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.

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.

How to future proof your kids

There’s lots of things we can do to future proof our kids. On the top of my list would be this: Don’t condition them to into thinking they’ll get a job when they grow up.

The reason is simple – A job is only one source of potential revenue to sustain life.

This isn’t to say that jobs are bad, just that while they are young we should be introducing the concept of economics. The first concept is that we need revenue when we grow up, and a job is just one source. Imagine asking your kids this:

What will your major revenue source be when you grow up?

Their first question will be, your guessed it – What in the heck is revenue? And this invites an important conversation that opens their minds for the rest of their life. A decent answer might be this: Well, revenue is a word that describes all of the different ways we can get money for helping people. A job is just one of those ways, but there are many more. And some are more rewarding, some easier, some harder. Here are some examples Johnny and Mary:

  • Profits from selling things, or owning a business
  • Commission which can be from selling something for someone else
  • Fees for doing projects
  • Freelancing selling your skills one task at a time
  • Rents for people using things you own – like a building
  • Dividends which is money when you own a portion of a company, Like the toy shops we go to – Did you know you can own part of that toyshop!?!
  • Royalties from letting someone use your idea, like if you drew the first picture of a cartoon character
  • Licensing which is when people pay you to use something you own in another country

The list is endless, unlike the number of jobs which are about to be replaced by AI, Automation and offshoring.

You could explain all the examples above, using just one of their toys, say Lego. Shops make profit selling it. Professional Lego builders work as freelancers. The shop the Lego is sold in is rented by the person that owns  the building. Lego pay licensing fees to Star Wars to make Darth Vader. Shareholders in the Lego company share in profits from people buying lego. You get the pattern.

This will show them many possibilities. Kids are super curious about the world, and they’ll never see money in the same way again. They’ll start to see economics and different ways they can participate. More importantly though, they’ll be thinking about systems, and how to position themselves into owning the factors of production, and not being them. If we do this, we give them a chance at being the architects of their own future, and not a bricklayer in someone else’s.

Blog readers in Melbourne – I’m inviting you as a reader to The Lessons School Forgot – Live – to celebrate the launch of my new book. 

Hope to see you there, Steve. 

Why it's never been a better time to start a business

Lift off!

It’s ironic that governments around the world are clamouring to support large companies via the promise of jobs given that this is the greatest time in human history to start a business.

Anyone who has a had a crack at starting a venture knows the idea is the easy bit. Ideas are bit like water, absolutely vital, but there is no shortage. The hard part has always been gathering access to resources, and then compiling the resources into a system of revenue. Just think through what we needed in the past to make a business a reality:

Finance – without rich parents, friends or some security for the bank it was over before we started.

Manufacturing – how the heck would you build a facility to make stuff? There was no ‘open factories’ just a little while ago.

Retail – other than opening a store, it was difficult to get on the shelves. Especially in small volumes. Stores wanted mass market products, support by advertising.

Promotion – advertising was barely affordable other than bills posted on local walls. Newspapers, radio and TV – all too expensive for a startup.

It’s no wonder we got told to get a good education, go to university and get a stable job with a multinational corporation. Which, is still an option…. but personally, I think we are all capable of more than that. I think the gift of access we’ve all been given via technology is too precious to waste. Just look at all the barriers to entry which have now crumbled in less than a generation:

Alibaba has more than 4 million factories we can access to get a our dreams made into a physical reality.

E-commerce stores have never been easier to set up, no tech skills required.

We can connect with customers on a zillion platforms – Ebay / Etsy / App store / Facebook / Instagram / Youtube and endless others

We can get funded based on the strength of our work, passion and ideas, not how rich our contacts are.

We can access freelance workers easy on line, work from home or anywhere, and we can start part time, an hour a day instead of wasting the night watching TV shows which teach us how to make a better soufflé .

Why this matters: A.I. is coming and it WILL remove many jobs including white collar work – so we need a rebooted entrepreneurial ethic to invent our own financial futures and create new industries.

If you want more inspiration on your possible future – then check out the first chapter of my upcoming book – The Lessons School Forgot –  you’ll totally dig it.

Why we need to stop using the word Job

With every single policy statement of our, and any democratic Government, I can tell you what the proposed objective of every single one of them will be:

Jobs & Growth.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 12.27.31 PM

For me, it is heartbreaking to hear this mantra still being chanted as some kind of plan for the future, especially given the industrial age is officially over. We don’t need to provide people with jobs – we need to provide them with the tools and skills of adaptation, because increasingly, jobs will have shorter and shorter life cycles.

The era of lifelong jobs, lifelong careers or life long anything is over. Quite frankly, jobs are not the solution. We are very quickly evolving into an economy driven by independent actors, attracting revenue from multiple sources. In the future, everyone will become ‘Projecteers’. We are already starting to shift inside and outside of companies, providing skills for projects. The best way to de-risk anything financial is to have many sources of revenue – not just one, which is what a job is. Having a job is the riskiest financial strategy anyone can have. Anyone who wants to thrive in the new economy needs to be totally self-reliant.

The good news? It has never been a better time in history to get on the path to independence. To learn and to reinvent ourselves. The first thing we need to do in every industrialised economy is remove the word ‘job’ from our collective parlance. This word is responsible for limiting the possibilities of millions of people – it steals from the breadth of possibility. It says: be subservient to someone else. It says:

  • Let someone else provide opportunities for you.
  • Let someone else decide what you’re worth.
  • Let someone else decide if you’re qualified.
  • Let someone else decide if they need you.
  • Let someone else decide when to replace you with Artificial Intelligence.

The list is endless, but the point is that it outsources responsibility to an economic machine we have no control over. Wouldn’t it be refreshing if the government came out and said, “We are going to make it easier than ever to start a business”?

A better approach to life is to think in terms of Revenue – how much do I need, where can I get it and what value can I create for others so I can get my fair share. Everyone’s economic future is not based on the job they have, but the revenue they create for themselves. And the government…well, they just want tax payers and centralised simplicity where they give large corporations what they want so long as they provide jobs for tax payers. We all deserve more than that. We deserve an independent future where the government provides resources for people to invent new industries and revenue streams for a modern economy. We deserve new systems that enable nimble skill providers to adapt to what the economy and businesses need. Jobs are something people had when Henry Ford ran the show, and the last time I looked… Ford wasn’t a company anyone revered.

If you like this kind of thinking about the future, then I’d highly recommend reading my new book – The Lessons School Forgot. You can download the first chapter here free. It’s out in June and is a manifesto on how to financially future-proof your life in a rapidly changing world.