The unexplainable gig

Today I was in a little talk circle among a few friends at the PauseFest event. We all made some introductions to each other and then proceeded to discuss what we did for a living. Then something weird happened. None of us had simple answers.

It turns out all of us are ‘projecteers‘. We do a number of small projects and tasks for a variety of customers. We create, think, write, speak, consult, write code and build strategy for people and companies who need it. The cool thing is that none of us could explain it because: all of us have so much variety in what we do. Of course, those who need to know get it. While this is a small audience, it’s also the only audience that matters.

It got me thinking about how much of an advantage it is that we can’t explain our ‘jobs’. You see, the more difficult it is to explain what you do to a person, the more difficult it will be to explain it to a Robot or an Artificial Intelligence that might replace us. The biggest advantage any of us can have in the future will become to have a gig, career, or job which is difficult to explain.

So here’s the next question it presents: How do we increase the complexity of what we do to make ourselves unexplainable? My answer is simple – make sure what you do involves the most complex thing the universe has ever created – humans. The more interactions with people and projects our gigs involve, the more complex it becomes. Breadth of interaction is the insurance policy of the future.

And if your gig is streamlined and simple, it might just be time to start adding some complexity and variety.

The shape of the future

Reviewing visuals from the first ever television programme is interesting. You’ll notice that they were basically radio shows, which happened to be filmed. A couple of people. In a room. With a camera. A few years earlier, they would have been in the exact same setting, doing audio recordings. Early TV was essentially still an audio programme with pictures. It took them (the television producers) many years to realise that things didn’t have to be the same shape.

Even when they started to create on-screen interactions, such as the Late Night talk show format, it was essentially live theatre for the TV – props and segments being interacted with on a small stage. It seems that we so often have an incremental mindset of how new technology can substitute whatever came before it. It’s not isolated to TV either. Our cars are still horse carriages with a motor. Our houses are caves with electricity. Laptops are typewriters with screens where the paper used to be.

It seems that only once we realise the new technology can be a different shape that really innovative things can happen. The smart phone changed so much because it removed buttons and built in a screen on a very flat device. Videos, app stores, mapping…. sure, the technological had to catch up, but the new shape had a massive impact.

Right now there’s lots of opportunities to change the shape of things:

  • How could supermarkets look now that we have self-checkout, and will soon have no checkout? How should the selves and aisles be arranged?
  • What will department stores look like when we try on clothing virtually and fit out our homes with furniture we buy from home using augmented reality?
  • How should car parks look given that many won’t even have drivers? Will they need pick up & drop off bays for goods and people, as well as charging stations in every bay?
  • Will commercial car parks be empty during the day and full during the night? How can we utilise that space? What about car-stopping spaces in cities?
  • Do cars need to have front facing seats or can they look more like rolling lounge rooms or rolling offices now we can take our eyes off the road?
  • Will houses need drone delivery pads for ecommerce and drone landing pads for our personal flying machines?
  • What will kitchens look like when automated vertical gardens in offices and houses are common?

This is a micro-sample of some of the changes we know are coming. They’ll be more we can’t even imagine yet. It just might be that the biggest opportunity of the future isn’t inventing the technology itself, but reshaping our physical spaces to accommodate it.

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.

My Top 10 for 2018

I was thinking about some of the cool things I saw, read, noticed and digested around the world of tech for 2018. A bonus blog post for your holiday perusal.

You’ll notice underlying the top 10 is what I regard to be the biggest shift in tech at the moment is the realisation that we have a technology wildfire raging. We need to learn to control it and ensure that what we are building serves the many, and not just the few. We can do it – but first we must understand it.

