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 (Box.net 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.