Brockman: What technology areas are most interesting to you?
Doerr: I have pretty broad, catholic (with a small "c") - interests. In the world of the Web and Net I'm keen on any technologies that will increase bandwidth - @Home, Ascend, Shiva, gigabit Ethernet, IP over SONET, multicast, more bandwidth. Those are huge opportunities. Java is the first real improvement in software technology in decades. And in the life sciences genomics and innovative medical devices are exciting. Also, there are huge opportunities to lower cost and improve outcomes in education and health care.
Have you read William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire? Just 300 years ago the European continent was covered with trees. Traveling from town to town you could cover 25 miles a day. The average life expectancy was 30 years. Chances are you'd be waylaid by robbers. The "roads" were muddy dirt paths. That was six to eight generations ago. The time of your grandfather's grandfather.
In less than five years today's "information highway" and internet will appear just as primitive as those medieval roads. Today's congested 45 Mbps IP backbones must become autobahns, real superhighways. 14% of American homes are online, typically at 14.4 dialup. We should enter the next century with high band connects available to at least 10% of American homes.
Brockman: When is this realistically going to happen?
Doerr: It won't happen overnight, but be patient. The easiest way to figure this out is to head over to Fremont California and talk to @Home subscribers. 35 people signed up yesterday. They are well on their way to over a thousand. When will it happen?... maybe 5% of homes by the year 2000. Probably available to 10% of homes. This is hard infrastructure building, with backhoes and trenches. You've got to make sure your cable system is hybrid fiber coax - two-way capable. It won't be as rapid as when browsers took over the desktop. But it's inexorable. It will happen. And it will redefine the Net experience.
There was a piece on @Home by a reporter in the San Francisco Chronicle last Sunday. The company's been trying to keep a low profile. The Chronicle, however, found subscribers and interviewed them. They said, "now our PC is online all the time". One customer has @Home on in the bedroom. When they are interested in Thai massage they just type it in and find out about it. When there's no wait and the web's always on, it changes everything.
But, back to my interests. Bandwidth is one. I'm also interested in the sort of super-verticals, the opportunities to create new and compelling services. Like health care. We can now build applications and systems that will span lots of enterprises. The same is true of education. There's an appropriate role for technology in education and to connect parents and teachers and kids and administrators.
We're very enthusiastic about the revolution underway in molecular biology, our understanding of genomics, which is possibly the most interesting programming problem around. We now can understand the genetic basis for thousands of human diseases; breast cancer, obesity, diabetes and cystic fibrosis.
There's an amazing guy you ought to meet sometime, Eric Lander, who has a forecast in the current issue of Science magazine about where genomics goes from here. Lander is a fellow at the Whitehead Institute. He's a mathematician who taught courses on entrepreneurship at the Harvard. He was a co-founder of Millennium, a venture we backed in Cambridge Massachusetts. Millennium may be the finest collection of scientists working in genomics and understanding molecular basis of important diseases.