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It’s easy to forget that the places we live in are a direct reflection of our current technology. We’ve all come a long way since we lived in cave 76 (That was for all the Mel Brookes fans), and we generally are living in houses built on top of the shoulders of giants. Great entrepreneurial, scientific and engineering minds which make the modern world very comfortable indeed. We are currently on the cusp of a quite a few physical changes appearing in our homes. Before we explore what they might be, let’s think about how long some of the current technologies in our homes have been around:
- Letter Boxes – mail services started encouraging these to be installed in houses for deliveries in the mid 1800’s
- Indoor Plumbing – In the 1860’s only 5% of American houses had running water, flush toilets were very uncommon until the mid 1900’s
- Driveways – much less than 80 years old as a standard inclusion
- Electricity – uncommon in suburban homes until the 1930’s
- White goods – (electricity needed) were rare in modern economies until post WW2
- Televisions – 1956 in Australia
- VCR’s – the early 1980s
- Home Computers – the mid 1980s
- Internet – the mid 1990’s
There’s many more examples, but you get the picture – where we live changes based on the technological possibilities, and their facilitation requirements of the day. So let’s run a thought experiment on what will begin appearing in homes, based on the technologies about to arrive, and those already here and functioning.
Drone delivery landing pads: With deliveries already happening they need to land somewhere. Apartment buildings are already being designed with them on rooftops, and your house will be no different. Maybe it will have an auto opening lid which closes over after the drop off has been made?
Smart Toilet: I’ve written about this before – but we can expect it to be our health partner in life, and since Alaphabet had a patent approved on the smart bathroom last year, this is one of those realities which will surprise with its speed of arrival.
Smart shower: One that takes a photo of you everyday… not to invade your privacy, but to ensure it knows you have a dangerous sun spot long before you do.
All glass becomes web enabled screens: If you’ve always wanted a house with a view, well it’s about to come a lot cheaper than anyone expects. All the glass in our homes will become web enabled screens. The resolution of our windows will be indistinguishable from an actual view into the real world. All of a sudden anyone can have a real time, harbour view, which changes perspective on different windows in the house to give perfect perception in real time. Maybe those rich people with actual harbour mansions will make money selling their views via a live feed cam?
Charging stations in all driveways: Our driving future is all electric as is our entire economy. Expect every place cars stop will have a charging facility on hand. If they ever stop – I’ll probably send mine out to work for me when I’m not using it.
Virtual Reality Room: It will be a bit like the home office was, or maybe part of it. We’ll conduct meetings with work that feel so real, we’ll wonder why going to the office is even necessary. We’ll also use our VR rig to shop online for things we want to touch and experience. Our haptic gloves and suits will assist in the purchase process. We’ll also use it to choose hotel rooms, holidays, and even do exercise. In the latter case we’ll have a treadmill which keeps us stationary while we seemingly move around and explore other worlds
Of course the list of ‘new fixtures’ in the home will be longer as many forms of technology will change our habitat. And quite frankly that is the key – not that the technology makes it possible, but that entrepreneurs and emerging startups shine a path on what is possible and make us want it. This is where tomorrows economy will be made up from. Just like Bill Gates promised to put a computer on every desk in every home, and Jobs put one in your pocket, you can put something in our house as well – and you need not invent the thing in question. Exciting times ahead.
Here’s a little radio interview I did on this topic yesterday.
New Book – The Lessons School Forgot.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The erudite Kevin Kelly says that the solution to problems caused by technology is more technology. And I couldn’t agree more. It’s easy to think that regression might be the solution, but once we realise that technology is literally its own organism, with its own agenda, then we can pretty quickly come to the conclusion that the best way to fix things is to work with the world and its natural trajectory. And technology, given it was invented by natural beings, is simply a force of nature.
I was thinking about what something like the Pokemon Go phenomenon could do if such gaming mechanics where put to positive use. Then weirdly I asked the barista in my local cafe what he did on the weekend and he said he did a fair bit of walking – 50km’s to be exact.. I said, oh cool, do you go up to the mountains or along the river. To which he replied just around the suburbs, no where specific. I said that’s interesting…. and then he finally admitted he was chasing Pokemon.
It got me thinking about digital technology being partially blamed for the obesity epidemic, especially in children… and most likely that digital technology is the solution too. Pokemon Go is one way to get kids moving, but maybe the new Lilly Drone (seen below) or some other kind of Dronian Angel could be used to watch over and follow kids as they move around town. Maybe they can walk or ride to school again as it may alleviate some safety concerns? Who knows?
The point is, we need to open our mind to real problems emerging technology can solve. How it can bring back some positive patterns of the past (walking to school) and invent entirely new possibilities. I think it is exciting.
If you want to read the best book in recent years on this topic, then be sure to get onto KK’s latest effort – the Inevitable. I savoured every word.
There’s a pretty good chance your spare room and garage is full of yesterday. The equipment, events, life stages, projects and stuff, but mostly ideas of what mattered then. Unless you clean it out (and I know you’ve been planing too for some time) it will be pretty hard to fit anything else in there. In fact, you might have been planning to clean it out to make space for that new project…. some clean floor space to get that idea underway…. some space to let the new come into.
Our brains are like that too. They need a spring clean. I’ll go even further and say we need to unlearn some of our outdated ideas from our past. Make room for the new truths of the world we are about to enter. The future will arrive regardless, best we make room for it mentally.
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The future is a pesky little thing to predict. Much of it will surprise us no matter how well versed we are in emerging technology. A lot will change 10 years from now in ways we just couldn’t imagine. But, some things won’t change, and it is easy to know what these things are. So much so that this is a key question Amazon leader Jeff Bezos bases large parts of business strategy on:
“What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?…. You can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time…. In our retail business, we know that our customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want a vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says; ‘Jeff, I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible.”
And it is clear to see that while they use technology to make these things possible, the future is predictable and something Amazon or any business can build their strategy and infrastructure around. Jeff said this 4 years ago at the Amazon Web Services forum. With 40% of that 10 year window expired, and I’d say it’s all still true. Seems he has predicted the future, just by flipping the question.
So the only question remaining for your business or startup is this: What things can you be working on that just won’t change?
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