8 Technologies that will destroy how we do business


Unleashing the Road Warrior

Unleashing the Road Warrior

I want a 3D Printer and a Filabot. The are two items on my bucket list. I guess that means I’ll be printing plastic, but the Filabot of course means that I can recycle plastic, so that’s a good thing right?

I was reading an article in the July-August edition of my favorite magazine, The Futurist about Tomorrow’s Jobs. If you have followed my various blogs over the years, you will know that I am driven by working smarter rather than harder, so the story about Goldman Sachs prediction about 8 technologies that are forcing businesses to adapt or die obviously caught my eye. The quote was about 3D printing. If you have a look through some of my other blogs you will find stories about 3D printing military clothing, printing human organs, my friend Vik Oliver’s work with Reprap and others.

So I was naturally curious about what Goldman Sachs thought the other 7 were. I was thinking self driving vehicles, eBooks, virtual and augmented reality tourism and education, eGovernment and all those menial jobs that don’t require human understanding and problem solving skills. So in a nutshell to satisfy my curiosity and maybe yours. The other 7 are:

  • eCigarettes. I know a few people who use these and I was semi-tempted as someone who gave up smoking over 20 years ago, to give it a try, but yeah, nah. I do wish they had been around back in the day though. I’m sure these were originally conceived by someone like Jules Verne and if it wasn’t for the power of the tobacco industry, we probably would have been using them years ago.
  • Cancer Immunotherapy. This is something I have read a little about on recent times. Who doesn’t know someone close who has had or has passed away from a form of cancer and we all know that often the treatment is almost as bad or worse than the symptoms. The concept of having your body able to combat cancer cells in the same way as we deal with a virus is compelling and hugely attractive.
  • LED Lighting. Energy savings of up to 85%, a longer lifetime and so many creative ways you can use it from the home to the car to wherever you are. This one has already become huge without us even realizing it. Something that many disruptive industries and technologies are doing. Is there one invading your turf that you haven’t acknowledged sufficiently yet?
  • Alternative funders for insurance such as pension funds that are willing to take a lower return. That’s a very interesting topic in my neck of the woods right now, where insurance companies who were happy to take premiums from the citizens of Christchurch seem to be reluctant to give it back after the earthquakes. Here are some stories from New Zealand’s Campbell Live Show on TV. CHCH
  • Natural Gas Engines for the freight industry. Funny reading this because my very first company car ran on CNG. Goldman Sachs predicts that by 2020 20-30% of hauling fleets will be fueled by natural gas.
  • Software Defined Networking. The cloud gets smarter. This blog is in the cloud and I’m writing it online, it is not stored on my hard drive.
  • Big Data. No surprises here. This is what I was saying earlier about the human element. Until we have a true artificial intelligence, we are still going to be asking the questions, so I’m hoping that problem solving people like me will continue to be able to find exciting and fulfilling work to do. This is not intuitive for many people and the more specialized the workforce becomes, especially in large businesses, the less innovative the companies become. Shareholders increase their expectations of Return on Investment from old products and business concepts, then when it all turns to mush, they wonder what happened. I have to say, it’s not big data, it’s the ability to understand what’s contained in big data and how to apply it. Ask the wrong question and the answer could hasten your demise.

So there you have it. Interesting isn’t it that fundamentally there is nothing particularly new here. Yet all over the world companies are clinging to dated concepts and wondering why they are imploding. The crazy thing is that what people want and need isn’t changing significantly. People still read books, they still listen to music, they still want to know what’s in the news, they take more photos in a day on mobiles than in the entire history of Kodak film based cameras, yet the traditional businesses that grew fat on those industries are going broke.

What I also find interesting is often the answers are in the exact places that those companies don’t look. They are with the customers, they are with independent consultants, often with little experience in the specific industries. They are not in the traditional spreadsheets and they are not in the typical boardroom (don’t get me started). Business As Usual is a great model for going broke and yet none of the above industries are significantly novel or bleeding edge. They are natural evolutions of what came before. Yet many leading brands don’t get it, or stubbornly don’t want to get it.

So whether you own a business, or whether you are looking for your next job. You had better think very carefully about your future. The answers are closer than you think, but possibly not where you are looking. Do you know where your knowledge base is? Do you know what your greatest asset is? If you’re thinking it’s in your IP, unless you own your people, you might find that very soon the value of your patents will be minimal and that your creative minds have moved on, in many cases with the suggestions and creative ideas you turned away, because you knew better.

