What data and fences have in common

We’ve entered the age of the Data Imperialist. New world powers are taking resources before those handing them over have realised what is happening. Once again, it seems that the future is repeating the past.

Most things we value economically in the modern economy are quite far removed from real needs. We invent new asset classes that are things we don’t really need – unlike food, shelter, medicine and education. Where it gets tricky is when something which was once free, fluid and unencumbered gets claimed by a commercial interest. When it does happen though, the pattern is always the same.

  • Those it gets taken from don’t understand the ‘market value’ of what is being taken
  • It gets taken by using tools the others haven’t got.

Into this category we can put land, gold, oil and now we can add data.

Think back to when imperialists sailed to far off lands to plunder the resources from traditional owners. They put fences around things. A fence to someone who’d never seen one would seem like a very strange idea. The mere concept of anyone actually owning land unheard of in many cultures. There’s no value in a fence because no one can own the land! But of course, those who trespassed or tried to access the now fenced off resource were met with gunpowder – a tool the victims didn’t have access to, let alone grasp its power at first.

Online privacy and security are a lot like this. We’ve literally allowed the data imperialists to put a data fence around our lives. While we have known for a long time that knowledge is power, few people in the past 20 years have truly understood how much information we’re really handing over, and the many ways it can be leveraged economically. They, like the conquistadors before them, took it from us before we realised and they too did it with tools we didn’t understand.

Their favourite hack – hiding the truth in 20,000 word long legalese designed to obfuscate. Oh, and they offered us the sugar hit of emotional candy along the way so we could all ‘connect’ on-line – as if that wasn’t already possible with the old school internet. They’ve successfully stooged us out of the most important resource in the emerging economy – data. Henry Ford and his factory friends pulled the same trick on us 100+ years ago when he convinced us to trade in our artisanal skills and independence for highly paid piece labour. Privacy and security are the workplace health and safety of the digital era. The data wars are only just starting and we’ve got to fight back. But how?

Here’s a few ideas to get us started:

  1. Remember everything digital is traceable and on file, forever. There is no anonymity. Never put anything online you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper.
  2. Don’t be platform lazy. Yeah, I know it’s easier to connect on social media platforms… but go direct when possible. Talk on the phone, get your own email client, text – heck, get some analogue FaceTime happening.
  3. Data is labour. We need to socialise the idea that our data should be our personal copyright. Corporations should be renting from us. We created it, we ought own it and it is an own-able resource – if we will it to be.
  4. We have to put our hands up high on what we won’t accept. Data breaches are unacceptable and we should punish platforms with serious consequences – and make sure it’s as unacceptable as pollution and unsafe work practices.
  5. We need to push our Governments to embrace blockchain technology and crypto-economics to enable valued, yet safe, use of data. We need to push them to protect us and our data when they have access to it and protect us from corporations who are data deceivers.

Data like any asset can and should be used for good – where the benefits are shared and protected by those whom create it.  And this is why Blockchain is the most important technology of the past 20 years. It makes the above things possible. And let’s never forget this – our Governments are no different to School yards. It’s a popularity contest. They do what gets them voted back in. What this means is that all we have to do is make these ideas popular.

Steve.

The Blockchain Evolution

New technology often goes through a hype cycle, but few get get hyped more than Blockchain. I imagine most of my readers are across it, if not, I wrote a blockchain 101 article you can read in 2 minutes flat. Now, I’ll put my hand up high, and admit right here and now that I’m a true believer. Before I tell you why, the image below is the reason I decided to write this.

I notice this image on Linkedin – it was posted by someone in an industry poised to benefit significantly from the technology. What astounded me was the absolutism of the statement. Even if a technology doesn’t emerge, it’s a far more useful life and business strategy to have an open mind to new possibilities.

There’s 3 simple reasons I think Blockchain will become a vital layer in our lives.

(1) It solves a real problem: It allows us to transmit things of value (like currency) without making a copy and removes the need for traditional intermediaries. We can finally trade with each other online using cryptography to create trust and transparency/anonymity.

