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.

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.

If you think privacy doesn't matter….

hiding hands

 

If you think your privacy doesn’t matter, then how about you do the following:

  • Email me your bank account details and login passwords.
  • Remove the blinds and curtains from your house.
  • Leave the door open when using the toilet.
  • Publish on your Facebook page the links to every website you visit – even those with 18+ year age requirements.
  • Tell me how much you get paid and give me the details of your assets and debts.
  • Send me a copy of your passport, driver’s license and birth certificate…oh and your mother’s maiden name.
  • Share with me your medical records, any medication you take and other details you share with your doctor.
  • Share with me all the grades from your school reports.
  • Give me copies of all your performance reviews from every employer you’ve ever had.
  • Let me hear every conversation you have, even those behind closed doors or with your partner.
  • Give me live footage of every angle, in every room in your home.
  • Give me a complete record of everything you have ever bought.

While I wouldn’t put any of these things into the shameful or evil criminal category, it’s clear we’d rather keep some things to ourselves. Sure, some of this information needs to be entrusted to other people like doctors, lawyers, accountants, employers and family members, but most of it is not for public consumption. And I haven’t even added what can be deciphered when data points are cross-referenced. But here’s the kicker – most of these are already being tracked by metadata, and many more are about to be by the IoT.

I happened upon this recent talk on the reality of privacy by Glenn Greenwald. He references behaviour from the chiefs of our biggest internet companies; yes, those who make a living our of selling our digital footprints. Many of these CEOs dismiss the right to privacy as a notion either outdated, or something only those with things to hide need worry about. It’s ironic they make a concerted effort to hide their own personal lives. The talk is a mind-opening 20 minutes which proves undeniably that the right to privacy is an issue. Not being concerned about it now will have implications later on when perhaps it is too late.

Not for any reason, privacy is simply a matter of respect for our fellow humans. Don’t let it be something you give away without due consideration of the real trade off.

New book – The Great Fragmentation – out now!

Why Beacons will become the Pocket Spam of the web of things era

There’s a lot of talk about the amazing things beacons will be able to do at retail level. And all of it is true – at least from a functional perspective. For the first time products will be able to directly interact with potential customers at store level. Physical spaces people spend time in will be able to interact with the people inside those spaces. Department stores, farmers markets, concert halls and  football stadiums are all being filled with beacon technology. And it will give birth to a new era of pocket spam. I wonder if what we really need right now is more vendors shouting at us with offers we didn’t know we wanted? I doubt it.

So, here’s the startup opportunity for Beacons which few are focusing on just now.

How to stop them.

Yes, the spam filter equivalent for the intrusive beacon. And I know you’re thinking that this time it’s different, because it wont happen unless we allow push messages. But when was the last time you read all those terms and conditions for a web based service? Often we say yes to something before all the details emerge and when the world was slightly different. It’s our legacy decisions which get taken advantage of.

Often the market for the hotdogs around the stadium is bigger than what is on the main playing field. And there’s always less people watching that game while you set up shop on the sidelines.

5 things to check out

I happened upon 5 things in the past few days – all of which had a certain something. Most of these came from Dan Groch over lunch on Thursday. They inspired some thoughts. So here’s the 5 pieces & the thoughts they each inspired for me:

1. WorryDream – I can’t really explain this other than saying this guy is a genius with genius ideas. Have a wonder through it.

2. Bobby McFerrin plays the audience – Yes, that Bobby McFerrin. He does something so amazing and shows the power of non verbal communications. Wisdom of crowds and the importance of music. Very enjoyable to watch indeed.

3. The inner game of tennis – An amazing visual of how to remove complexity. The simplicity of instruction without thought. How we can actually let our body do the learning once we avoid over intellectualising everything. I’ll be using this technique while surfing and doing anything physical.

4. Digital feudalism and how to avoid it – This in my view is an incredible risk to our species. Shiny things and big brother control from brands we actually love. They’ve already teamed up with the NSA, and we are letting it happen. HT to Josh McDonald for this one.

5. Powerful ideas about ideas – Alan Kay demonstrates some new teaching methods.

Again another reminder that a cheap laptop and the internet are all we need to know all we desire. And I’ll leave you with this simple fact: Anyone who has access to the internet, has more information at their disposal than the US President did just 10 years ago.

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