Whoops, I have sort of ended up on my soapbox again haven’t I?

Who Is Buying Your Personal Information and the Internet of Things?


Who owns your personal information? Who gives companies the right to collect data about you, your family, your friends, your activities, where you live, what you eat, drink, your health, how you travel? Somewhere along the line you probably did, because you didn’t read, or understand the fine print when you signed up for an application, an email newsletter, a loyalty card, or you aren’t worried about your privacy.

There has been much talk about the NSA, and big data monitoring systems in most countries around the world designed to protect us all from terrorism. There has been a lot of talk about how privacy is being eroded with social media. Many of us have the philosophy that if we don’t do anything wrong, we have nothing to hide. But who else is collecting, buying and selling personal information about you?

FuturistA recent story in The Futurist called ‘Connecting with our Connected World captured my attention, particularly when it outlined, from a Wall Street Journal article,  apparently fairly common knowledge, that many retail stores track personal shopping habits using loyalty cards and then resell the data to marketers. The Wall Street Journal article ‘confirmed’ that this same data is now being purchased by insurance companies for the purpose of setting premiums and investigating claims.

With the Internet of Things (IoT), we are now being encouraged to buy fridges with built in bar code readers and wireless connectivity, so that we can scan items we use and feed them to our shopping list. Many of us now have grocery applications, such as the Countdown app, which I have blogged about before in my SoLoMo Consulting blog.These apps monitor what you buy, suggest specials, recipes and even navigate you up and down the aisles of your nearest supermarket so you don’t have to backtrack for things you forgot.

As Richard Yonck of Intelligent Future LLC in Seattle points out in The Futurist, “the rate at which a household consumes sugar, salt, tobacco and alcohol would potentially be an open book.” What could your health insurer infer from that?

It names them

It names them

Combine the information from your mobile apps that know your location, where you have given permission (which is probably half of the apps you use today), your climate control, light controls (that suggest you might be home, or not), fitness apps, social media (freely searchable with tools like Facebook Graph like the example which names people who like Edam cheese,) the direction Google and Apple are heading, to be able to predict what services you may want next based on your context, profile, time and location, your life is an open book today.

The problem with all this big data that we are ‘willingly’ sharing, is that we really don’t know what we are agreeing to or what the data is being used for. I don’t believe we have adequate laws nationally or internationally to protect us from abuse of this data by any agency, business, government department, insurance company, utility company, finance company, the list is infinite.

According to a story in The Public Herald it’s pretty much a free for all. For example they say:

  • Experion sells data updated weekly on new parents, new homeowners and other new event life triggers.
  • Have a read of what information Epsilon sells in this PDF. Who reads Science Fiction novels? Ever wondered why your phone keeps ringing with charities asking for donations? They buy lists.
  • Back to the Public Herald which says that Disney sells data including who bought what, the age and gender of the children, age and occupation of the people who purchased from them and more.

These are just scratching the surface. It isn’t necessarily all bad, the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be any authority tracking who shares what information with whom. The issues come down to informed consent. When you sign a form, enter a competition online with an attractive prize and you click, ‘yes, you can share my information with partners who may have items of interest to me’ perhaps because you think you might have a higher chance of winning the prize, you are losing control of your data.

There are laws designed to protect us from spam, but we often sign away rights without understanding the implications. Companies selling our data will argue that they have our approval to use and share our information. The flow of data will become so convoluted that it will become impossible to know who has what. Big Data companies will consolidate this data also with our ‘implied’ approval.

Governments need to be thinking about this now, if it is not already too late. Of course they arguably need the data as well in order to provide quality health, education and other services, including planning future smart cities. They need as much data as possible, although they don’t in many cases need the granular level down to individual people.

So as a footnote, think about all the cool Internet of Things you are buying over the next couple of years, like exercise devices, remote controlled security cameras and home access, climate control, sleep and snoring monitors, lighting, car telematics, electronic ticketing for public transport and much more, weigh up the cool with potential risk and consider that if legitimate organizations can access your data, so potentially can people wanting to commit crimes. It is already known that burglars steal product to order based on what they find on social media apps like Facebook (had a great weekend on the jet ski and now I’m off to Fiji for a couple of weeks and I’m putting the dogs in a kennel).