So here it is, the Sammatron’s Tech Top 10 for 2018…. enjoy:

  1. Blog Post of the year: Survival of the Richest by Douglas Rushkoff, who contends that the one percent are plotting to leave us behind. It’s a compelling read that unearths the dangers of the schism between us and the one percent.
  2. Podcast Series of the year: The Dream by Stitcher is a brilliant review of the history of Multi-Level Marketing (MLMs), pyramid selling and their total dodginess. Think Amway. The thing I found most compelling is how hackable the human mind can be when an organisation is selling ‘hope’ instead of an actual product. The ironic thing about these MLMs is that the philosophy they sell is all true (in relation to business success), but the business model they attach to it is a total fraud. And that is their trick. A mind blowing story that is very well researched.
  3. Podcast Episode of the year: Joe Rogan’s interview of Dr Ben Goertzel. Dr Ben Goertzel is a mathematician and leading Artificial Intelligence researcher. They go deep on everything that matters on tech and our future. Ben might just be the most informed, intellectual, articulate, compassionate and humane individual I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. It’s two hours of wonder. The world is lucky to have people like Dr Goertzel in it.
  4. Book of the Year: Winner Takes All by Anand Giridharadas. The elite charade of changing the world. This book couldn’t come at a more important time in our history. It’s the one book I’m recommending at the moment. In this book Anand explains from the inside how the emergent global elite pretend to try to ‘change the world for the better’, but in doing so really just obfuscate their desire to preserve the status quo and their role in causing the problems they pretend to try and solve. Jaw-dropping stuff.
  5. Documentary of the Year: The Cleaners by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewick is a timely film which investigates the shadowy and disturbing world of content removal from popular social media sites. An ugly underbelly of outsourced, low-paid workers deciding on whether a beheading constitutes news, free speech or inappropriate content. Another reminder that these are not technology companies but media organisations that are long overdue some serious regulation.
  6. Software of the year: Well, it’s more a shift than a singular piece of software – the Low Code / No code app movement. This is the arrival of software platforms that allow anyone with basic computer literacy to develop software or apps without any coding expertise. Put simply, if you can read, you’re about to become a software developer too. An important evolution for the masses where software is eating everything
  7. Tech Fail of the year: Crypto currency price crash – Ok ok, this is actually good – it means we can now focus on the important technology which underpins it – Blockchain. I actually believe that this is a bit like the Dot Com crash in 1999-2000 and is almost a pre-condition for crypto and blockchain to be everything it can be. Yes, it will come back even stronger.
  8. TV Show of the Year: Black Mirror. In fact, it’s not even close – it’s Black Mirror and daylight. By far the most insightful and important TV series in decades. The most recent episode Bandersnatch just snuck into 2018 a few days ago. If you haven’t seen it, then do yourself a favour.
  9. Smartphone App of the year: Surprise….None, zero, zip. I can’t think of one, and I checked my phone too. None have been good enough in the past 2 years to even make it onto my device! Actually I lie, a new parking app in my city Melbourne called PayStay is quite useful, but it’s more a reflection of our city being 5 years behind the times than an innovation. It’s another reminder that the halcyon days of app development are over, and that the real game in the coming few years is beyond the app economy. It’s probably worth looking at your own phone – I’m certain you’ll also be underwhelmed about how little it’s changed in the past few years.
  10. Technology Shift of the Year: The move to Voice as a primary interface. It’s early days – but I believe it is under-hyped and will replace the screen as our primary interaction in years to come. Don’t forget, language is Humanity’s killer app. Best you get onto it now.

Have a great 2019, Steve.

 

 

 

 

We’re the ghost in the machine

Worried about being taken over by robots? Here’s another thought: We are becoming robots. We’re merging with machines.

I know this sounds scary, but the patterns of technology tell a story of what’s next. The future is so often written in the past. If you consider the evolution of computers, we can remember machines once as big as a room have now become a small piece of glass that slides into our pockets, which is also a billion times more powerful. Pods go into our ears, wires come out of our pockets and some crazy people are getting chips inserted under their skin too. Think of computers like this:

We used to go to the technology to use it – in big Government and military institutions.

Then the technology turned up on our work desks.

