The new global language we’re already writing

A global economy ends up with many pieces of global infrastructure. Communications system, social networks, sans-nation-state currencies, political forums, international transport to name a few. We are currently in the middle of the transition to a global language, the written version at least. Something seemingly childish is about to entirely transform the written word: emojis.

Before you laugh and close this tab, let’s remember that they were the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year in 2015, Their usage has resulted in arrests, and we already have 2666 emojis in the Unicode standard. To read at university level in Chinese, one only needs to understand 3000 or so characters. In order to understand this premise more deeply, a revisit of the history of written language is informative, and it will uncover why this claim isn’t all that outlandish.

Our first attempts of written communication as a species started with pictographs on cave walls. The visual below is from Volltorta Gorge, Spain. Some cave paintings with similar pictographs date as far back as 71,000 years ago. The very first analogue emojis. The word emoji incidentally is a literal translation in Japanese meaning Picture Letter.

For much of human history, the written form was visual, obvious and static. This was largely due to the limitations of communication technology at the time. Our tools were limited to cave walls, painted with clay earth pigments. Back then, we used what we had, and had to ensure meaning could be transmitted without a spoken narrative to accompany it. But as our communications technology improved, the written form escaped the cave and millennia of evolution ensued. We used clay tablets and cuneiform script during the Sumerian era. This facilitated transportation of writing. Hieroglyphs in ancient Egypt followed the same pattern evolving from pictographs, as did Chinese scripture. Both are shown below.

 

As literacy levels increased, writing morphed – became simplified and deviated further from their pictorial origins. They became easier to draw, quicker to create and less detailed visually. This made them more transferable, flexible and increased the mobility of the content. More people, traders and merchants with average dexterity could draw the symbols and participate in written communications. Eventually, the methods of written communication became algorithmic collages of characters and alphabets to spell out the spoken word with more breadth. It became more exacting in its representation of the verbal form. In all probability, the written form probably evolved to match the technology of the day, papyrus, ink, and later, the printing press.

But since digital communications and tools have proliferated visual language has made a radical comeback. Via a weird combination of globalization, short form communication platforms and the need for expediency, we are now partially moving back to a world of interpretive pictographs. Now that the technology exists where the click of a single button can be translated into an entire sentence or deep emotion, our species has taken to the form with abandon. It is truly a wonderful iteration of the written form. I’m even wondering if we’ve subconsciously found a way to find a written form which can cross language barriers without realising it. An emergent phenomenon designed out of global necessity? While this isn’t the first time we have seen a shared character base which result in different words, (we have this in Chinese and Japanese), it is the first time we’ve seen a global omni-language written version.

The beautiful thing about emojis is that they don’t just translate, they also have a certain malleability and ability to create variety in tone. They can create a sentence structure. But more than anything, they’re a great reminder that language is itself also a technology. The tools we invent have the ability to change the reason we invented them and be repurposed with substitute inputs. The smart phone has the capacity to carry a new set of characters with the rare combination of visual accuracy and simplicity in distribution. The advantage they have is a new type of immediate and mutual understanding which can cross borders. It’s this that makes the switch to an entirely new global form of writing entirely possible. While it might take generations, it isn’t without precedent.

If you liked this post, you’ll dig my new book – The Lessons School Forgot – a manifesto to survive the tech revolution. 

The NBN is bigger than the internet as we know it

The number of people who want slower internet in Australia is exactly zero. The speed we need data transfers to occur at is much fast than our politicians think. The reason for that is simple, we haven’t even invented the technology or industries which will be underpinned by the required connectivity. This is merely the start of the revolution, we are only 20 years into the digital age, and thinking we can even conceptualise how data will be used in the future, and how much of it we’ll need is at best ignorant and in all probability conceited.

Consider this, when oil was first discovered bubbling out of a creek in Pennsylvania in 1859, we had no idea how this material might be used. Maybe for lanterns or heating or maybe even in some machines could use it instead of steam? But the airline industry? That was impossible to conceive as a use case for oil, as was personal locomotion and the plastics industry. Today the airline industry employs over 12 million people directly, and is an important conduit to global commerce.