Who Can You Trust? Who Do You Trust (Read Time 1:41)


Who do you trust? Who can you trust? With happenings in Auckland, New Zealand mayoral politics recently, the NSA spying, and other revelations, we find ourselves in interesting times. With the invasive growth of social media we live in a world of increasing transparency. Corporates and Governments which have thrived on sharing only what they think people need to know are losing that battle.

I’ve been reading article in The Futurist by Rolf Jensen, Chief Imagination Officer (I like that title!) of Dream Company in Denmark who compares today’s society to the first Renaissance. Gutenberg’s Press accelerated the spread of new ideas, and the golden age sprung out of the middle ages where much of the world was controlled by a religious hierarchy.

FragWe have a similar break-up to political hierarchy’s now, particularly in but not limited to the Middle East and Europe, and like the Gutenberg Press, Social Media is now making important information available to the masses, most significantly in real time. This means that it isn’t possible for governments and corporations to use smoke and mirrors quite so much. With trending information, we can see right past the kaleidoscopic obfuscation to what is really going on.

Here are some interesting statistics that Rolf shared in his article in The Futurist:

  • From Pew Research: In the 1960’s 75% of the US public trusted their Government. In 2010 the result was 25%!
  • The European barometer polled UK voters in 2005 and found a trust level of only 34%. In 2012 that was down to 21%.
  • CEO’s of large corporations are trusted by 45% of the US population (almost double the number that trust their politicians, that’s positive isn’t it?)
  • Gallop says that teachers are trusted by 84%. That’s great news isn’t it. What a shame they get one of the smallest parts of the budget!

Back to social media though, what we are doing is finding groups of people that we do trust and building a new society. We’re sharing knowledge and information in countless ways that have immediacy.

As an example, in my new eBook, Buying a House – Using Real Estate Apps, Maps and Location Based Services, I speak a lot about using social media to research where to live. I cover questions like where to find people who are like you, or people who can tell you about a suburb or area, who have nothing to gain by sharing that information. Who can you trust to give you honest information?

I feel very grateful to live in such exciting times where the power is gong back to the people. Of course ‘the people’ do have to take the power and whilst everyone subsequently had an opinion on Mayor Len Brown’s indiscretions, only 33% turned up to vote in the Auckland local Government elections. I do like the saying ‘You get the Government you deserve’.

So who do you trust? Who do you go to for advice? How are you going to use the information now available to you, to help build the world you want for yourself and your children? How will you contribute?

Comments welcomed.

On Ray Kurzweil and Thinking


I was reading a current article by Ray Kurzweil in this month’s edition of The Futurist and it got me to thinking a little. Here are a few random synapse connections from me.

He talked about how the digital neocortex will be be much faster than my wet-ware and that the roughly 300 million pattern recognisers in our biological neocortex will allow us to think in the cloud, using billions or trillions of pattern recognisers.  The IQ part of my brain thinks this could be amazing, although I would worry about dendrite overload or glutamic acid over stimulation, which is associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s. It’s one thing to connect my brain or nervous system to additional memory, but to extend the processing in and out, is something that I think may require a lot of very careful study.

Earlier this week I wrote a blog about a potential future condition, Google Glasses Separation Syndrome. I recently introduced my daughter to the brilliant book, Flowers for Algernon which follows a similar thread. What happens when you expand a person’s capability to the point that it changes their existence and then potentially remove it again.

I noted that Ray perhaps doesn’t like driving very much because he talked about self driving cars alleviating the requirement of humans to perform the ‘chore of driving’. Sorry Ray, I love driving and so do a large percentage of the people I know. I appreciate that you now work for Google and they are pioneering driver-less cars, but I don’t want to live in a city where eventually the law requires hat the ‘network’ takes over my car. Yes there are benefits in road safety etc.  but with systems such as Fleet Management, MobilEye, and the incentives of PAYD Insurance the roads will become safer without requiring us to take our hands off the wheel.

So IBM‘s Watson won Jeopardy, cool. It is an amazing AI and I love that it is now being used to look for cure’s for cancer amongst other things. But if you start thinking about Watson, a digital neocortex and singularity, what about EQ? It’s one thing to be able to identify things, to be able to locate information, to be able to combine apparently disparate bits of data, but how about feelings, intuition, id and ego? These are the things that make us human.

I like where this is going, but I also want to keep that which is me. Watson might be able to write a hit song by understanding the formulas and this has been tried before. But the song I wrote about a boy whose father lost his job at the plant and asks Santa to find his dad a job, while his mother sits and cries in the bedroom, or the one I wrote about a guy who returns from a tour of duty in Iraq to find his best friend is now sleeping with his girlfriend, that brought tears to Desert Storm vets isn’t going to come from an AI. An AI may understand the chemical reactions of the brain and intellectually that these experiences can cause people to be sad.