(2) The technology has proven use cases: It has already been proven to ‘work‘ with crypto currencies. While it faces technology hurdles including excessive energy usage, a poor user experience and slow transaction speed – these are problems many similar technologies, like the early internet faced as well. Dial-up internet anyone?

(3) There’s a huge amount of financial and human capital going into it: The sheer investment of intellectual capacity and money flowing into the space almost guarantees that problems with it will be solved and new ways of employing the technology will be found.

In fact, that’s how it always happens. Cars today are very different from cars in 1920. The internet is a very different beast today compared to when we browsed on Netscape. And it’s always the three factors above which are required to keep a new technology from disappearing.

Blockchain isn’t Blockchain, rather, it will become something somewhat different from what we see and experience now. With the prize so big – it has potential to topple some of the worlds biggest industries, and so many people engaged in inventing the desired functionality, we can be certain it won’t go away. Historically, making a technology work smoothly is where the biggest financial wins usually come from.

 

Why E-Sports might just help your career

“Hey kids, get out inside out of that fresh air, stop exercising and start playing some video games why don’t you!” – Said no parent ever, maybe they should?

On my weekly radio spot this week I spoke about video games, or E-sports as it’s known. I proposed that gaming is a valid use of kids spare time, and could even help them in later life and their careers. My mum, with good intentions hated my going to the ‘dodgy’ video arcade, and later despised the time I spent gaming on my TRS-80 (yes my dude was a block, but I have a good imagination). But, it did lead me to a lifetime of interest in technology, and now that’s become a career. Occasionally we need to open our minds enough so that we can reframe an outdated perception. And maybe even back it up with some facts, so here’s a few about the E-Sports industry worth considering:

Economics: Video game sales (think hardware and software) is more than twice the size of the movie industry world wide. it will near $130 billion in 2018. The Pro E-Sports industry is estimated to be $1.5 billion this year with over $100 million in prize money, and has over 385 million annual viewers. Yes – people watching people play video games – both on line and live. In fact, the biggest ever crowd at a video game tournament was 52,000 people in a stadium in Germany.

Careers: There is currently 13,000+ professional E-Sports players. While the average annual pay packet is relatively small at $4500 a year, the top player earnings are right up there with with more traditional sports. Kuro Takhasomi took home a handy $3.5m last year and more than 200 players earned more the $100,000 for playing ‘games’.

Skills: Like any sport, there’s a natural hierarchy and not all hopefuls will make it to the elite level. Though, there is something different about E-Sports – they prepare us for the emerging world in ways few traditional sports can. Studies show they are good for rapid problem solving, brain speed, memory, algorithm awareness and management and even fine motor skills. They’ve been used to train soldiers, pilots, surgeons and it’s fair to assume their use in pre-career simulations, will continue and even extend through the use of VR and AR.

In any case, it does seem that the correlation between gamers and a desire to learn the underpinning technology is high. Surely this gives gamers an advantage in future proof technological career paths.

Social: When I mention to people I regard E-Sports as a ‘real sport’ it is often met with scepticism, and even ridicule. At which time I often remind people how ridiculous grown ups chasing dead animals filled with air to kick them through big white sticks is. All games are silly by definition, and they often take generations on the fringe before they enter mainstream culture. But after a couple of generations of computer games, I feel we are on the precipice of that shift right now. The spectator side of the industry is real, and will have wider career and industry opportunities than many people imagine.

So is it a sport? Well that depends on how you view things. Here’s one definition of Sport: “An activity involving physical exertion or skill in which an individual or team compete against one another or for others entertainment.” It fits as far as I can tell. And if you’re worried it will make society more obese than it already is, don’t fret too much. It’s only a matter of time before these games involve players in haptic suits running around on fields shooting up people somewhere on the other side of the globe.

Click here to here me discuss Gaming on 3Aw with Tom Elliot. And be sure to tune in at 4.30pm every Monday for your Future Fix.

Go play, Steve. 