The NBN is a non-polluting oil well of the future. It should be the conduit to the data economy in Australia. Transfer of data is core to any economy wishing to participate in modernity. Yet, in Australia the NBN has become a political football which is literally risking the financial future of every Australian. I’m flummoxed to hear that the CEO Bill Morrow has claimed that the average Australian (what is average anyway?) wouldn’t require download speeds of greater than 25 Mbps! Either he is deluded, he lacks understanding of exponential technology or he’s towing a political line. Data isn’t about being a techie or young, it’s akin to running water or electricity – In fact, it will probably become a vital remote health care ingredient for our ageing society. Here’s a few things we ought consider, and then start screaming loudly about relating the future of our economy and the technological infrastructure we ought be provided with:

  1. The Governments job isn’t to make a profit out of infrastructure. They should realise that they will profit from new industries built atop of it. They seem to forget the tax we pay (30% min for business) is a quasi joint venture they are the beneficiaries of. They benefit from innovation on platforms, but only when they have the quality the future requires. Besides, it is our money they are already investing on our behalf. Profit centricity is a flawed approach.
  2. Rich Countries are built on rich infrastructure. In less developed nations, the common element is crumbling or barely existent infrastructure. Low quality roads, tangled electrical grids, insufficient education, marginal hospitals. We are squandering the shift as developing nations take their chance and ensure they use connectivity to redefine their economies. Just Google internet speeds by country and see where we rank and some of the surprising speeds of developing markets.
  3. We’ve opened the door to Curve Jumps. There’s a chance that 5G mobile networks will be faster than the jumbled mix of FTTP, FTTN and FTTC NBN Co is now building. The network may obsolete before it’s completed, or even worse, a national infrastructure play could end up being served by global technology conglomerates: Google, Facebook and Space X with their various internet service projects. It’s also possible that 5G mobile networks will circumvent the NBN in cost & speed. By trying to save money, the entire project is at risk.
  4. The future economy lives on the meta-structure. The amount of data we are creating is already doubling every 18 months and we are at the start of the start. All the important innovations of the future will depend on the robustness of technological infrastructure, and will create a new meta -structure of virtual business models which live at a meta level a above the concrete and steel. The trillion sensor economy of the IoT, Desktop manufacturing and 3D printing, Drone based logistics and Virtual Roadways in the sky. All these things require faster than we imagine internet access, unlimited imagination and an ‘over investment’ in the infrastructure.

If we want equal economic opportunity around our big land, then it requires a strong national network, where our regional areas have the opportunity to build a location independent future. Everything humans and governments have ever built that mattered involved taking leaps of faith and investing more than we need now, so we can all benefit tomorrow.

You can listen to my thoughts on the NBN here. And be sure to tune in to 3AW every Monday at 4.30pm as I take on a topic that matters for our future with Tom Elliot.

If you liked this post – you’ll dig my new book – The Lessons School Forgot – a manifesto to survive the tech revolution. 

Why other industries need to call out Facebook’s advertising policy

Let’s for a minute imagine these as Corporate Policies:

Car Manufacturer: We’ll take a car off the road if an unsafe model gets out of the factory and is sold, but we can’t promise all our cars are safe until you start driving them. If you see an unsafe car out there, please let us know. 

Fast Food Outlet: If our pizza has salmonella or listeria, you can return it, but we can’t promise all our food is safe to eat. If you get sick or know someone who did, please let us know and we’ll take the pizza back. 

Packaged Goods Manufacturer: If our shampoo has chemicals that are unsafe and burn your head, we’ll change the formula, but we’re not sure until we sell it if it’s OK. If you see anyone with a burned head, ask them what shampoo they used, and if it’s our brand, we’ll happily take it off the shelf.

This is essentially what Facebook Inc. have just announced as their Global Policy for Advertising. All I’ve done is paraphrase their policy, and changed the product and industry. Here it is below for your reference:

Joel Kaplan – Global Policy VP

“We try to catch content that shouldn’t be on Facebook before it’s even posted, but because this is not always possible, we also take action when people report ads that violate our policy”

Facebook claim it isn’t possible for 2 simple reasons:

  1. Because it isn’t profitable for them to check every advertisement before it goes out.
  2. Because they haven’t been regulated in the same way other media organisations are.

While I understand 2 billion peoples comments can’t be moderated before they’re published, maybe paid advertising on Facebook should be. Facebook at least ought to be held to account financially when their ‘platform’ creates problems for society. Their current MO when anything outside their policy happens is ‘oops, sorry about that’ . They get away with it because society and regulators let them. A good starting point to fix this is to start calling out Facebook for what it actually is – a media company, not a technology business. There is a certain responsibility that goes with being a media company and its resultant influence, yet Facebook continues to flout the responsibility that is incumbent upon such power.  To call it a technology company is ridiculous. All companies employ technology – Boeing and Ford have a far greater breadth and use of technology than Facebook, but at least they admit they sell airplanes and cars. Facebook sells advertisements to their audience, not technology – seems like a media company to me.