The ultimate AI could use impeccable logic to say that humans are bad for the planet, they are frequently illogical, their emotions cause them to make bad decisions and basically shouldn’t be here. Perhaps when Watson really ‘thinks’ about cancer, it might determine that humans are in factor a cancer on this planet and should be booted down. Then we will be left with the singularity which will contain all information, ask why and then boot itself down because having access to all the information in the world, does not impart any meaning.

 

Consumption 2.0 and Mobile Society


I’ve just read an article by Hugo Garcia of Futures Lab in Portugal in the latest issue of The Futurist. He was outlining how younger people today are more mobile, more focussed on consuming goods, services and experiences, rather than being attached to things and places. One area that he was strong on was the fact that people are now so mobile and keen to explore the world and their environments.

Location becomes far more important because you are continuing moving around as opposed to tied to a fixed location in the world. He said that one example is the trend towards not owning a home, perhaps ever. I always hear talk about how hard it is to get into property, I don’t think it has ever been easy. When we bought our first home (to give ourselves and our children some long term security) we bought in a cheap neighbourhood and at one stage were paying in excess on 20% interest. For a couple of years in the beginning, we went without pretty much anything, just to pay the interest. Today many don’t want to restrict their lifestyle, making it a choice, their choice is to live for today.

The ‘office’ is for many people today, especially knowledge workers, not somewhere we need to be a lot of the time and the cost of maintaining an office, commuting, car parking (you could almost rent a room for the cost of my Auckland City car park). We go to the office when we need to, for meetings, teamwork etc, but otherwise I can be much more productive from my home office.

White BikesHugo talks about shared mobility. This is not a new concept, but certainly one that is coming back with a vengeance. Back in the 1960’s the Provos introduced white bikes that anyone could use. The idea was that you grabbed a bike, rode it to where you wanted to go and left it there for the next person to use. Their concept, same as today was to reduce pollution and traffic congestion and promote community engagement. They were certainly engaged as very quickly the bikes were stolen and repainted, but the idea was very good.

Today carpooling continues to grow, Zipcars, recently purchased by Avis, which is currently being debated as to whether it was an anticompetitive manoeuvre, is an example of car sharing, which in principle makes a lot of sense. People share ownership in boats, holiday homes and other items and many people are travelling around the world using the services of portals like Airbnb. There are loads of companies sprouting up like Whipcar, which lets you rent out your own vehicle when you don’t need it.

Globalisation is also an area that is changing rapidly. I remember reading history books about the great depression and how people moved from town to town looking for work. Mobility today is something far more international and international borders are being crossed continually by people in search of work, whether it is because they can’t find it at home, want a better life, or simply enjoy the itinerant lifestyle. Over a million Kiwis are working and living overseas, while British and other nationalities are moving to New Zealand to work on projects such as the reconstruction of  Christchurch.

Hugo points out there are pro’s and cons. “Unfortunately, some areas may become abandoned because they lack competitive advantages. The war for talent between countries will increase, but regions that offer good living conditions may gain an advantage.

I note again that knowledge workers, one of the biggest industry segments today can often work from anywhere and travel when required. I know many journalists and developers that live in small towns for the lifestyle, but can still perform on a global stage.

This mobile society opens up huge scope for innovation and disruption, particularly with location based services, applications for mobile use, which can support the new mobile lifestyle. Kiwi developers can and are developing applications used globally, despite those that say you can’t be successful unless you are in Silicon Valley, things are changing. The money may be there, but they don’t have a monopoly of good ideas.

If anyone knows about a mobile lifestyle its Kiwis, anywhere is a long way from New Zealand. We know how to travel, we absorb and learn and we love new technology. Where we need help is harnessing our smarts, to help our innovators and entrepreneurs to learn how to scale and think big. That’s a tough ask and I don’t think our Government is doing anywhere near enough to ensure that smart people are able to grow from small concepts to large global enterprises.

I was just asking myself how I suddenly got on my soap box, but then I’m not sure I ever get off it:)

The Future of TV


I was watching a TED Video recently. Unfortunately I can’t remember who was talking, but a couple of statistics resonated. The speaker said that by the time an American student (in most western countries probably the same) gets to university they will have spent 20,000 hours watching TV and another 10,000 hours playing video games.

