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Disruptive technology can help or hurt Las Vegas

We seem to be at a particularly delicate time in the history of American business.

Never has Corporate America – particularly the technology sector —been sitting on more cash with fewer viable options for parking it.

And never have so many companies launched ‘moonshot’ projects, investing in research into developing the next game-changer. Or, in many cases, just buying somebody else’s promising idea.

It’s often been difficult to separate the visionaries from the delusional without the benefit of time. The Wright Brothers were crackpots until they weren’t. Dick Tracy wrist radios were a long-running gag until they went on sale.

There’s no doubt Facebook is a business power and a good example of disruptive technology. But only time will tell whether it has staying power or eventually slips into being a niche item for a certain generation.

Apple has amply demonstrated that in the marketplace, you’re only as good as your last innovation. And with lots of capital rattling around the financial eco-system, innovation is fetching big dollars.

This brings me to some potential Vegas angles.

We’ve been on the verge of the drone age for a long time now without resolving the fundamental issues of noise, privacy and liability.

I was reading a piece the other day in which an analyst was suggesting venture capital is now looking beyond drone delivery.

The next big thing in high-speed delivery, these smart guys were saying, is self-driving delivery vehicles with a robot to do the heavy lifting to the doorstep.

If true – and there’s usually some credibility if we follow the money – that’s really bad news for Nevada.

In an instant, we can go from the center of a huge new industry to a place where geeks can fly their toys.

Unfortunately, the auto-pilot truck/robot future makes too much sense. The components are moving ahead faster than resolutions to the thorny problems of drones.

If drones fail to live up to their once lofty promise, we can see the villain of the piece in the mirror. Self-regulation died when a drone interfered with an air tanker fighting a fire and when photos of the sunbathing neighbor showed up on the Internet.

It’s way too early to write an obit for commercial drones. They’ve proven their worth in a wide range of industries – from policing to engineering, real estate to journalism. But the odds of a drone industry reaching the economic clout once imagined seem to be getting longer. It’s scary to think we could look back at drones a decade from now and think what might have been.

But that’s the way disruptive technology works. One minute your hot; the next, you’re yesterday’s news.

And with companies’ coffers overflowing with idle cash, silly season may well be upon us.

How else can we make sense of Microsoft paying $26.2 billion for LinkedIn?

Potentially disruptive changes are all around us.

Can casino use skill-based gaming to reel in millennials?

Venture capital has flirted with the social media applications of casino games. Is it too big a leap to think a local gaming equipment manufacturer with a great idea and a need for development cash might find a backer from the world of big tech?

Of course, not all disruptive changes involve cash. Sometimes the currency is public policy.

Would state control of ‘public lands’ trigger an economic boom or an environmental problem? Is an elevated roadway or light rail the best way to move tourists from the airport and keep the city in the lead as a convention destination? Is a global village or a football stadium the highest and best use for the former Riviera site?

There are no easy answers at any price. The good news is we have front seats to see how some of these play out.

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