2020 will be the beginning of the tech industry’s radical revisioning of the physical world

These days it’s easy to bemoan the state of innovation and the dynamism coming from America’s cradle of technological development in Silicon Valley.

The same companies that were praised for reimagining how people organized and accessed knowledge, interacted publicly, shopped for goods and services, conducted business, and even the devices on which all of these things are done, now find themselves criticized for the ways in which they’ve abused the tools they’ve created to become some of the most profitable and wealthiest ventures in human history.

Before the decade was even half over, the concern over the poverty of purpose inherent in Silicon Valley’s inventions were given voice by Peter Thiel — a man who has made billions financing the creation of the technologies whose paucity he then bemoaned.

“We are no longer living in a technologically accelerating world,” Thiel told an audience at Yale University in 2013. “There is an incredible sense of deceleration.”

In the six years since Thiel spoke to that audience, the only acceleration has been the pace of technology’s contribution to the world’s decline.

However, there are some investors who think that the next wave of big technological breakthroughs are just around the corner — and that 2020 will be the year that they enter the public consciousness in a real way.

These are the venture capitalists who invest in companies that develop so-called “frontier technologies” (or “deep tech”) — things like computational biology, artificial intelligence or machine learning, robotics, the space industry, advanced manufacturing using 3D printing, and quantum computing.

Continued advancements in computational power, data management, imaging and sensing technologies, and materials science are bridging researchers’ ability to observe and understand phenomena with the potential to manipulate them in commercially viable ways.

As a result increasing numbers of technology investors are seeing less risk and more rewards in the formerly arcane areas of investing in innovations.

“Established funds will spin up deep tech teams and more funds will be founded to address this market, especially where deep tech meets sustainability,” according to Fifty Years investor, Seth Bannon. “This shift will be driven from the bottom up (it’s where the best founder talent is heading) and also from the top down (as more and more institutional LPs want to allocate capital to this space).”

In some ways, these investments are going to be driven by political necessity as much as technological advancement, according to Matt Ocko, a managing partner at the venture firm DCVC.

Earlier this year, DCVC closed on $725 million for two investment funds focused on deep technology investing. For Ocko, the geopolitical reality of continuing tensions with China will drive adoption of new technologies that will remake the American industrial economy.

“Whether we like it or not, US-government-driven scrutiny of China-based technology will continue in 2020. Less of it will be allowed to be deployed in the US, especially in areas of security, networking, autonomous transportation and space intelligence,” writes Ocko, in an email. “At the same time, US DoD efforts to streamline procurement processes will result in increasingly tighter partnerships between the DoD and tech sector. The need to bring complex manufacturing, comms, and semiconductor technology home to the US will support a renaissance in distributed manufacturing/advanced manufacturing tech and a strong wave of semiconductor and robotic innovation.”

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