The Technology Wildfire

Fire – one of the first technologies we mastered around 230,000 years ago – isn’t much different from our modern day torch light, the smart phone. They both became vital work tools. We hunt with them, they give us access to new types of food, they provide signals and direction, and they facilitate all manner of night time activity which was previously impossible.

It isn’t a stretch to imagine our ancestors walked around with a lit torch in their hands for most of their waking hours. There seems to be an eerie similarity with fire and our lithium ion-powered, handheld digital torches. They both have life-changing power and utility, but unless we learn quickly of their dangers, I fear we’re going to get burnt.

The problem, as I see it, is that we are allowing the technology to control us, instead of us being in charge. We haven’t learned when to put it down, or out, and to let it serve us. It seems at this point we are serving it – and it is the technology companies who power the fire. I was speaking at a conference just last week when a question from the audience was, “Do you think there will be a new technology which will help us put down the technology and get on with a little bit of humanity?’ And this was my answer:

‘We already have that technology – it’s called self-discipline. We can choose to switch off and ‘go dark’ and if it is that our boss, industry or family expects us to be connected at all times, then it might just be a matter of communicating when we won’t be available. Sure, there might be an emergency – but we all know there probably won’t be. Besides we still catch those long flights when emergencies could happen… It’s really just a choice.’

But in all honesty, I do think we need more regulation around digital technology and its use. At the moment technology is spreading like a wildfire which we do not have under control, and the few organizations with the power to bring it under control (our Governments and the big tech companies) are happy to let it burn – even thought it might hollow out important parts of our homes and maybe our civilisations.

Humans have sadly proven again and again that we’ll misuse technology unless guardrails are put in place to protect us, by those who know and care enough about the dangers. It’s easy to forget that workplace health and safety didn’t exist for most of the industrial revolution. We forget that road rules and safety features on cars didn’t just magically appear and that air travel was reserved for crazy risk takers early last century.

We may even be able to convince ourselves that the examples above are vastly different – that this time the technology is just information and can’t possibly harm people the way cars and dangerous machines can. I like to think of it this way: everything physical is informational first. We must first conceive, design and communicate all physical things informationally we make before they come into being. We must also remember that anything technology companies do, happens at scale. They don’t just effect a cohort of buyers or an isolated market.

But it’s not just the technology itself – the size and power of these firms is worth pondering. Consider the fact that the top 5 tech companies (Alphabet / Amazon / Apple / Facebook / Microsoft) now have a collective market capitalisation of $3.7 trillion. That’s more than $1,000 for every person single connected to the internet. It’s also more than 15% of the entire US stock market value which tracks over 3,000 corporations. Every now and again capitalism is put at risk by winner takes all technology. This is why Standard Oil and AT&T were split up into a bunch of smaller firms.

It’s time to tame big tech and regulate – they need to be responsible for anything bad that happens as a result of their products. And if you think regulation is bad for the economy – just remember that next time you board a plane, strap on your seatbelt or have more than one choice of product at a shelf.

The Startup Bubble

There are few things any established industrial economy needs more of than new businesses, but I’m here to say that ‘startups’ might not be the answer. Firstly, there are a lot of businesses calling themselves a startups, when in reality, they’re really just new, small businesses. So, what is a startup?

Startup = A new type of business trying to uncover a business model which doesn’t exist yet. Often, they want to leverage a new technology and be a better solution to an existing problem. A startup isn’t just a small business trying to grow with an established method, like say, a café. It’s a new way of doing business in a certain arena.

This definition is why they can attract large sums of speculative investment – the prize of winning can be big.

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The amount of technological innovation is providing scope for many great startups. But business, like anything, isn’t immune to getting caught up in fashion. Yep, business is massively influenced by what is fashionable. If you run a startup – here are a few things that are highly unfashionable at the moment.

  • To be profitable
  • To self-fund
  • To want to remain small or medium-sized
  • To enter an established industry and just do it better
  • To not try and change the world

The Silicon Valley ethic now runs deep – despite the current tech-lash. There’ll be a lot of startups that realise not everyone (in fact, nearly no one) ends up with a unicorn or gets bought out by big tech. And this is where the problem lies. No one wants to simply run a business, make profit and employ people. Everyone wants to change the world instead of their suburb.

