Posted by: crudbasher | May 17, 2013

Hardware Innovation Vs Software Innovation

It is common knowledge that the rate of innovation in technology has been accelerating over the past few decades. Actually it goes back much further than that but let’s keep things simple. So why has the rate of innovation been accelerating? Because the major innovation now is in software, not hardware. Let me explain.

It used to be that we lived in a hardware world. If you bought a machine, it had buttons and dials on it that allowed you to control its operation. If a new feature was invented for that machine, you had to buy a new one. This meant that new innovations had to propagate slowly through society as people naturally replace their stuff. A good example is to compare a smartphone with a dumb phone.

Evolution of the Cell Phone

Evolution of the Cell Phone

A dumb phone can only do what it has buttons to do. A smartphone can get apps and do many things. A smartphone is actually a computer that can also make phone calls. For the iPhone, Apple didn’t just release the hardware, they also released a lot of software tools that developers can use to make apps. Likewise, when Google released their Google Glass hardware, they also released a software development kit so people can start making apps for it. Then when a new app is released, everyone can update literally overnight. You don’t have to wait till people buy new phones for new features. It’s amazing.

So this enables innovation at the speed of the Internet. A side effect of this is sometimes new innovations can take advantage of existing hardware unexpectedly. I have written a lot lately about the Age of Big Data. This is where computers start to understand the world around them and therefore can digitize what they see. Much of this can be done with our existing hardware so it can just creep up on us. Here’s an example.

I read this article in Fast Company called The Fridge Has Eyes: Cara Gives Anything With A Camera Powers To See Faces, Age, Gender, and More. It is about a startup company creating a product called Cara which can interpret video to be able to derive meaning from it. Mostly this is used to watch people. From the article, here are some of the uses people want to use it for:

In a car, one request proposed, real-time facial detection could monitor a driver’s attention, alerting him if he falls asleep.

In a fast-food restaurant, it could track how many people are standing in line.

In a house, it could help control the temperature based on who is home.

In a bar, it could keep tabs on the gender ratio (though startup SceneTap already does so using a similar technology).

It could even make a toy smile back.

So this is pretty cool so far but this last quote is also significant.

What separates Cara from IMRSV’s previous billboard technology and others like it–and makes it a potential game changer–is that any developer with any webcam can use it for $39.99 per month.

That’s cheap and it can work with any webcam. So how long until an educational company comes up with a system that uses cameras in the classroom to take attendance, and determine who is paying attention? Maybe it can also assess comprehension based on the expression on somebody’s face?

This technology is coming quickly and it won’t take buying a new machine to do it. It might just happen overnight.


  1. […] have revisited this predictions several times here here here and here over the years. Turns out this idea of having the computer monitor your face is now […]

  2. […] This OpenCOG system is interesting because it’s an open platform for AI. Theoretically, once it works, this technology could rapidly be adopted around the world. AI is a software innovation, which as I have written, evolves much faster than hardware innovation. (see Hardware Innovation Vs Software Innovation) […]

  3. […] (a tablet) with some clever software to make it happen. This is why things are changing so fast, the innovation is in the software, not hardware. Obviously this doesn’t teach you how to draw completely, but it does provide feedback and […]

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