political press already. The solution is to stop paying attention. How to kill the press?”

      I now do not read anything the tech press publishes because it’s disinformation that offers worse than useless advice. I pay attention to money and private information and that’s about it. Before, all they published was PR lies, and now they publish a mix of PR lies mixed with leftism of ever increasing levels of radicalism.

  5. Yeah but how was any Steam Box supposed to compete on price with Xbox/PS4? All ideas out there were for $1k machines with less performance than the new consoles. Indies are making money alright publishing for consoles too; why would anyone buy a Steam Box when you could get a PS4 for less than half and with better games?
    And who the hell wants to play Civ in the living room? Gabe Newell has to be insane, as any casual look at his face can tell you.

    If this was all a show to get Microsoft to drop their games store; that I can get. But how the hype ever got so far I still can’t understand. Maybe Valve had some blue-haired whore doing the rounds around the tech press.

    The Ouya thing also proves how stupid the whole sector has got. How could anyone think that would make any money? Gaming is all about scale. Only 1 piece of hardware makes any money every generation.

    • “Maybe Valve had some blue-haired whore doing the rounds around the tech press.”

      They did actually have a woman doing evangelism for the controller, which has apparently never been seen outside of the prototype stage.

      >Yeah but how was any Steam Box supposed to compete on price with Xbox/PS4? All ideas out there were for $1k machines with less performance than the new consoles.

      Right. Also being tougher to upgrade, lower power than what you could buy for the same price in a regular form factor, and with mystery meat branding — do you trust this random company to deliver you a machine that isn’t garbage?

  6. Pretty much none of these things actually qualify as innovation anyway so no loss.

    Crowd funding is maybe innovative, maybe the rest are just security risks, safety risk, privacy threats and time sinks.

    As for the 3d printing, its not a Star Trek replicator and CAM has been around for years and I don’t see that many people with those machines or even making things with simple tools.

    • I doubt current levels of 3D printing are all that important, but I am not completely sure, because it’s hard to judge what level of improvement will really matter.

      Consider the history of convenient small-run tech in another field: the mimeograph machine is enough mightier than the pen that totalitarian states have to be deadly serious about controlling them, and the photocopier is yet mightier, and the laser printer mightier still. But trying to understand which level of innovation would be enough to turn which niche (specialty magazines, researchers passing around preprints, printing books on demand…) upside down is not so easy, even in hindsight.

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  8. I have to disagree with you on the self-driving car. It’s an incredibly difficult problem. While the solution may not be quite ready for prime time, tremendous progress has been made. I’m saying this as someone who’s familiar with the underlying technology. (or at least where it was a couple years ago) There’s an engineering joke that’s probably applicable here: the last 10% takes the second 90% of the time.

    > “Launching new quests is cheap, actually following through is not possible due to an inability to find accurate price information.”

    Non sequitur. It is possible to complete research/engineering projects even if they are never sold in the end and no price information is available. This is not a significant cause of the phenomenon.

    • >Non sequitur. It is possible to complete research/engineering projects even if they are never sold in the end and no price information is available. This is not a significant cause of the phenomenon.

      It’s quite possible to create useless engineering projects if they’re not calibrated to the final market. It absolutely is related to this phenomenon.

      I’m not just making it up; I’m re-heating Hayek.

    • Computer intelligence plus big data can solve 99.99% of the driving problems.

      Need true consciousness, as found in any ant or spider, to solve the remaining 0.01%

      Unfortunately, the remaining 0.01% can get you killed.

      Big data looks a lot like true consciousness. The latest advances in AI consist of throwing big data at everything. But it becomes apparent that a spider can do better using only small data.

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