What's the next big thing? Trade magazine InfoWorld asked Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, and strangely, exactly none of his answers relate to technology Mr. Softy is selling today.
"Robots, pervasive screens, speech interaction will all change the way we look at 'computers.' Once seeing, hearing, and reading (including handwriting) work very well you will interact in new ways," Gates said when asked disruptive changes in computing.
After witnessing all that was on display at last month's Consumer Electronics Show, I think he's right. And yet Gates doesn't appear to be betting on any of these potential breakthroughs. Instead his personal fund -- Cascade Investment -- recently reported positions in Arch Capital Group, Canadian National Railway, Liberty Global, and Waste Management.
Not exactly a gathering of innovators, is it?
Maybe it doesn't matter. Like the rest of us, Gates is entitled to make any size position bet and only the largest need be reported to the SEC. In that case, I envision Gates taking small positions in businesses enabling each of the three breakthroughs he cites. Or, specifically:
- iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT). The king of consumer cleanup bots is finding new its way into new markets. A deal with InTouch Health has the company putting its FDA-approved RP-VITA bot in rural hospitals for "telemedicine," a fancy term for remote diagnosis of certain ailments.
- Universal Display (NASDAQ:OLED). A pioneer of the flexible OLED screens that wowed CES audiences already has deals with Samsung and LG Display. The company should cash in nicely as consumers push for not only smarter but also lighter and more durable devices.
- Nuance Communications (NASDAQ:NUAN). Earned headlines for finding better ways to leverage voice technology in cars but is also working on a voice-activated "assistant" that travels with you everywhere you go.