Tonight I’ll be doing a presentation at the amazing building above. The new Docklands Library – a library…. the original internet of knowledge transfer. It’s for the Future Crunch event, and I’ll be doing a talk I’ve never done before: The Autonomous Corporation: It’s kinda Star Trek. A short 20 minute presentation which will cover a few of these thought jams:
Language is a technology
Corporations are a form of technology
Technology removes human labour
Technology is designed to serve humans
Technology is a form of biology
Corporations need to serve humans… again
I’ll leave it at that for now. After the talk we’ll have a Q and A session and chat. But join me tonight for some thinking time on how to build better commercial ecosystem for living. Meet some interesting people, leave the TV and chores at home and explore your mind. It should be fun.
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.
It won’t be your phone, laptop, television, car, your micro electricity storage grid, your thermostat or your fridge. It will be your toilet.
You may not have expected that. It will be a top of the technology chain looking after the most important thing in our lives – our health. Nothing is more important, and it just so happens that sensor technology is entering an inflection point where dramatic technology advances will change medicine and health as much as germ theory did.
All forms of technology in our connected world are under going rapid price deflation. Power is increasing and prices are dropping exponentially. The technology inside the technology is also benefiting from the same pattern of accelerating returns. This means that many vital sensors, like those found inside the 1.75 billion smart phones which have already been manufactured, have prices at the disposable level. Mere cents on the dollar. It’s this era of disposable technology that will drive the web of things era. But what it also means is that powerful high end technology is on the same path. Technology that would once have only had a place in a high end laboratory will very soon have a place in our bathrooms. It’s a pattern we’ve already seen with consumer and media based technology and widgets.
You’re toilet will become a a micro testing lab which will keep track of your health so that you don’t have to. It will include sensors of every type, measuring every kind of human feedback possible – all integrated and web enabled. It will have a DNA code of all of the members in a household, their health records and constantly be testing human waste for any anomalies which might not end well if left unchecked. It will know you are sick, or about to get sick long before the symptoms arrive. It will create a tracking timeline of changes in your health over long periods and provide the ultimate in quantified self.
It will weigh you every time you sit down, and use micro sweat to determine your daily levels of body fat and blood sugars.
It will talk to your doctor, and provide a much better assessment of what’s going on than you do when the doctor asks your those very important questions you can never remember the exact answers to.
It will have a convivial relationship with your fridge and cupboard and know what’s stored in it and what actually gets eaten. It will have a similar relationship with your kitchen and ovens.
It will make auto suggestions to your shopping list when you’re down on vitamin c, or protein or calcium, and post red flags with other items you’ve scheduled for delivery which are not in your best interest.
It will certainly track your movement via your smart devices (watch, phone and other wearables) and know what type and frequency of exercise you’re getting. It will update the shopping list to include the right foods for your level of movement and nutrition needs.
It will assess the health of your skin through the seat and track sun exposure. It will be linked to your shower which will take daily photos of your skin to check for dangerous sun spots.
In fact, it will do much more than this.
This then raises all sorts of important questions about which previously unrelated industries should be collaborating with each other. If Plumbing and medicine start to matter to each other and packaged groceries and white goods matter to each other, then you can be certain there’s an industry you haven’t thought twice about that will start to matter to you. And probably quicker than you think.
Our toilet will be the smartest device in the house, looking after the most important things in your life, your health and your family. It’s another reminder that technology is neither good or bad, but a tool we can choose use to make life better and even extend it.
There’s a lot of talk about the amazing things beacons will be able to do at retail level. And all of it is true – at least from a functional perspective. For the first time products will be able to directly interact with potential customers at store level. Physical spaces people spend time in will be able to interact with the people inside those spaces. Department stores, farmers markets, concert halls and football stadiums are all being filled with beacon technology. And it will give birth to a new era of pocket spam. I wonder if what we really need right now is more vendors shouting at us with offers we didn’t know we wanted? I doubt it.
So, here’s the startup opportunity for Beacons which few are focusing on just now.
How to stop them.
Yes, the spam filter equivalent for the intrusive beacon. And I know you’re thinking that this time it’s different, because it wont happen unless we allow push messages. But when was the last time you read all those terms and conditions for a web based service? Often we say yes to something before all the details emerge and when the world was slightly different. It’s our legacy decisions which get taken advantage of.
Often the market for the hotdogs around the stadium is bigger than what is on the main playing field. And there’s always less people watching that game while you set up shop on the sidelines.
In a very short period of time, opinions of anything can change. It wasn’t so long ago that these statements were made about the internet as a commercial platform:
- It’s for nerds. “Fine, you nerds can do what you want but normal people are never going to use this thing.”
- It’s completely decentralized, which means you can’t trust it. No business is ever going to do anything on it because businesses won’t work on an untrusted environment. There won’t ever be any e-commerce.
- There will never be any internet payments. No one will put their credit card on the internet.
- It’s an open-source kind of thing so there will be no Internet companies.
- It’s got all these technical deficiencies. It’s slow. It’s unreliable. It doesn’t work right. When you do a search, sometimes you get an answer back and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes when you dial in you get a busy signal.
- What happen if your ISP goes out of business? Then you can’t get back online.
- Once you get on the internet, even assuming you get on the internet, there’s nothing to do. There’s no content. Time magazine isn’t online, the New York Times isn’t online. It’s just a bunch of nerd stuff.
These classic soundbites come from Marc Andreessen in a recent interview while referencing those who think bitcoin will never be more than some kind of digital space oddity. While we are on the topic of economic change, it is telling to have a look at the market valuations of the top 10 internet companies. That is, companies less than 20 years old who could not have existed pre dot com. The US top 10 public companies now have an accumulated value of $1.168 trillion dollars.
