Why predicting the future is more about sociology than technology

Technologies arriving by 2025

This chart above is from a new World Economic Forum report, Deep Shift: Technology Tipping Points and Societal Impact, predicts 21 dates in the future when previously unimaginable innovations will enter our daily lives, transforming the way we live and the way communities and governments function. And after perusing the report, I couldn’t help but think that the results focused too deeply on technological capabilities rather than social and economic incentive. It seems that while predicting the future is always a difficult task, every time I read such predictions, human behaviour is not considered at a deep enough level.

I disagree with most of the predictions above, but mostly for two reasons:

  1. The flawed and simplistic definitions from the past. (This is how companies get disrupted by the way, but more on that later)
  2. The lack of consideration given to how incentives shape behaviour.

Simplistic Definitions:

Report Claim: 10% of people wearing clothes connected to the internet. Reality: We are already wearing technology. Our phone is a device we have been wearing as clothing for nearly 10 years. The definition given in the report doesn’t serve the function of why you’d wear technology – it’s too limited. It’s a yesterday definition.

Report Claim: Over 50% of internet traffic to homes to be for appliances & devices. Reality: The internet of things (IoT) in the home will be at least 10 times the size of humans connected, current estimates are for 50 billion items. So in pure connections it will be way bigger than their estimate. But as a portion of traffic and bandwidth it will still be small compared to human generated internet traffic. Most IoT devices will have simple sensors and awareness functions through connected nodes, which in real terms generate very little traffic as long as we maintain Net Neutrality. I’d also add that we are already generating more than 50% of web traffic through home connected devices – aren’t TV’s, smart phones and laptops in the home ‘devices’? Again the way things are defined mislead.

Report Claim: First city of over 50,000 people with no traffic lights. Reality: We already have hundreds of cities around the world of more than 50,000 people without a road rule in sight, let alone traffic lights. Seriously, have any of these people behind the report ever been outside of the confines of Davos or their Ivy League Learning Institute? China, India, Indonesia, Africa, Eastern Europe and South America all have cities that fit this definition today. Another example that the world view of the economically fortunate is often myopic and first world centric.

Report Claim: 1st 3D printed production car by 2025 Reality: At volume this will not make sense, but it also depends on what they mean by ‘Production’. If less than 10,000 units then this is a clear ‘No’ as the industrial production line has advantages 3D printing will never have, an undisputed fact among 3D printing experts. While many parts of cars will come from printers, the entire production process will not. In fact, they key benefit of 3D printing is the exact opposite of ‘production efficiency’, it’s about customisation. They’re missing the reason.

Ironically, the reason many companies get disrupted through technology is how they define their business. They define things in terms of what they sell, and not the problems they solve. Technology often unveils new ways to solve old problems, which renders yesterdays logistics and infrastructure outdated. 

Incentives & Social Considerations

Report Claim: First Robotic Pharmacist will arrive by 2025. Reality: We already don’t need pharmacists and it is largely the strength of their government lobby that keeps them putting little labels on little bottles. There is no economic incentive for the pharmacists to replace themselves, and so I doubt they’ll let it happen. If this incentive existed, they’d already be selling medicine in grocery stores. If however, the report is referring to 3D printed medicine, well the FDA approved that in August this year.

Report Claim: 5% of consumer products printed in 3D by 2025. Reality: While I think 3D printers will be in a majority of homes, it’s still like 1975 was for personal computers. An entire infrastructure of software, materials and socialisation around the industry needs to be created. The opportunity is really in platforms to support the potential of 3D printing – read here, selling shovels, not finding gold nuggets. But let’s add the social reality to the mix. We are more than 20 years into the World Wide Web and e-commerce is still only 7% of US retail sales. And this is more evolutionary and easier to adjust to socially than 3D printing items is. This tells us the truth more than any predictions will.

Report Claim: First AI machine on a corporate board of Directors by 2025. Reality: As per the pharmacists being a Board Member is not a question of need and decision making ability, it’s a question of power, influence & gettin’ paid. The incentive for board members to replace themselves, is really not there. If someone does it, and they will, it will be a mainly be about company PR.

Report Claim: Driverless cars will represent 10% of all cars on US roads. Reality: This number will be significantly higher, maybe even higher than 50%. This is true for a few reasons. Firstly, the cost of self driving cars will be a lot lower than people expect. Because cars are now rolling computers, the same pricing dynamics now apply. Costs decline while performance increases exponentially. I’ve already written about why every car on the road will be electric in 10 years, and when we add things like; the ability to watch movies or sleep while travelling; having an extra drink after work on a Friday night, putting your car to work to earn money while you’re not using it (if indeed you own one); and not having to pay insurance for a self driver, then the incentives for self drive put this in the smart phone category – we curve jump to it as soon as it’s available.

The problem with the report, was in my view, that it was done by asking opinions and averaging them out. A bit like designing something by committee. You end up with well, average results which probably don’t reflect the real views of any individual who was asked.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

Worried your job might disappear? This taxi driver isn’t.

taxi driver - travis

I spend my fair share of time in taxis and Ubers in order to get to the airport. One of the topics I find interesting is to ask the drivers what they think about changes in the taxi / private driver industry. Sometimes I ask them, but I’m also finding they bring up the topic before I do. So here is the tale of 3 drivers in the same industry.