Why we need to rebuild the internet

In life and in business I believe in a few guiding principles. Two I like in particular are very common across cultures:

  1. Create more value than you extract.
  2. Treat people the way you’d like to be treated.

I imagine everyone reading this would agree. Now let’s consider this juxtaposition:

What a CEO says: “We want to build a more open and connected society”

What a CEO does: Buy the 4 houses surrounding his in order to protect his own privacy.

Someone who sells privacy for a living, often without permission and tricks his customers into giving up more than they understand, wants to protect his own. The fact that I don’t need to mention the person’s name is telling. Well, you might say it’s not a fair comparison between how someone behaves in their digital and offline lives. Fair call, but consider the fact that up until last week the person in question could delete private messages from another person’s private inbox, after the messages had been sent to and received by the other party. A privacy feature he wasn’t generous enough to give to his users. Oh, by the way, I can think of another industry where ‘dealers’ call their customers ‘users’. We both get our minds messed with in ways we can’t understand and end up addicted and worse off.

It’s a well known technological trope that data is the new gold, an entirely new class of asset. And that’s where the problem lies. This asset class is so new, few people understand it. We could liken this to the age of discovery when imperialists took control of abundant natural resources, resources which were viewed by the conquered as something no one could really own or control.

The net result is that the greatest wealth creation event in the history of humanity. The Internet has resulted in a massive centralisation and control, and spawned the era of the data imperialist. Even those who understood the power of data have far less chance of leveraging it on their own, because of the dramatic impact of network effects, and zero cost digital transfers both have in creating a winner takes all economy. To quantify: the net worth of the 4 founders of the top 3 technology companies since the dot com era have a collective net worth of $281 billion dollars as of today.

The internet needs saving.

What started out in all probability as altruism – the dream of a free web funded by advertising, has become a nightmare panopticon and it’s time we pushed back. Hard.

Technology stalwart and all round good guy Jaron Lanier says we can no longer call these companies Social Networks, but ‘Behaviour Modification Empires’. Services which use algorithms to make us stay longer by giving us sugar hits of fear, jealously and other powerful negative emotions. Lanier also says that we can’t have a society where if two people want to communicate, it can only happen if it is financed by a 3rd party or corporation selling advertising. It’s worth investing 15 minutes of your time to hear him talk about it here.

But I will add a little more to his talk… the missing piece.  Personally, I hope Facebook isn’t fixed. It’s only when something stays broken that we get a chance to put something better in its place. For me that would be a social network that no one owns or controls – something funded by the people using it, without a financial corporate imperative shaping our most valued human asset – our interactions.

We need each other, Steve.

Why the book is always better than the movie

This week one of my favourite fiction books ever got released as a movie – Ready Player One. While I haven’t seen it yet, I already know the book was better. It always is.

“The movie was better” – said no one ever.

If you’ve ever read a book that got turned into a movie, you know this is true. But why?

The movie steals away our imagination. We always overlay a story with our own personal experience. Our own layer of what something should look and feel like. When we hand this over to someone else, such as a movie director, much of what we saw turns out different. It’s an inevitable reality of all creative interpretations. We always prefer our imagined version better, as we should.

This gets interesting given much of what we learn today is through video. We are now far more likely to watch a video to learn about something, than to read about it. Even less likely to read it off screen.

Reading ‘the book’ however, gives us a sense of depth and personal interpretation which just isn’t possible with audio visual. Our brains just don’t have to work as hard to paint a picture of what is, and what could be when it is delivered in full form. Ironically, the benefit of new cheap educational technology delivering quick video on anything, makes the book more valuable than ever. Part of the benefit of the slow version is that it demands we stay inside the idea longer. Reading a book offline, requires us to to change gears mentally and do more than a shallow scan. We have longer to postulate the ideas being presented, more time for our own experiences to mash up and interpret the subject at hand. While video can do that, I don’t think it can do it as well. Maybe there’s now a case for slow ideas, just like there was for slow food?

In a world where most people prefer fast and shallow, the big opportunity has opened up for those prepared to stay longer, explore a little deeper and do the work.

Steve. 

Here comes the Lab Burger

In 2013 Dr Mark Post made the world’s first lab burger. It came in at a cost of $330,000.

