First things first

If there's one consistent trend we've been seeing over the past few years, it's the shift away from Silicon Valley (and, indeed, the United States, in general) as the world's only hub of software innovation and the world's only real consumer of advanced technology. There are many answers as to why this is happening, including that other countries are simply catching up in terms of education, entrepreneurship and venture capital infrastructure (and sometimes government assistance).

But another driving factor appears to be that we're reaching peak web, if not in terms of usage then at least in terms of what we want, need and expect from web companies. Mark Zuckerberg's testimony to Congress this week was a pretty stark reminder that something's got to give when it comes to the primary business models of Facebook and its peers. Maybe the web we have (flawed as it is in certain ways) is good enough for the most part. Maybe we don't want or need better search engines or more social networking platforms, or constant changes in the user experience -- especially if it means more chances for security flaws or more of our data being harvested.

As I noted last week, the web drove a lot of innovation in areas such as big data systems and artificial intelligence, but there's no guarantee that must continue as people and governments rethink the terms of this data-for-services bargain. Indeed, if you watch the AI space, you still see a lot of research innovation coming out of places like Google, but the really cool applications are coming in fields like agriculture, manufacturing and energy -- and, of course, autonomous cars. And as adoption in these fields heats up and mixes with the general move toward open source general openness in tech, it's not inconceivable they could be new hotbeds of innovation. (Although some applications, like surveillance, can get a little sketchy.)

A few examples just from this week:

The fact that a lot of these stories happen to be based overseas certainly does not mean there's not room for massive adoption and innovation in the United States, but I do think they remind us that the rest of the world is doing business, too, and they're sometimes free of certain structural hurdles and assumptions that hinder experimentation in countries like the United States. And those stories are just about AI adoption. If we look even broader, at the expanding appetite for cloud computing around the globe, the opportunities are even bigger.

If regular readers think I'm at risk of beating a dead horse by pointing out every time Alibaba Cloud grows, I actually think I'm not calling enough attention to it. This week, for example, the company announced it's opening a region in Turkey, and also highlighted a new relational database service it's building. If you go read the Alibaba Cloud blog, you'll see that it's cranking away on lots of new products across the board, from databases to AI.

None of this means Alibaba Cloud is bigger or more innovative than Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure. But it does mean that Alibaba is actively investing in its platform and targeting geographic regions that U.S. providers can't/won't/aren't yet targeting in earnest. If AWS helped fuel the startup boom in the U.S. and western Europe over the past decade, it's conceivable that Alibaba could do the same in other parts of the world. And the problems those companies are solving for could be quite distinct from the types of things startups are trying to solve in places like the United States.

Again, this isn't an indictment; (nor a suggestion that China will "win" some perceived AI war); just a reminder that there's now officially a global market for things that until recently felt quite concentrated in certain sectors and geographic regions. For people and companies that know where to look, there are some golden opportunities to make a real difference and also make some real money.

Also, not a plug, but LinuxCon is holding an event in Beijing in June. Regardless whether the event itself is good or bad, I feel confident saying that attendance will be huge.


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