It’s also worth noting that the update from Facebook policy resulting from controversy surrounding fake ads and alleged Russian influence on the US election didn’t address the problems of false information, only ‘transparency’ of what was published, promoted and who did it. The extreme targeting possible on Facebook is itself one of the problems. Those likely to spot a misleading advertisement are unlikely to see it. In this sense the promise of transparency is a moot point. A further quote from the statement in relation to advertising via Russian accounts below is quite telling:

” All of these ads violated our policies because they came from inauthentic accounts” 

Not because the information was misleading? And further on…

“Our ad policies already prohibit shocking content, direct threats and the promotion of the sale or use of weapons.”

Apparently advertising false information is OK? No mention of it anywhere… You can read it for yourself here. 

While Facebook promises to create a more open and connected society, it is in reality creating a more silo-ed and disconnected society. When governments first gave out spectrum at the birth of the TV era, it came with the responsibility of providing unbiased news and balanced data on issues affecting society. We didn’t let the idea of innovation or new technology interfere with creating the kind of society we all want to live in.

I think social media is one of the most amazing things to evolve in my lifetime. The power provided through connection and sharing thought has helped me re-invent my career, find like-minds and gain knowledge that just wasn’t available in the mainstream media era. For that I’m grateful.

But it is time that we took its power more seriously. It’s time to add seat belts and brakes to the data vehicles driving our lives and admit that no technology out of control or without failsafes ever benefits society.

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If you liked this post – you’ll dig my new book – The Lessons School Forgot – a manifesto to survive the tech revolution. 

It’s time for digital organics – Algorithms are the MSG of the modern age

Increasingly, our lives are shaped by secrets companies keep. The corporate secret de jour is algorithms.

These secret algorithms are designed to do two things:

  1. Make us like the product more.
  2. Improve the profit of the company via the algorithm.

(Objective 1 is only ever designed to facilitate objective 2.)

No doubt you’ve heard the word ‘algorithms‘ bandied around recently in the media, but unless you’re involved in tech or have had someone explain them to you, it is difficult to know what they are, what they do and why you should care. The definition coming straight at the top of a Google search is a pretty good one:

Algorithm: A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

For the most part, algorithms are a damn convenient tool during an era where the amount of data is literally exploding and we need shortcuts. By the way, an algorithm helped me find that definition too. From the screen print below, you can see the results of Google’s algorithms: a definition inside their search results, hence removing my need to leave Google and go to an online dictionary – aka a competitor.

Rule 101 for Algorithms is pretty simple. They are designed to benefit their creator. If they can serve the end customer too – well, that’s a bonus. The problem of course, is that the customer doesn’t know what they didn’t see and which decisions have been made for them. It’s hard to make an informed choice when the algorithms increasingly make those choices for us via filtered options.

A little over 6 months ago, I wrote about the fact that we will need to open up the black box of algorithms if we want to maintain a democratic society – yes, it’s that important. Before anything physical happens in our world, something informational always happens first.

A recent landmark federal court case in Australia focused on a poker machine called Dolphin Treasure whose manufacturer and casino operator have together been accused of misleading gamblers about their chances of winning. This is essentially algorithms on trial. It’s the start of something much bigger, and we can expect to see our most successful and revered technology companies algorithms on trial very soon. All it takes is a little more understanding by the public, and some front page news of algorithms gone wrong where there is blood on the floor – and sadly, it will happen. In many lower profile cases it has happened already.

Here’s what we can expect to see in the corporations around the world: C-suite level executives to emerge in order to build better algorithms and understand those in the market they need to deal with. Boards will need and put algorithm experts on their roster.

Here’s what we can expect to see from the Ambulance Chasers: Hidden algorithms to be the target of legal cases which deceive and cause financial or physical harm to consumers – a new angle to misleading and deceptive conduct.

Here’s what we ought expect from each other: To educate each other on the good, the bad and the ugly of algorithms so we can help shape a world we want to live in. Like we did with food and other suboptimal corporate behaviour patterns.

Here’s what I’d like to see from entrepreneurs: To launch services that benefits users sans algorithm as a key selling point or algorithmic ingredients on clear display – a new form of Digital Organics… to invent a new market and make the entrepreneurial profits they deserve by doing it.

What we need to remember is that every problem presents a new opportunity for nimble entrepreneurs. For business people who steer technology from its current trajectory to a new path is to say ‘no’, we want and deserve more than what you’ve giving us, and we are going to be the people who do it.