Yes, every technology revolution creates new behemoths which redefine commerce, but the probability of being one of these is extremely low. In fact, it’s a really bad bet to even try.  I’m not trying to steal anyone’s dream. I’m trying to do the opposite and actually help you achieve it. Here’s why.

There has simply never been a better time in history to start a small business, be a freelancer and earn a well above average income by staying small and not aiming for all-or-nothing. Never before have we all had such an equal playing field to start anything. Access to knowledge, finance, manufacturing, promotional tools, distribution, logistics, publishing, you name it. It’s all possible for anyone with internet access, imagination and tenacity. We can literally invent money through organising the factors of production in a new manner, and we don’t need a venture capitalist to help us do it.

What every entrepreneur should remember is that when a startup raises capital, they end up with a boss, which is exactly the thing that most entrepreneurs want to leave behind.  If I see another so-called success story of some startup founders standing in front of a brick wall at a co-working space smiling because they just raised $x million in capital I might even scream… it seems to me so many people have forgotten what should be the biggest motivation of all – independence. Isn’t that why people chase money? For the independence it buys?

So here’s the kicker with all this: more entrepreneurs should aim to run business instead of a startup, to actually make a profit and grow organically. A successful business has options, the owner can stay in control, gain financial power and some wisdom along the way. If entrepreneurs do that, then they might have a better chance to scale and actually change more than their suburb.

Thanks for reading, Steve.

What data doesn’t understand

It’s true data, and our new found ability to sift through large volumes of it, has come with many benefits: fraud detection, genomics, natural language processing to name a few. But, data doesn’t get humanity. It’s just a reflector, not the director. As a tool it has certain biasses built into it. One of which is its ability to take the wide, and make it narrow. It’s also great at finding correlation between the disparate. You know data what it isn’t good at? Detecting boredom.

We humans are weird beings and right at the point when data might tell us something is heading a certain way, we about face, and go in the exact opposite direction, often quicker than anyone expects. Probably because we love variety, nuance and something a little different.

It turns out that computers don’t actually understand – they calculate. The word computer itself used to be a job title of people who literally added things up. The large majority of algorithms we employ calculate the probability of something. That probability calculation will be based on the stack of code it feeds from. And the larger that stack, the deeper and more hidden the bias will be inside it. What this means for us, is that when we change our mind, on a whim, ‘the system’ won’t see it coming.

The stimulus we get as humans comes from the real and messy world we we live in. So much of which still sits outside of the data economy, even with all the tracking we do these days. So what does this mean for us? It means that unexpected change is inevitable, and the data wont tells us it’s coming. We need to look for it ourselves and measure it from personal human experience. Variety is one of the great human desires, and just when something is peaking in popularity, we decide to leave the building for no real reason other than the fact we are human.

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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. 

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.

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.

This year the internet arrives in Australia

We don’t really have the internet in Australia. I mean, sure we are connected to it, but we aren’t even in the top 50 countries for internet speeds. That’s a total travesty for our economic future. Some of the countries with faster internet include Kenya, Lithuania, Slovenia, Moldova and many developing economies. This is the modern day equivalent of having unpaved roads, no electricity or running water. Outside of the three S’s – Search, Social & Streaming, we barely have web services which can turn industries upside down. But some of that is about to change.

Later this year Amazon arrive in Australia and with their cheap capital (free shareholder money they don’t pay dividends on) and serious intent to dominate this new market. We will finally get, at least one part of the internet, other markets have had for years. If you think you’ve seen disruption to industry in Australia, buckle your seat belt, because we are about to see what they other half of the world already have.  We’ll get to know not only what same day delivery feels like, but 2 hour delivery. We’ll get to know how great it feels for that delivery to be free and we’ll get to pay prices which will make our local retailers seem like robber barrens. It will change our consumer and business landscape because it will be an example of possibility.

I was a guest of the award winning podcast Future Sandwich episode aptly titled, Surviving Amazon. Have a listen here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Also be sure to check my media page for weekly interviews I’m doing on Tv & radio on all things future.

Don’t forget to join me for to celebrate my new book launch The Lessons School Forgot, on June 20th. Free tickets here, see you there! Steve.