Now this isn’t wasn’t some kind of meat substitute, but actual meat, grown from cell cultures, extracted from the animal itself. The way it is done is by harmless extraction of stem cells muscle tissue from the ‘source animal’. They then take the sample, place a special gel around it, from which myotubes are grown to look and taste exactly like the meat – because it ‘is’ the meat. Scientists have coined the term ‘clean meat’ to describe it, though in classic form, the incumbent cattle industry are lobbying for the term meat to be disallowed to describe it.

Since that time the cost of production of ‘lab meat’ has declined significantly. Today it costs around $6000 for a quarter pound of beef and by 202o, it is estimated that the cost of a meat patty will be around $10 each – not far off what people pay for gourmet burgers these days. Eventually lab grown meat will be cheaper than any farm can produce. With hundreds of millions being invested in the technology by the likes of Bill Gates, it may be sooner than we think.

This isn’t just a quirk of technology, a novel form of food production, it has important environmental considerations we should all be very pleased with. Let’s consider the facts:

  • This process is possible with any type of meat
  • It involves no animal cruelty
  • Production uses 80% less water
  • It has 96% less greenhouse emissions

This last bit is what matters most, because surprisingly, livestock contributes to more greenhouse emissions than cars, trucks and planes combined according to the Scientific American. What we eat has a bigger impact on the environment than what we drive. So if you’re a Hummer Driving vegetarian, you can now be forgiven!

Now before you claim that such meat sounds disgusting, it’s worth remembering that at the dawn of the agricultural revolution farm grown meat was once considered disgusting. How could animals we farm, be as good as meat we catch? In any case I’m sure a trip down to your local abattoir will give you a new light on what is and isn’t, disgusting. Now, while I’m the furthest thing from being a vegetarian, I’ll put my hand up high for any use of technology which improve the world – and lab meat is high on my list. A world where we can create ‘nature identical food‘ and reduce our environmental impact, is something we should collectively encourage. And if you think you wouldn’t eat such a thing, ask yourself if you really know what you’re eating now?

I recently discussed the topic on radio, which freaked some people out. Click here to listen.

We need each other,
Steve. 

The technology shifts you need to focus on in 2018

I’ve always believed the technology shifts we ought focus on shouldn’t be the abrupt, but changes in the tide of consumer behaviour and the economy. The reasons shifts are more important than definitive events is that we have time to react to them, build around the movement and benefit from the change. Disruptive events are all too often the story of yesterday. With that in mind, here’s some thought starters on where we might focus our businesses in the coming year.

Typing to talking: After investing 20 years in being found on the screen, a list, the list will start to evaporate and be replaced with a singular verbal response. There won’t be a first page, just a recommendation. With Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and others investing heavily in voice activated devices the battle for the home, the fridge and entertainment devices will shift from typing to talking. This is a basic requirement before any serious IoT can be deployed, and will also forge a core component of the autonomous transport revolution. If any business relies on the SEO now, then it’s time to start working on Voice Engine strategy for a very fast approaching tomorrow.

Drone Logistics: While the big players have been the core promotors of drone possibilities, expect to see a pivot where a ‘Jo Nobody’ local business starts the process of real deliveries via drone. While regulations are moving fast, the risk for a small local outfit to deliver something just a few km’s away, while illegal, is often palatable to entrepreneurs. I expect V1 drone logistics to be built underneath the radar (surely you liked that pun). The first regular outside of line of sight deliveries will occur while no one is watching this year. Small efforts by micro businesses where both the deliverer and deliveree benefit. The real innovations are less about press releases of possible future innovation and more about two parties solving each others problems using the technology, mostly without permission.

Pop up bots: While bots pervade our every internet moment and make most of the technology we touch, we can expect bots to pop up where humans once stood this year. It won’t be a swarm, but we can expect to see a few humanoid style robots stand where people recently have, doing the repetitive task they did. At first it will be a curiosity, a marketing bit, some retail theatre, but it will be real. When robots can do backflips, it wont be long before they pull long macchiatos. Maybe your business can get the lead and win the early PR race – which is what it will be in 2018 at a commercial level for those not actually manufacturing the bots.