Check out my new book – The Lessons School Forgot – to redesign your own future.

The Hustle Hoax

I came across this article recently discussing the Startup Hustle Bubble which is occurring in many entrepreneurial circles. The title said that working 9-5 is for losers. I tend to agree, but in the opposite direction than many of the Silicon Valley disciples espouse. They promote the 18 hour work day, I reckon that’s a better number for the week, only kidding, but not by much. To save you reading it, the proposition of the so called Hustlers goes like this:

  • Workaholism is a desirable life choice
  • To succeed you must give up everything (depends how you define success)
  • Out grind, outwork and out hustle everyone
  • A cottage industry of Hustle conferences are emerging
  • There’s even a Hustle Jesus – otherwise known as Gary V, that hustlers genuinely worship
  • Then there was some wonderful counter claims by the journalist.

Here’s a few things worth considering:

Firstly, there is no doubt work is required to get results in anything, but there is no evidence that working a crazy hours makes people any richer – if that’s the goal. I’d add to this that most of the people I know with incredible financial wealth, didn’t hustle all day and night, they used their brains, took calculated risks, saved, invested and compounded small advantages over time. But you know what they did more than anything else? They got others to work the hours for them and arbitraged their wages. It’s how capital works. Capital wins, capital always wins simply because each individual will only ever have 24 hours to give.

It’s also worth remembering that only thing we can never earn back in life is time. No amount of money will buy it back, your kids (if you have any) will only be young once and they’d rather have your time, than toys. We all know that money doesn’t lead to more happiness over a certain threshold. But mostly we should always be driven by our own personal objectives, when it comes to what we sacrifice. It’s vital we don’t get caught up in ‘fashion’ or the goals of others who a vested interest in the amount of hours we put in anything.

If you want more life hacks – then you’ll totally dig my new book The Lessons School Forgot. By the way, I went surfing on Tuesday, had a two hour nap today and I still got all my work done!

Why energy will be free in under 10 years

It’s easy to forget how many things we used to pay for that we now get to use and consume for free.
Energy is very close to becoming one of them. The global economy is very quickly transforming to an all electric economy. Yes, for both your house and your car. Very soon we’ll only have to pay a one off set up fee to go entirely off grid and generate all the energy (electricity) we need, for free. It will come from the worlds most powerful energy source, the original fossil fuel called the sun. I hear you saying a one off set up free isn’t free, and that’s true, but this is where the economy is changing and catching many existing industrial companies off guard.

 

In the past the factors of production were all centralised: Factories, Retail Stores, Power Plants, Media Channels, Computers. Sector by sector, they are being decentralised as technological advances allow these tools to be cheap enough for us to access them or own them for a very low cost. The super computer in your pocket comes to mind, or the factory you don’t have to own as you access manufacturing capacity via Alibaba. They way it will work is in 3 simple steps:
     

  1. Set up solar panels + Battery storage  = Price X
  2. When Energy bill > 20% of Price X
  3. Finance will fund the off grid set up. (cost of money around 7% for unsecured loans + principal repayment)

It will be much like what happened with our shift from the dumb phone to the smart phone. We have a contract to pay off the hardware (which actually includes hidden interest costs), but in this case, the hardware is paid for by the money we’d normally be paying the electricity company with a quarterly bill. But now it will go to the companies setting up a mini power plants in our homes.

So where are we today with the cost of going ‘off grid’ and having enough energy to power our homes?

The average home in Melbourne, Australia (where I live) uses 16 kwH per day. In order to set up a solar PV, inverter and battery system which can provide this level of energy on a daily basis, in all weather, it currently costs around $25,000 – just google “off grid solar 16kwH” to see the various options. The current average energy bill in Australia is $550 per month. Already the cost is very close to the switch covering the cost of finance and repayment in 3-5 years – the typical length of unsecured loans. The switch will happen very quickly when we consider the rapidly declining cost of both solar panels and batteries. Currently the cost of Lithium Ion rechargeable batteries is falling by 40% every 2 years driven by large scale production efficiencies. Based on the current price trend, within 5 years the cross over will start to occur.

And here is where it gets interesting. It will happen quicker than we think based on other non-battery based system efficiencies:

Solar Panels (PV cells) cost performance improvement 20% per doubling of manufacturing capacity – otherwise know as Swanson’s Law. This too will continue. Within 5 years their cost will be 75% less than they are today, and they will be more efficient at capturing energy, due to energy capture improvements. Since 2011 the average PV panel went from only capturing 11% of available joules of energy to 19% currently. Add to this the potential of a curve jump to better technology and we could surpass even our current optimistic estimates. A report just this week from the Journal of Material Science revealed a way to recharge Zinc Air batteries which could be 5 times more efficient than Lithium Ion. 

