Expertise during a data explosion

No one really knows how much data is being created in the world. We know that most of the data that exists was created in the past couple of years. Some people say it is doubling every year. The reason that this is even possible comes back to lower barriers of entry. Until we had low cost computing, internet connectivity, and more recently the smart phone, data was isolated, segmented and verified by institutions who were given the authority to create, curate and store it. Authority in this instance was a function of finance. The cost of creating permanent information was expensive – print materials, broadcast hardware, costs of distribution all limited the ability for information to be created and shared. It meant there was far less data, but it also meant we knew where to look to find what was available.

Data has moved from being something which was structured, in know-able places, to something which is unstructured, distributed and without authority. It’s now organic, alive and rapidly evolving. Authority and tools go hand in hand. Now that the tools of creating and storing data are omnipresent and almost free, their is no authority governing it. This means two important things:

  • It will continue to increase exponentially
  • Knowledge no longer has a boundary

So how can anyone be an expert on anything?

In this environment expertise has no choice but to change. No one can know everything, even in the most niche of subjects. If we add to this the idea that the major factors of production are shared – that being 1’s and 0’s – then the potential for cross fertilisation of ideas is infinite. What is true today might be kiboshed tomorrow by new inventions, ideas and collaborations.

The new art of expertise has to become this – knowing where to look and who to rely on.

While we’ll never know everything that has ‘just happened’ and we’ll never be able to predict exactly what is next, we can study the trajectory. Pattern recognition, is quickly becoming more important than knowing. What experts will need to be able to determine in the future is how likely something is, how to assess the sentiment of future behaviour and how to be able to verify what just happened. Expertise is becoming a weird kind of reverse archaeology.

Increasingly what we need to know is how to work with the tools to uncover knowledge as it is created.  The age of memorising things for future reference is quickly becoming obsolete.

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Come join me Tuesday Night in Melbourne to dig into your future and some of The Lessons School Forgot – register here. See you then, Steve.

We need to open up the digital black box

Imagine for a moment you bought something at the supermarket, a packaged food you intend to eat and it didn’t have an ingredient list, let alone a nutrition panel. You’d think twice about consuming it wouldn’t you? In the early days of packaged foods this was the way things were. It was exactly as explained – we had no ideas what was in the box. Before the early 20th century food and medicine we consumed was a total crap shoot. There were literally no regulations, or information as to what we were all consuming if it wasn’t in its raw form. Eventually, we collectively decided this wasn’t good enough.

Boxes filled with secret ingredients, sometimes dangerous ones, developed by the manufacturers so they could sell more and keep it shelf stable longer, were marketed as natural and safe. Quite often the labelling on food and medicines was down right dangerous. The changes didn’t come easy though, manufacturers (Coca Cola, Kelloggs, Phillip Morris, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, Nestle to name a few) not only sought to mislead to sell more, but often claimed the ingredients in the box were some kind of trade secret that, were valid in a capitalist society. A black box of secrets? –  Sounds a little like something that is going on today doesn’t it?

mind control

Everything we consume in digital form today comes with its own secret set of ingredients. We are ingesting information into our minds that might shape our lives as much as food does. Yet, for some reason we don’t question the opacity of the digital black box. We need to also to be smart enough to realise that shaping peoples minds could well be more dangerous than addictive and unhealthy ingredients are. They don’t just shape us, but they can reshape geo-politics as well, maybe even democracy. The lessons of history are easy to forget, especially when others fought the battles for us before we were born. It’s possible to take for granted the toil undertaken for the civility we bask in today.

A new revolution has arrived with a new set of corporations designing our consumption patterns, and just like before, the behaviour is the same – the large companies at the front line, call ‘competitive secret’ in order to profit seek against an unaware public. We instead need to push back and ensure that the society being built, with a meta structure on top of it, is one we want to live in.

It’s time we exposed the ingredients in the algorithms that shape our digital existence. We need this in the same way we know ingredients in packaged food. Algorithmic Nutrition Panels might just be the start of a more informed society. People might finally understand why they’re addicted to Facebook or Buzzfeed and why they see what they do on the screens in in their lives. It might just start a movement, one in which people realise what they’re actually giving away and why it matters.

What goes in our mind, is at least as important as what enters our mouths. It’s worth mentioning here that we are only on the precipice of the data deluge. The pending trillion sensor economy made possible the internet of things will mean every human interaction involves an algorithm. Algorithms as trade secrets, will increasingly shape our world and our lives, for as long as we tolerate it.

It’s been nearly 10 years since I owned a phone

I still have a device which I can use to make calls, but it’s not a phone. I and most other people these days have a globally interconnected super computer. It so happens to have a feature which can make calls. Simple evidence resides in the number of times we interact with it daily, versus the number of calls – they are almost insignificant. We touch our phone hundreds of times a day and we might make a few calls. (Count for the next few hours if you don’t believe me). Here‘s a picture of the last phone I owned below.