- Google – $585 billion
- Facebook – $170 billion
- Amazon – $155 billion
- Ebay – $65 billion
- Priceline – $65 billion
- Yahoo – $36 billion
- Salesforce.com – $36 billion
- Twitter – $24 billion
- Linkedin – $21 billion
- Expedia – $11 billion
We can also add the upcoming float of Alibaba.com to this at anything between a further $120 to $200 billion.
This takes my mind directly to the potential of 3D printing, web of things and the solar energy industry. All of which are in their 1993 era. The only question remaining for entrepreneurs reading is this; What are you going to do about it?
Startup culture is becoming a big thing in the wider community. It’s seemingly graduated from a high tech nerdy subculture into a mainstream pop culture giant overnight. But is it really anything new? Or is it just a rebranding of small business as we knew it with some terrific superlatives and rockstar billionaire game winners to give us that Bruce Springsteen stadium rock ethic? Certainly the technology revolution we are all living through is significant. Significant enough to make it easier than it has ever been in history to start a business.
Net result is that startup culture hot. Just like grunge music was in the early 1990’s. Anyone with a pair of ripped jeans in a dive bar was in a band. And now anyone with a wifi connection and a laptop is launching a startup. The simplest way to remind ourselves that everything is a remix is to kick it old school and see how our new startup words stack up:
- Pivot – used to be called adapting to the market.
- Iteration – used to be called a product improvement.
- MVP – used to be a prototype or a test market.
- Growth Hackers – used to be what marketers and sales people were called.
- Truth North -used to be known as the single minded proposition.
- Runway – used to be known as the bank balance and how long we had left before going bust.
- Burn Rate – used to be a sign that this new business venture wasn’t going so well.
- Lean – used to be called doing things on a budget. (Oh, The pyramids were the first lean startup….. those pyramids were meant to be big square blocks but they ran out of materials, and just went with the pyramids instead – turned out to be a killer feature.)
We often forget that the thing we don’t like about something is also thing that makes it possible. The annoying part of something good, is usually what keeps it alive and provides us the gifts that surround it. One case in point is Youtube advertising. It’s so annoying isn’t it, to spare that 5 seconds before clicking out, or that entire 30 second advertisement you can’t even click out of – how dare they. What we ought do is imagine for a minute that Youtube never found its monetization model. Then what? Then it probably fails, doesn’t exist and instead of having pretty much all forms of education and entertainment on demand on any topic, any time, we’d be stuck with a few free to air TV channels, home shopping, and marginal pay TV subscriptions.
The cost of the benefits is rarely a heavy price to pay, especially with new technology and disruptive innovations which need to have lower barriers to inspire adoption. And speaking of disruptions – the advertising we have to endure is not nearly as bad as it was in the TV era. Sometimes it’s worth remembering that misdirected hate is both a waste of energy and a short sighted perspective.
Deep down it’s as if we humans know that the ultimate in intelligence is fallibility. It’s the imperfection that comes with emotion. Almost as though there is some kind of perfection in not knowing or acting dumb. This not knowing leads to curiosity and new paths, the fork in the road. The wrong path if taken, also has the potential to lead to serendipity and discovery.
To this point, these seem to be qualities which are not present in machines and computers – and therefore artificial intelligence. So far, a machine has not been built to fake it, pretend, be mean, not care, be irrational or even be wrong on purpose. The artificial intelligence we have so far doesn’t want to have fun or be selfish, other than in the movies and in music. It’s been a one sided coin, all head and no tail.
A recent article referred to a form of artificial intelligence actually passing the turing test. A Turning Test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. They claimed that by adding the element of not knowing things and making mistakes to the algorithm it helped the machine ‘win’. It seemed like an interesting take or fork in the road towards finding intelligence as we humans define it. I feel like this trajectory is where intelligence needs to go in order to get more ‘real’. But the thing it makes me wonder for business is what other things have we been doing for 60 odd years or so which need an entirely new tangent?
I’ve had a lot of stuff buzzing around my head for the last few years. My local readers get their share when we have coffee. Recently I’ve put together a manifesto from my mind in the form of my debut book: The Great Fragmentation – why the future of business is small.
It is being published with Wiley and comes out mid July. Here’s a picture of the cover below and below that I’ve got some offers for readers of startup blog.
The reasons I wrote the book was that it was my view that most of the business books these days are too thin. They have a single idea and just tell a number of stories and examples around that idea. I feel like the revolution we are living through is much bigger than that. I felt as though we needed a business survival manifesto. Something which assesses the entire change in the business landscape – not just a trend inside of it. My view is that all the barriers to entry are being removed. That there is a dramatic power shift happening. An industry and by industry fragmentation which can’t be avoided and must be embraced. That the playing field is being equalised because technology almost has it’s own agenda. And that agenda is to become cheaper, smaller, more distributed and more powerful – with humans as the beneficiaries, not necessarily corporations. But mostly this book is the intersection, of Anthropology, Technology and how these forces shape the Business world. You can read a little blurb about it here, or even pre-order a copy here. While I can’t be sure if this will be a best seller, I can guarantee you it will be a best reader!
If you haven’t already signed up to my blog via email, you can sign up to updates on the book (and other projects) by clicking here. Before the book is released I’ll have advance copies and other cool resources for your startup / business. These resources will be crazy good & available only to those who signed up. (including a couple of world firsts).
I really look forward to the scary part of hearing your feedback on my 200+ pages of having nowhere to hide and instead say: ‘This is what I believe, I hope you got something valuable from it’.