Eventually it appeared in our homes.

Later, it got small enough to carry in bag.

Suddenly, it can slide into everyone’s pockets

and now we wear it, insert it under our skin and it never leaves our side.

Our world is changing so quickly that we have collectively discovered a way to evolve outside of our bodies with technology to cope with the world, until we of course figure out a way for the technology to enter our bodies. Which will turn us into cyborgs.

Every day we already see humans augment their senses (smart phones, smart glasses, wearables, watches and earpods) all enhancing our cognitive ability. Simultaneously technology is being developed to create ‘fake bodies’ we can wear in the form of exoskeletons so we’ll be able to run faster, be stronger, work harder, move for longer periods or play totally different and weird sports we can’t even imagine yet. The trend isn’t us versus the robots – it’s us evolving into them.

I’m the first to say that I’d never get a chip installed for pure convenience reasons, All that to just open a door to log into a computer, no thanks. But If I could gain all of the utility of a smart phone, by having upgradable technology permanently plugged into my brain so I can think and react in real time like a super human – then sign me up. I’d much rather that than competing with AIs as an organic human to try and survive on this revolving orb.

This is already happening. The technology is getting smaller and smaller, and metaphorically attaching itself to our bodies – and so it is inevitable that it will enter our bodies. We’ll also eventually figure out how to breed progeny with the upgrades to humanoid already installed from our parents – let’s call it DDNA (Digital DNA). Information technology will merge with biotechnology and it will operate on the nanoscale. So if technology is getting under your skin… well, you haven’t seen anything yet.

It does raise some serious concerns – change always does – but this will most significant in our history. It could well end up as a split in our species, akin to the chimpanzees who chose to leave the trees and cross the savanna. We may well end up with a two-breed reality of Neo-Humans and Sapien-Luddites. And just like every revolution – those with all the advantages will be those with access to greater financial resources so they can ‘upgrade themselves’.

In the short term, the thing I worry about most is coming much sooner than this. For the first time in history – humans will become a hackable animal. Already large technology firms can know where we are, where we are going, where we’ve been, what we think, what we want, what we value, whom we support, who we care about, how we feel and all manner of activities and emotions. And this isn’t just click through patterns. It’s now also achieved by observing our unique biometric outputs such as facial expressions, and heart rhythms. Now that large technology corporations and Governments have infinite processing power, data and biometric measurement, they can predict and even manipulate human choices on a level much deeper than ever before possible. Now imagine the possibilities with external algorithms and computational power running through our bodies.

Eventually these biotech algorithms will understand us, better than we do. If we are accessed somehow by a bad actor with nefarious intentions, it’s not a stretch to imagine a person acting against their own will – or even worse, for them to believe it was their own personal intention. While this might sound alarmist, let me bring this back to a human level. Always remember that we are the ghost in the machine. The machines will always be a manifestation of us. We design them, we build them, we hack them and so they fully reflect the good and bad of the human condition. And if we don’t want to be hacked in our cyborg era of living, then it’s best we put in collective effort now to stop those manipulating us through a simple screen.

Thanks for reading & stay rad, Steve. 

What to teach your kids (& yourself) – My TED talk

The most common question I’m asked in my work is this: “What do you teach your kids?  How do you prepare them for an unknown future?” It really is the question. It’s also the topic of a TED talk I did this year in Melbourne.

In the talk I tell the story of how society shapes children, and systematically removes their entrepreneurial spirit – something all humans are born with.

In a world where our future is super unknown – there are some things we do know: We’ll need to be economically independent, manage our own careers, constantly upgrade our skills and embrace inevitable technologies like robotics. You will need to Outgrow Your Job – the title of the talk.

Rather than writing about it – please invest the time to watch it here. It’s a 14 minute video which will change how you see the world. And it might give some cool ideas on how to make your kids future proof.

Oh, and remember to share it with someone whose future you care about!

thanks, Steve. 

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.