Nokia Brick

It’s hard to believe the iphone is about to have it’s 10th birthday on June 29, 2017. Since the iPhone disrupted the economic time continuum –  we have literally have NASA in our pockets. A personal super computer that 20 years ago it would’ve literally cost several millions dollars. And today, it is free. We get the mobile phone for the same price of around $50 a month, but with the super computer as the free prize inside. And while we all know it has impacted some obvious industries like news, media, music, mapping and photography to name a few, it is much more than that. It’s a bit like a new Neo Cortex which is why we feel so uncomfortable leaving home without it. I personally believe it is the start of technology merging with our biology. I’m certain it will enter our body, we can already see the trajectory of the technology getting smaller and smaller and closer and closer to our bodies. We already have wires coming out of it, and directly into us, eventually they’ll be attached permanently, and soon after the tech will aside inside us.

While this phone super computer has numerous life benefits that come with it – it isn’t without it’s own set of externalities.

The Privacy Fallacy

“If you don’t do anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about with privacy.”

We’ve all heard that before and there are many problems associated with this proposition.

Firstly, it has attached to it a basic assumption that only illegal or immoral activities can be used against us. Secondly, many people are forgetting that our phone super computer tracks many activities without us inputting or extracting any data at all. It has a number of sensors which (Ironically like a human senses never stop working) – they are constantly listening in the background to our environment and sending back information to big brother. Accelerometers, Gyrometers, GPS locators, Altimeters, Light sensors, Cameras, Sound receptors. The GPS even works when the phone is off the grid. And here is my personal favourite; Siri records everything we’re saying, all the time, if we agreed to its terms, and most of us do without even reading them. Some of the stuff it knows outside of our web surfing, data input and info requested can be of the most value to governments and corporations.

The problem with the privacy issue, is that data can be converted into discrimination. For example, an innocent person could be put on a watch list because unbeknowns to them they associate with say a hacktavist. Just by their phones super computers being in close proximity to each other frequently, a person could be falsely targeted. It’s also easy to see how various forms of insurance could be refused based on private data collected. But we won’t know what the limits of these discriminations until they have already happened. No one has read the back of the cereal box…. (The Terms & Conditions). We are literally playing a game we don’t know the rules to, and this is a very dangerous proposition indeed.

We can’t stop it, but we need to civilise it

We can never stop data tracking. No technology in history, regardless of its externalities has been able to be stopped once released. Especially if short term benefits are greater than long term complications. So we need to civilise the internet – like we civilised cities and factories in the industrial era. We need the equivalent of workplace health & safety, car design road rules and environmental protections, but for peoples data. And we cannot leave that up to the corporate owners of the platforms we use – like all companies their basic incentive is to maximise short term shareholder wealth. What we have now, is each company setting its own laws of usage which is as crazy as it sounds. Especially when participating in the modern economy requires us to use the platforms.

We need a macro generic set of Terms & Conditions for all digital services – where companies only report exceptions. They need to be written in language everyone can understand with consequences laid out. it needs to be taught in schools and in society. If we as the collective users of the internet have the wisdom to force this, then the utopian dream of the web can recommence.

Learn why data matters with one simple photo

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 9.23.54 am

If I was to ask you what the kids in the above picture were doing – beyond burying their faces in their smart phones, there is an almost infinite number of possible answers:

Messaging a friend, Face-timing their mum, Commenting on a blog, Snapchatting, Booking a flight, Submitting their homework, Buying a pair of sneakers, Updating their FB status, Getting directions, Sending a friend some money, Finding a cafe for lunch…. they might even be talking to directly to each other. The point is we don’t know. We can’t know by observing behaviour from the outside. Instead we need to get inside the data to find out what is actually going on.

This is a big shift in marketing and business in general. We can’t simply observe, we can’t just ask, we’ve got to mine. And while this movement might have started with the smart phone, we’re now entering an era of general purpose machinery and computing. End products which change their purpose based on who is using the technology. Malleable products like 3D printers and self drive cars will mean the only way to know what’s really going on is to match usage and observation with data. Increasingly this will need to involve collaboration, and the effective way to do that won’t be just taking the data without asking, or tricking people with hidden terms and conditions, but collaborating with it. In order to do this we need to develop a trusted relationship where we share the marketing process with our users just as if they are part of our internal team. If we do this, we can bake a bigger revenue pie where we all get a piece.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now. 

the Collective Age

We are entering the Collective Age. Connections are circumventing traditional systems. An age of horizontal eco systems that disrupt the top down Industrial era. An age we’re we will not be governed for long. An age where the owners of the factors of production are desperate for our input and use of these idle resources. An age where we don’t vote and hope, rather where we collaborate and create. An age where every garage will become a factory – via innovations like 3D printing and sharing designs of stuff on-line. An age where National Government data is being handed back to us so we can mash it up and create software applications to run our cities and countries better than they ever could. An era were we can use digital communications to organise ourselves in real time…. and change our landscape before the bureaucrats have time to realise what has happened.

Technology is facilitating emergence, we are finally becoming one organism that serves the collective.

In fact, this hasn’t happened yet. And it may not happen if we let it pass us by – the question for entrepreneurs is how will we embrace this opportunity for revolution to create the actual world we want to live in?

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How to decide

A colleague sent me this quote that I just had to share right here on startup blog. Henri Federic Albert said:

“The man who insists on seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides.”

And that is what we must learn to deal with in growth businesses – uncertainty. Our ability to decide based on a intuition and our personal world view is becoming a rare asset. It’s what we must move towards in a world full of data, but very little meaning. The other benefit decisions give us is real world feedback. If we get it wrong we can cross it off the list and move onto the next idea.

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