Top 10 tech trends for 2019

Last week was what piqued my interest in 2018 – and here’s 10 things I will be looking out for in 2019. Of course predictions are a tough business, especially when they’re about the future!

  1. Algorithms as ingredients: Seventy years ago we didn’t know what was inside our packaged foods. Likewise, few of us understand what algorithms are, and more importantly what’s inside them. So let me be very clear here – They are more dangerous than food with bad ingredients because we don’t have natural reflexes like taste buds and sense of smell to warn us about the bad ones. They infiltrate the mind by stealth. I predict this year we’ll see the first regulation where algorithms must be communicated with end users of digital products – like we have an ingredients list and nutrition panels on boxes of cereal. The black box is about to be opened up. I’m certain many will be horrified by how it’s decided what we see and consume on line.
  2. Big Tech Anti-Trust Action: I expect the first Anti-Monopoly case this year against a big technology firm. The most likely candidate is Facebook. Even though Amazon and Google are just as predatory in their behaviour, Facebook has made the most errors in handling their power. In the end, it’s humans that decide who to fight and perception matters more than reality. This is why Zuckerberg better get ready for another tough year in 2019. His services will might be blocked in a country or two, but I expect some US law makers to propose a split of What’s App, Instagram and Facebook. It’s overdue.
  3. Social Back Channels Emerge: Robin Dunbar proved many years ago we physically can’t manage close relationships with more than around 50 people, and wider relationships with more than around 150 people. This is why social media doesn’t really work for us. It’s not social, it’s just broadcasting for the masses. I only use it to share my work for those who are interested in it. Real relationships are something I do in the back channels: Texts, Private Messages, Small groups, DM’s. I’d imagine you’re already doing this and it will only increase to the chagrin of social media forums which harvest attention for revenue. In 2019 I expect traffic declines in public social media and actual social conversations to be in back channels and in person. So let’s just be honest here and admit that everything else we see on social media is really just ‘advertising‘.
  4. Buttons go missing: As voice AI’s like Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google get exponentially better – then we can expect these API’s to be opened up and embedded into white goods and all manner of electrical devices in our homes. At the CES next week – smart white goods, ones we command via voice, will make a bigger than usual play. We already saw the start of this with the Amazon Basics Microwave which has Alexa built in. Buttons will go the way of dials and disappear as devices listen to our instructions. (Which will help big tech invade us further – see 1 & 2).
  5. Electric Mobility: Scooters, skateboards and other small electric transport devices will pop up in cities around the world very quickly and provide an entree into electric mobility. An infrastructure will pop up around it to support the shift, essentially teaching consumers about the upside of electric mobility versus combustion engines. A trip in Shanghai, China is a great example of the shift to electric – 90% of motorbikes on the road are already electric there.
  6. The last 10 Steps: Will becomes the e-commerce go to phrase of the year. I wrote about it here a few weeks ago.
  7. Blockchain evaporates: Funding around Blockchain and Crypto projects will decline markedly. This will allow the true believers (me included) to get back to work on product in a non-speculative environment. We may even witness a Blockchain based service which is useful, and consumer friendly. In all probability food supply will be documented on a blockchain as the first commercial use. Walmart have stated it will be mandatory for suppliers in 2019.
  8. 5G Flow on: The impact of 5G isn’t faster downloads to watch youtube videos on the train – it’s all about new possibilities. With speeds up to 100 times faster than what we are used it will facilitate low latency, quasi-real time augmented interactions in our world. The big winner here will be automotive. We’ll see new models of cars come with more augmented features – interactive real world head up display advice, and move us closer to autonomy which requires faster connectivity. It will also facilitate changes in education and possibly ‘geographically displaced’ surgery.
  9. Personal Robotics gets real: Now that voice AI is very good indeed, I’d expect to see the first consumer facing ‘domestic robot’ hit the market at affordable prices this year. Some type of mobile humanoid robot which offers mechanical capabilities around the home. Think lifting, carrying, sweeping.
  10. AI Job stealing fears moderate: Expect a flip where articles start talking up how AI will create more jobs than it removes. The naysayers will realise humans have a never ending list of things which need done. Even with machine learning robots need to be taught, and are better at efficiency – what we really want from each other is nuance and humanity – which requires humans.

Make a splash in 2019, 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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Yes, the robots will take your job, but…

Bison Hunter

…there are not that many bison hunters any more.

This is a very short way of saying that all jobs eventually get replaced by technology. Technology will take the role of many white collar jobs, just like machines have taken away many blue collar jobs, just like the plough took away many farming jobs. Technological Unemployment will always be a fixture in human existence – and always has been. It just so happens that it doesn’t sell newspapers (or provide click bait) to tell the truth that new jobs will be created. But it seems like a week doesn’t go past without a new report flagging the end of millions of jobs. So here’s a counter mind jam of some new jobs recently created that no one is writing economic reports on:

UX Designer, App developer, Drone Pilot, Crowd Funding Advisor, Smart Phone Game Developer, Blogger, Podcaster, Social Media Specialist, Wikipedia Moderator, Content Curator, Community Manager, Uber Driver, Airbnb Host, Web Videographer, Youtube Content Creator, Vine Artist, e-Book Publisher, Bitcoin Trader, Bitcoin Miner, E-Commerce Consultant, SEO Specialist, Genetics Counsellor, Sustainability Advisor, Citizen Journalist, MOOCs tutor, Big Data Analyst, Cloud Services Specialist…

And this list is just small sample set from my perspective. I’m sure your industry or worldview could make the list much larger. In fact, there are currently more than 500,000 app developers in the USA alone. A job that didn’t exist pre smart phone.

