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. 

What is TATE? A mega growth industry

After a keynote speech, I was asked again today what will happen to all the people who will lose their jobs due to Automation and Artificial Intelligence. The example cited was people who drive for a living. While I’ve written about this before, as well as the shift off farms to the cities in the industrial dawn, this time I thought it might valuable to propose an entirely new economy – The Autonomous Transport Economy or TATE.

TATE will allow a set of entirely new business models, consumer products and employment created by the advent of driverless vehicles and drones. Before we do that, let’s explore the last time something like this happened, something we all experience daily: The Night Time Economy.

A little over a hundred years ago there was no night time economy. Artificial light used to be inordinately expensive, unobtainable to many, smelly and dangerous. Candles, kerosine lamps, open fires and gas lanterns that did provide light weren’t nearly as convenient as the electric light we now take for granted. When wood was the main source of light, it took 60 hours of work to generate the equivalent lumens of a modern light bulb shining for a measly 54 minutes. ‘Light’, which was once too expensive to use, is now too cheap to notice. The significance of cheap electricity is profound. Electricity invented the 24 hour economy. Before that our productive life, and economy, was mostly restricted to daylight hours. Think of everything you now do at night, and you’ll get a perspective of what the ‘night time economy’ has generated – cinemas, bars, nightclubs, night markets, restaurants and 24 hour production. In the home, we have television, radio, entertainment, gaming, white goods and pretty much everything that happens when the lights go down. And yes, it would’ve been difficult to predict the industries and jobs that inevitably arrived to support this entirely new economy. As it is difficult now to predict The Autonomous Transport Economy (TATE).

The possibility for economic change, and therefore growth driven by TATE, is bigger than everyone imagines. A few simple ideas for stimulus display how much opportunity lies before us to create tomorrow’s jobs. The best way to predict the future by asking a few simple questions:

What will happen to Carparks? How will we reconfigure the real estate of high rise and underground carparks. What will we use these concrete caves for? Day time popup shops and night time charging stations? Places for Autonomous cars to sleep and get cleaned?

What will happen to the ground space in cities allocated to car parking – where our cars have a little rest? This averages 30% in large cities. Will we green them, make pedestrian friendly or build on them?

We can expect real estate prices and populations in Exurbs (places of great beauty within 2 hours of a major city) to increase as people decide to live further afield, work remotely and travel to the city autonomously for their meetings or 2 office days per week.

Offices will shrink, as large companies realise costs for running a Corporate Taj Mahal in a city can be reduced re-assessing the need for expensive real estate and the impact on a lengthy commute for staff. As they realise team members only need to be in the same room a few days a week and not five, the corporate office will fragment into smaller distributed work places. A large corporate might have satellite offices or share co-working spaces around the state, knowing of course that the autonomous vehicles will zip workers to the city at 200km per hour when meetings are needed.

These new driverless vehicles will be reconfigured very differently to current day cars. Some will be fitted out as fully connected rolling offices, and they’ll look more like a business class cabin on a plane than seats do today (which are really just stage coaches with a motor instead of a horse!).

We can expect cars to be redesigned and new versions of cars to be invented. Just like we invented buses and pick up trucks, we’ll invent Sleeper Vehicles. These will be designed for longer trips (Overnighters), or for those requiring a bit of luxury while in transit. People will own them, some will order on demand. They’ll look more like a bedroom or lounge room than a transport device.

E-commerce arrived with the web, and now we can expect R-commerce or Rolling Commerce. It’s an entirely new type of buying we’ll do which is time- and geographically-specific, based on where we are and where we are going. It will claim some of the time we used to allocate to drving.

As a result, industries will pop up to support R-commerce, including RX designers (Rolling Experience) and build strategies around the money which is expended in vehicles. It will become a commercial measure among retail, ecommerce and other documented economic indicators.

Shopping centres will become distribution hubs, where the giant carparks we currently have are converted into autonomous retail pick up up bays by day and electric recharging stations and cleaning zones by night.

Why just sit and relaxing in the car on the way? Why not order an a GymCar with built in exercise machines and do some rowing or weight lifting on the way to the city?

With the worry of crashing your gone, we’ll still need Hacking Insurance. While it will be rare, it’s already proven to be possible and hacking will generally become a major pivot for the insurance industry in many product arenas. The fear of cars being hacked will recruit and educate consumers to insure every digital product they own against hacking.

We can expect cars to be tracked thorough using blockchain technology. One owner who only drove it on Sunday? We’ll know everywhere the car has been, done and had done to it. Even our payments for utilising cloud cars will be built on this tech sooner than we think.

Of course, cars will use more data than houses. If we choose to own one, there’s a good chance we’ll send it out to work when we are not using it. It’ll need data for entertainment, commerce, deliveries, and of course driving itself. Expect data packages to become a major selling point with cars. Cars sold in regional areas might just come with satellite data access. (Powered by SpaceX? Maybe they’ll provide the cloud that powers transport data?)

