In this wide ranging interview we talk to Porat on information economy and the frontier of privacy and how he came to co-found Genera Magic in 1990 and why he thinks Silicon Valley reminds him of Florence from the Renaissance era.
Porat coined the phrase “information economy.” He wrote about it in his 1976 PhD thesis at Stanford, where he documented the ride of information economy in the US. His formative years in the 1960s was colored by five revolutions that were underway. Revolutions are interesting he shares and he was particularly interested in the information revolution.
Silicon Valley is a perfection expression of the information economy he points out. “Silicon Valley is Florence. Florence was age of mercantilism, the age of expansion and our (Silicon Valley) renaissance is about information machines, networks and people. And people using all these things,” Porat says.
After his PhD Porat joined Aspen Institute, where he worked for a few years before heading back to Silicon Valley to co-found General Magic. While at Aspen Institute it became clear to Porat that there was a need to create a little device or a pocket crystal and that is how the idea for General Magic was born. He shared his vision of a pocket crystal with Apple and that is how General Magic was spun-off with two well-known Macintosh pioneers – Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld.This was in 1990.
General Magic wanted to create a personal communicator like today’s smart phone, but they failed to succeed. General Magic’s DNA continues to live in today’s smart devices like the iPhone and Android.
“We were very early,”says Porat on why their idea did not succeed. They ran out of hope, energy and were exhausted. He adds the “wrong thing was their product was too big, too thick and at that time it was deemed to be expensive.” Trying to create a perfect product was their enemy shares Porat.
How does he look at failure today? Failure is an essential part of life and success Porat says. Failure is part of life in addition to all the other positive emotions. Failure is not unusual in Silicon Valley and is a badge of honor he says.
After General Magic Porat took some time off and currently is an investor and his focus is on renewable energy. “There is no Planet B,” he point out.
The startup took a toll on Porat and everyone involved with the it as the new documentary General Magic highlights.
If they were given one more chance what would they do differently with General Magic now? Tune in to find out what Porat has to say.
This interview aired on TV in the US.