What’s really amazing about that is generally (especially this time of year) how crappy TV coverage is. I have written in blogs previously that I believe IP TV is going to change things massively, but of course that will spell the demise of TV as we know it unless broadcasters get on the bandwagon. If they don’t, they will be singing the same song and laying off loads of staff in the same way as the music and newspaper industries are.

One thing that will make a difference is interactivity and in NZ we are way behind on that score, although I did note during the T20 Cricket match between Pakistan and New Zealand on Boxing Day on Sky TV, you could vote for your man of the match via your remote control. Normally you have to text and pay a premium, so that’s a start, but NZ is way behind the 8-ball when it comes to TV interaction.

In the December issue of The Futurist John M Smart of Acceleration Future Studies came up with some insightful comments on where TV will go, which should be compulsory reading to broadcasters.

Interactivity was one of those concepts. Two areas he covered were collaborative rating social viewing. Both of these happen independent of TV already, but are not embraced by the broadcasters. For example, kids send each other SMS messages via their mobiles all the time when they watch TV. This has been happening for years. The only way the media has taken advantage of that is for competitions and voting on programs like American Idol, which recorded 178 million votes this year. It’s hard to find out what revenue they got from that because it depended on how you voted and who your carrier was, but you can be certain that signifiucant revenue was made, but I digress.

I was talking about social interactivity. So kids text message each other all the time while they watch TV and with new media such as Twitter, the same thing crosses the age barriers. For example whenever there is a major sporting event on anywhere in the world, people are tweeting in real time and sharing their opinions and passion. I believe this will be huge during the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011. It will be happening concurrently around the world via mobile and internet. That would be a great opportunity for Sky TV in New Zealand, NBC, and others to get involved, but I doubt they have the foresight.

Another topic that John Smart covered was ratings. I don’t know how accurate the current TV ratings systems are, but if TV really wants to compete with the Internet, why not give all viewers the ability to rate what they are watching on TV and at the same time  what they are viewing by way of IP broadcast media.

A great thing about the Internet is that it can cater for every taste. I have around 60 channels on my TV, but I have access to so much more media online. Family overseas have access to hundreds of channels, but most of it is reruns of old TV series.

I regularly watch TED videos on my TV via my iPod connected to my home theater, but the interface is ugly and its a pain to connect my notebook to my TV. I don’t have an iPad as yet, but I can certainly see myself getting some sort of IP TV connectivity, whether it is a home media hub (so I can get internet radio as well as YouTube and other products around the house).

Today, according to Smart there are 20,000+ streaming Internet TV Channels including YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe and Viddler. Boxee is an example of a Set Top Box that started off with an open source media software package. Unfortunately many of their services such as Pandora are not available in New Zealand. I’m going to give it a try and see if I can make it work downunder.

I’ll stop here and will come back to this topic as I am just grazing the surface. Leave your comments and bookmark this page if this is of interest to you. This is a very exciting and rapidly changing environment and it will be interesting to see who the winners and losers are in the next 5 years.

Boxee review suggests it has potential, but isn’t quite ready?

Robots to learn human emotions


At the University of Hertfordshire they have been working on a model of children’s early attachment behavior for robots. Their goal is to apply nature and nurture with artificial intelligence so that robots can become caregivers for children in hospital.

“What the Hal?” I thought when I read about this in The Futurist. If you follow my blog, you will have read previous posts such as the one I wrote about Singularity. AI is obviously going to come, but the concept of nurture applied to a robot is something I struggle with, especially with children and even more so sick children who are in pain or stressed.

In principle the idea of a robot that can play games with children, have unlimited patience and intelligence, makes total sense and is a great idea. But when it comes to EQ, I’m not sure how it would interpret immature and potentially irrational behavior.

There have been a number of studies suggesting that children and even teenagers are often unable to understand the consequences of their actions. Many people argue that risk taking is a natural growth path in the development from children to adults. This makes me wonder what would happen if robots learn from children and interpret their behavior as normal. Imagine for example if a robot goes from learning paper, rock scissors, as in this video and then learns to pillow fight or throw objects, from the children.

I’m not being a Luddite, I love new technology, but I do have some concerns about singularity and whilst I would love a robot to vacuum, mow the lawns, cook and do other chores for me, I would prefer them without the emotional senses.

I’ll leave the last word to HAL 9000

Would you like HAL looking after your sick child?