Roads will need to be redesigned to cope with autonomous transport. Concrete, steal and meta-strcuture will need to be built by hand and machine creating significant employment. We’ll first see signs on the road which say “You are now entering an autonomous vehicle zone.” Eventually, human driving will be outlawed as new laws redefine how we move.

All this excites me – I see new industries, employment and opportunities to create a greener, safer more fluid world – most of which we are yet to imagine.  All we really need is the willingness to move towards our inevitable future.

Go build it – Steve. 

Could Facebook compete head on with Amazon?

I recently tweeted that I expect to see Facebook scramble and launch a physical device to capture verbal interactions in the home, as per Google, Apple and Amazon:

And just today rumours started surfacing at CES one is on its way called Facebook Portal. I promise I had no insider knowledge!

The tweet generated quite a lot of discussion about the why, why not, how and benefits of doing so. So here’s some deeper thought on the topic. I actually had a good chat with Paul and Nick about it, which made me think about how this could actually work… it went something like this:

Most people pointed out that Facebook already have ‘messenger’ which listens, and can talk, and that if they have this, and are on pretty much everyone’s phone, why would they need an extra physical device with voice? My thinking is that their core competitors (Amazon, Google and Apple) now have an always on, always listening device we can speak to and essentially ‘order from’ and command to do real physical things from us. My view is that these devices will usher in a new post smart phone (well, in addition to at least) battle for the home. It’s part of the shift to the era of ambient computing. Ambient computing to me, is much like we see in pretty much every future focused science fiction show – we command our technology via voice, often without a screen and it reacts to our needs. In which case it can pervade the entire home (kitchen, lounge room, bedroom, bathroom) and become a node for consumption and problem solving, not just data aggregation and visual suggestion. Of course, Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t mind being late, buying and if needed copying his competition.

On the surface we can see why a voice device makes sense for Amazon, Apple and Amazon, and not so much a social network. here’s where the potential pivot and new revenue stream could come in for Facebook. While FB provides connection to advertises based on very tight data based targeting, the thing advertisers want more than clicks, is orders. Imagine if Facebook could streamline the advertising process and convert it into ordering process of direct selling to their 2 billion residents? It would of course require some back end infrastructure development by FB, but it would be possible. Potentially it could be an addition to their advertising platform – click to ship?

The way I imagine it could play out wouldn’t be much different to the way Alexa works for Amazon, expect that the orders would be direct to the vendor on FB  (currently an advertiser), and instead of the product being delivered via a 3rd party distributor (such as Amazon) – FB could send their vendors orders to be fulfilled via the vendors logistics. Which, if they pulled it off could be a good way to fight back against Amazon without having to build any of the physical infrastructure. This could be an incredibly a quick way to compete with the Amazon Marketplace.

But here’s the kicker, imagine if Facebook developed some kind of API where vendors could plug in their stock on hand and logistics – then they could start turning attention into actual orders and know who buys what and understand the flow of goods and services deeply.

I’m certain their bet with Oculus is too early, while I truly believe that voice devices are the next key battleground. It’s gonna be interesting to see who this one plays out.

If you want a life independent of the evil people like MZ – check out my new book – The Lessons School Forgot. 

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!)

– – –

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.

What won’t change in 2018

There’s lots of predictions every year of what will happen. But before we do that, it’s worth considering some things that won’t change in 2018.

  1. People will continue to use Facebook, and hand over the almanac of their lives, despite its lack of responsibility, and refusal to invest in stopping inappropriate use of their platform. It will continue to create deep echo chambers and division in society. Its leader Zuckerberg will continue to believe that Facebook is, and should be the internet. Remember they’re not a media business, but a technology company, right?
  2. The 4 monopolists (Facebook, Amazon, Google and Apple) will continue to dominate the internet and be joined by a couple of others, possibly Netflix. They’ll continue to point out their small market share in their revenue arenas, while their share of digital infrastructure use and attention will grow further. Their power will increase, with the convenience they provide blinding the populace to the longer term externalities.
  3. Brands reliant on these new infrastructure providers above will continue to take the short term revenue solutions provided (foolishly growing their vegetables in someone else’s garden), while handing over direct connections to their own customers – which they could instead build with some effort.
  4. The jobs and growth narrative corroborated by Government and large corporations will continue to allow them to write laws and tax breaks which suit these new masters of the universe. Like last year, there won’t by any trickle down.
  5. Leading edge thinkers, will continue another year of educating the populace on the current problems and future problems being caused by the above behaviours and that the internet needs saving. These will gain momentum, but probably won’t change consumer behaviour much in the coming 12 months. There will be change, but not until the full cost of these behaviours becomes more evident. Only once events caused by the big few hurt the general population will there be action.
  6. Some big fines will be given to the above companies for violations (Think in billions) but unfortunately they’ll be financial rounding errors against their free cashflow.

Wow – that was dark and semi-apocalyptic – but watch out for tomorrow where I turn this reality into a set of positive actions and prognostications for the future. The year 2018 will be a good one for those who choose it to be, but before anything can ever be improved, we must first admit where we are… a good news post to follow 🙂

Have a great year, Steve.