A simple economic fact is that if a person has $100 in their wallet, it still gets spent. In 1995 $10 of that $100 might have went into getting filmed developed. Now it goes elsewhere, maybe towards the cost of a smart phone monthly fee. The money always gets spent, saved or invested. The allocation just changes. And so do the jobs around those expenditure allocations. If you want to be future proof, I suggest you pay close attention to what your friends are spending their time and money on. It’s always where tomorrows jobs and startup opportunities lie.

The crazy thing about all those ‘new jobs’ above is this: They are all learnable, and mostly for free. All you need is these two assets: (1) The ability to read. (2) A connection to the internet (I’m guessing you have these). But yes, they all take effort. And no, the Government or your Boss won’t save you, or pay you to learn any of them. No one can do your push ups for you. But if you’ll make the effort, the rewards are there. The new jobs, and more importantly ‘business opportunities’ around them are ripe in these realms and they often pay more than job X did yesterday. Guess who earns more: A small screen UX Designer, or a Graphic Designer doing page layouts for a print magazine? Same realm, but a different iteration and attitude to learning. It’s really just a choice between taking advantage of the opportunities, or wishing the world was like yesterday.

Yes, the pace of change is scary. Yes, things are changing at a rapid pace, but it’s never been more possible to up-skill, re-skill or new-skill in the history of humanity. So next time you read a report on the impending doom of your industry, job or financial future, just remember that it is your decision on how it will affect you.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

How the technology works is irrelevant

Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 8.42.07 am

There are very few people in the world who know how the thing in the picture above actually works. Yet, there are also very few people in the developed world who have not been a major beneficiary, and even a driver of this complex technology. There is not generally a fear of the technology that makes cars do what they do. Instead we embrace the benefits they deliver and use them in every way we can. They changed where we live, how we travel, our leisure patterns, the structure of living spaces and cities, they changed the world more than anything that came before them. They totally transformed our culture.

And it is happening again. A new set of tech tools are providing both fear and opportunity. I wasn’t around when cars became common place, but I imagine there was as much fear of the unknown then, as there is now. There was probably talk of jobs evaporating and the end of economics as we know it. And yet, it was the bellwhether for the greatest period of prosperity in human history. While it’s impossible to know how most anything works these days (division of labour), it’s very easy get behind the power technology provides to win in business. In fact, it’s probably easier to win because fear of the technology is holding so many people back. We don’t need to know how something works, we just need to know that it does. And once we embrace that fact, it will reshape our perspective and quite possibly our fortune.

The tale of 2 bathrooms

I spend a fair amount of time in large corporations – helping them transition from the industrial era to the technology era. I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes you can see the future of the organisation based on subtle hints in the physical environment. And hence the title of this post. Two different organisations I visited had signs on their bathroom cubicle walls which told me all I needed to know about these companies and their prospects.

Bathroom 1

“Did you bring your best self to work today? Can you show us something new and amazing we haven’t thought of?”

Bathroom 2

“Please leave the toilet the way you found it.”

Both of these signs tell me so much about the culture of the organisations in question. Whether or not an opinion is valued, whether contributions should be original, what they think about rules and following instructions. But most of all whether they regard their staff as adults or children. The second is interesting, because it also infers that if there’s a problem, you should definitely not take any responsibility to improve things.

Let’s also remember that someone had to think of these, decide it was what the company valued, print them and put them up…. this isn’t just a slight office quirk, it’s a public display of deep corporate values. The reason I decided to point this out is because if there has ever been a time in business when doing things as they were done before is a dangerous tactic, that time is now.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – order here!

Back to anthropology

Things are changing so rapidly that we are again suffering from future shock. It’s hard to comprehend the pace of change, not just to business or pop culture, but to the way we live our lives. We’ve had for the best part of 100 years, certainly the last 50, a very stable business infrastructure and lifestyle. This makes us feel as though the changes we see are new to the human experience, when in fact they are only new to the experience of our generation. To understand it, we need to take an anthropological view of business and relearn the lessons we forgot, that other generations already learned. We need to lose our immediacy bias and review how our species has coped with radical change before.

None of this is new in the human sense, just the industrial sense. As the industrial era transitions into the technology era it’s worth worth taking a look at what happened when had epoch shifts in the past.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – order here!

Does the world need changed?

It’s not uncommon to hear about an ambition startup or entrepreneur wanting to change the world. But does the world really need changing? Is everything we live in so bad that some of it isn’t worth keeping? Are we that limited in our thinking that change is all we can come up with?

Maybe what we really need to do is improve the world.

And sometimes improving the world might just mean keeping some things exactly as they are. Some traditions, physical locations, products, services, events and attitudes are just perfect the way they are. What might be needed is the fortitude and vision to maintain the things of great beauty we are already blessed with. Maybe that’s where the next important opportunity lies. Human endeavour, and startups for that matter aren’t all about change, and certainly not change for changes sake. They’re about problem solving and creating value for others.

Yes, I like the rain forests just the way they are.

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