UTD’s Guengerich on the Promise and Peril of Tech Innovation in 2017

A series of events this year—from the Equifax data breach to the foreign use of social media to influence the U.S. presidential election—has prompted some to question the utopian promise of innovation, especially when it comes to Web companies and cybersecurity.

To help put things in perspective at year’s end, Xconomy reached out to Steve Guengerich, executive director of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Texas at Dallas. Guengerich moved to North Texas in 2017 after years in the Austin tech community, where he co-founded Appconomy, a China-focused e-commerce startup, among other initiatives. Here’s an edited transcript of our exchange:

Xconomy: Do you think 2017 was a turning point in public attitudes toward technology and the tech industry?

Steve Guengerich: No. In certain specific sectors of tech, we saw some signs of concern and disillusionment: data privacy and protection (Equifax), security (WannaCry), social media integrity (Russia election hacks), etc. But, overall, a tremendous amount of tech acceleration and adoption, in both [business-to-consumer] and [business-to-business] applications, in the U.S. and elsewhere: Consumer AI (Echo/Alexa), e-commerce in general (Amazon expansion), health/medtech (23andme, Crispr), financial (blockchain/crypto-currency), etc.

X: Have your personal patterns of technology usage changed as a result of something that happened in 2017, or in recent years? If so, how?

SG: Yes, I have narrowed my use of social media primarily to LinkedIn. I check in on Facebook and Twitter occasionally. And, even less so, Instagram and Snapchat. [LinkedIn] has improved and I’m finding it to be well-aligned with my professional activity. My personal activity, I confine to chat apps: mainly, WeChat (for China) and SMS texting (it may be low tech, but it gets the job done, any and everywhere!).

X: If you are an investor, have you adjusted your investment criteria in light of changing public attitudes toward the tech industry?

SG: I’ll answer that question a little differently. As an angel investor, there are a few things that I think if one extends their event horizon somewhat, would be worthy of attention, in terms of novel technology solutions. To limit it to just a few IT solutions, for example:

—Tech (and non-tech) products and services to address unintended consequences of new tech. Examples would be hearing aids (for ears damaged by headphones/earbuds, etc.), vision services (to deal with future vision issues associated with VR/AR).

—Tech first responder/circuit breakers, meaning enterprise technology at a systemic level (for major carriers, cloud providers, and private/industry network operators, as well as government and university networks) to prevent mass hysteria that would harm infrastructure and individual financial well-being resulting from the spread of a virus, other malware, or even major, national news event (like a nuclear power plant meltdown or a North Korean missile launch).

—New multi-layer security systems for our computer resources: Rather than humans being required to get smarter and smarter, by remembering multiple, complex pass phrases or use cumbersome two-factor authentication and cookie-clearing/blocking technology, instead make the machines and software smarter so that it “knows” what cloud apps we should have access to and which ones should be interrogated more thoroughly in order to access. In an era of quantum computing, we will need better/smarter personal security.

[Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts sharing thoughts from technology leaders about 2017 trends and 2018 forecasts.]

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