And finally, lets not forget that the amount of electricity / and energy we use in the home currently has wastage rates of up to 30%. New devices and IoT functional smart homes will significantly reduce the energy wastage in our homes. Once our houses become IoT enabled, not only will the efficiency and capture of an off grid system be much better, there is a highly likelihood we will not require as much energy as we do today. This is because most devices requiring energy in our homes will essentially become computers. This is where Koomey’s Law comes in. Koomey’s Law states that at a fixed computing load, the amount of battery you need will fall by a factor of two every year and a half. This will  have a more dramatic impact on the energy industry as most machines we use computerise.

When we add this up, all these pieces from different previously isolated sectors, it is clear to see we’ll have all the energy we need from the sun and other sustainable sources. Which means, that unless you sell oil or burn coal for a living, the future is certainly bright.

Check out my new book – The Lessons School Forgot –  thrive in the technology era.

The start of the end of the screen – Google Home

Why is no one talking about the things that really matter with Google Home? Like how it changes the economy, and how it might have the kind of impact mobile apps did on our web habits. I’ve read a number of articles about the Google Home device being launched in Australia this week. Lots of them discuss the effectiveness of the natural language processing and which apps it works best with. Like this article and this article. None of them seem to cover the issues that really matter on the topic. So here they are.

Ambient Computing: This is a shift away from typing to talking. We are now entering the age of ambient computing. The killer apps on interacting with artificial intelligence have just shifted from eyes and fingers, to mouths and ears. This is the start of a permanent change in the way humans interact with intelligent machines. The shift is as big as the smart phone was. The only difference is that this will take a little longer to establish itself. The reason it will take longer than the smart phone did is that there isn’t a direct substitute for such home devices. The smart phone had the advantage of replacing a tool we all already used – a feature phone. Most of which had a 12-24 month replacement cycle – like items under contracts typically do. Therefore, we can put this device in the Amara’s law category – a bit slower to take hold, but once they do arrive en masse, the impact will be greater than most people suspect.

The smart home killer app: Every new regime in technology requires a centre piece technology to augment and co-ordinate disparate devices. The graphical browser ushered in the era of the World Wide Web. Google home and friends, namely Echo and Homepod are the devices that will usher in the era of the smart home. A home where everything functional, mechanical, and electrical will interact with web. This is where we can expect to move to renewable energy faster than most predict. Currently just under half the energy we consumer in home is wasted. We don’t need more efficient PV Solar panels and larger batteries, what we need is homes that know how to efficiently allocated energy and resources to the devices inside it.

So what does a smart home look like? It’s a place where most everything has computational capacity, it knows everything that’s in it and it efficiently allocates energy and activities based on what it learns. We can expect energy usage in the home to decrease by at least 30% in a truly smart home. When technology makes our homes more efficient, the value equation and ability for renewables to create an off-grid solution increases exponentially. A positive cycle of both demand and supply side efficiency may change how we power our homes ahead of schedule due to the arrival of complimentary technologies. We can expect the centre piece AI to be a party to the dismantling of the coal and fossil fuel industries. Disruption is horizontal – it is usually a juxtaposed technology which changes things unexpectedly.

The end of SEO: Once people start talking to their devices and asking for and expecting verbal responses, being on the homepage of Google becomes irrelevant. There wont be a page at all. In a world of ambient computing, we need be the first recommendation which gets returned audibly. Which means any brand, product or service hoping to be recommended by a search engine needs to be asked for by brand, or be the best in category. Even worse, companies like Amazon and Google might not care what’s most relevant, and instead start recommending what is most profitable. So long as it ‘solves the problem’ of the end user it’s most likely to give them the highest margin option, for them. Remember, Google promises not to be evil – to it’s share holders at least. SEO, will become VPO – Voice Pod Optimization, a game where only a single option is mooted to the end user.

Privacy on steroids: This is the time when we allow multinational corporations with backdoor pipes to governments hear every word in our homes and learn every habit. All of which is permanently recorded. And if you think this only matters for people committing crimes, then never forget that the most extreme externalities are those we can’t plan for, or even predict. If this isn’t enough to convince you to think twice about privacy, this little post might at least open the mind a little. Privacy and secrecy are not the same thing.

Given these changes aren’t in the maybe category, best we start acting on them now.