Crytpo Bubble Expands: Bitcoin had a year of growth to rival any financial bubble in history, at one point the rise was 20 fold in 12 months. I’ve been a believer in crypto currency for a long time. And I still am, but the underlying value of any product, service, asset class, or investment does not preclude it from getting overpriced (read bubble). The problem isn’t the price itself though, bitcoin could end up worth a million each for all i know, but that rapid adoption creates a rush at the door, and inevitably not everyone can get in or out – it creates a natural bottle neck of supply – the asset ends up with rapid confidence gains and losses, and sometimes it falls rapidly and doesn’t recover. Remember currencies are based on trust. My view is that bitcoin has shifted from a currency to a store of value – for now. So here’s the prediction bit. The crypto mania will continue into this year, and given those pushing up the price are generally people afraid of missing out, the rush will shift from being about bitcoin to about whichever currency ‘seems cheap’. It’s impossible to price an asset which has no yield and is based only on confidence and demand. Expect to see Ethereum, Ripple, Litecoin, Monero and others experience similar gains this year to bitcoin last year in a dotcom style boom. And just like that boom, a crash will happen, though I’m not sure when. The FOMO investors will exit, and crypto currency will re-emerge some years later and create the revolution it promised. Probably with some new coins, and some of the stalwarts. Side note: it took Amazon until 2007 before got back to  it’s year 2000 dotcom boom share price and now it’s on its way to be a trillion dollar company. The core skill we need in times like this is understanding if we are investing or speculating – both of which can be valid, so long as we know which game we’re playing. In the interim, we can expect to a serious shift of focus into the importance of the underpinning technology of the blockchain.

BlockChain technology pivot: Businesses will start to understand that blockchain technology can do much more than cryptographically track currency. It’s the equivalent of a 1989 internet era for blockchain, and the time is now to experiment with the technology and build something using it. The Google search you need to make is here: “How Blockchain technology can be used in [insert your industry]” – The more you dig into it, watch videos and understand the technology, you’ll see it has the potential to reframe the internet in many ways – and we need that to challenge the current internet oligopoly, and their quasi-unauthorised privacy trading market. A blockchain knowledge upgrade is a journey worth taking. I agree with Nic Hodges that we’ll see innovation on it this year outside of currency.

Regulation not a dirty word: People will start to realise that regulation is not the enemy, but an absolute requirement for a civilised and opportunity based capitalist economy. Here I’d like to make the delineation that there is good and bad regulation:

Bad regulations: Ones which protect industries and companies.

Good regulations: Ones which protect people.

It’s easy to forget that regulation can create entire industries and new revenue streams, open closed industries and allow for increased competition. Think work place health and safety – it not only made life better and safer for working people, but forced innovation in many realms. Opportunities to protect consumers against the big 4 are starting now – via regulation and via those prepared to innovate against their failings.

Virtual reality & Augmented Reality B2B pivot:  While the leaps being made in virtual and augmented reality are astounding and create incredible possibility, the big companies investing in the technologies (Microsoft / Facebook) will realise it will be many years before we have any serious adoption of these at the consumer level. Google’s move to warehouses and factories with Google Glass will be the start of these technologies infiltrating work as we know it. The beauty of this shift is it gives humans an upper hand against independent AI. We will become the technology and work with it. Expect to see people working in all areas from retail to manufacturing to distribution wearing various forms of facial augmented technology. We’ll also see the start of augmentation centres pop up – places we go to to get work done, or be entertained using high end AR & VR rigs – even Haptic Conferencing. Don’t expect to see it any time soon in anyones kitchen or lounge room. I believe this is the realm of ambient computing, and we should never forget a new technology needs a substitute, and I can’t see us substituting our current in home behaviour to don tech rigs at home. It will first need to infiltrate our worlds of work first – just like most technologies do. (Yes, we’ll still see VR / AR in basements with gamers!)

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If you want to get your year off motivated and creating an independent future – check out my latest book, The Lessons School Forgot – I promise you’ll dig it. 

Have a great 2018, and go make something rad,

Steve.