Driver 1 – A taxi driver

A driver in a taxi told me that allowing Uber on the road was a travesty given he had paid so much money for his taxi license plate. One taxi licence plate currently sells for over $200,000, but has declined in value recently. It is unfair in many ways, but technology often does that – it creates change without notice. He thought the government should protect taxi drivers and that Uber should not be allowed to operate. I agree that Uber should be regulated for safety reasons, but I also think innovations should not be stifled by them. His final statement was that he thought he’d go broke or leave the industry. He said that very soon no one will be able to make a living driving a car.

Driver 2 – An Uber & limo driver

This gentleman, who drives his car for both Uber and a limousine company, said that Uber was good to provide extra revenue between jobs. But he then went onto say that he thought Uber, on the whole was good for now, but in the next few years, self-drive cars would put every driver out of business and that he would just make as much money as he could until that next coming disruption put him out of business.

Driver 3 – An Uber & limo driver

This gentleman was enthusiastic about life. Within 10 minutes in the car, he’d really been positive about everything we were talking about regarding life and business. As usual we got onto the topic of the taxi / private car industry. He told me that Uber was really working for him, but then he mentioned something I didn’t expect. He went on to say that the biggest opportunity for drivers was just around the corner, he said;  “I can’t wait for self-drive cars to arrive!” So I asked him what that excited him and this is what he told me:

“For the first time in my working life as a driver, I’ll be able to make money when I’m not in the car. I’ll buy a number of self drive cars as quick as I can. I’ll invest my time in generating business and serving loyal customers. Instead of me just driving, I’ll be at the airport every morning to great my best customers, I’ll have their favourite coffee ready, and an umbrella if it is raining. I’ll be able to build a business around the edges of the new self drive technology. I’ll be a millionaire within a year.”

Three drivers, same industry, challenges and opportunities – one very different attitude.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

3 reasons global adoption of bitcoin is inevitable

Bitcoin 1

Before we start here’s a fact which is easy to forget: Currency is a form of technology.

Just like all technology, if an improved method comes along, there is a very good chance it will substitute what people where using beforehand. While it might not replace the alternatives entirely, at a minimum it will sit atop what is already being used. Another layer of technology. It is also worth remembering that new forms of currency have often arrived during a new economic age.

  • Commodity money such as Cowry Shells arrived with Barter Economies.
  • Grain Receipts during the Agricultural Era.
  • Ferris Coins during the Iron Age.
  • Bills of Exchange during the Age of Discovery.
  • Fiat Currency during the Industrial Revolution.

Now that we’ve entered the digital age, it is inevitable that a digital currency will emerge and gain mass adoption. But people make bitcoin sound more complicated than it really is. There are only 3 things you need to know as to why it (or a crypto currency) will eventually dominate global commerce.

  1. Nobody controls bitcoin. Not one person, not one organisation and not one country. It is a thing. And it is open for anyone to use it, yet nobody can change it, or alter it. It is fully distributed, via its public ledger (the block chain) and this is very unique to bitcoin. It’s also anonymous.
  2. There will never be more than 21 million bitcoins. This creates a level of scarcity and value protection that no other currency has had before. Even gold. (Gold has had a 2% extraction rate per year on average). To have enough currency, we simply divide by another decimal point.
  3. Bitcoins can be sent to anybody, in the world, in real time and for free. Up until now, this has been impossible. All forms of currency exchange up until now always needed physical transport or to trust some third party, such as a clearing house, a credit operation, a settlement house or a bank, who also skim margin. They are all inefficient and relatively expensive. Bitcoin is peer to peer.

In short bitcoin has all the things a successful currency requires. It has scarcity, durabilitydivisibilityportability, acceptance and it is quickly gaining trust. Though the last two points are where the currency needs to make some gains. It might take 10 or more years, (think back to what the internet mean to you in 1995), but it is going to do for money, what the internet did for information.

But if you’re still not convinced, here is some things worth considering: Currently 5 billion of the people on earth rely solely on cash economically and 3 billion do not even have bank accounts. A little over 1 billion people have access to credit cards, and less than 1 million merchants globally accept credit cards for payment. Most of the worlds population can’t participate in the internet economically, because of the money they use. In fact, the poor of the world are the worst effected by having cash as their primary currency. Bitcoin can reduce the risks of operating in a cash world, yet have all the benefits of cash. Close to 5 billion people will be using cell phones by the end of 2015 and in the developing world you’re more likely to have a cell phone, than a toothbrush, electricity or indoor plumbing. All anyone needs to use bitcoin is that cell phone…. this tells us what the possibilities are.

Bitcoin has a serious chance of playing Industrial Leapfrog and becoming a primary form of currency around the world – lead ironically, by the developing world. I’m not saying your should go and convert your land holdings, greenbacks, or gold bars into bitcoin, but at a minimum, anyone interested in the future, should at least pay attention, and maybe even hold some.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

One thing we must learn from Tinder to create a successful app

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The reason Tinder works is simple. It replicates human behaviour in the real world. The moment someone walks into a night club they look around at the faces of people and say to themselves, Yes, No, No ,Yes, No, No, No, No Yes, Yes. And the people they are looking at are doing the same thing back at them – assuming of course they are both looking to meet someone. But in the actual nightclub there is that awkward discovery process of trying to work out if the other party feels the same way. Which then becomes the business model of the nightclub – Sell people drinks for that few hours of the discovery process.

Tinder circumvents all of this. It takes what we do anyway, but makes it happen faster and on the couch, instead of at the bar. What tinder doesn’t do, is expect us to behave any differently. After all, the Human Operating System, or H-OS as I call it, is a very old one, 200,000 years plus since its most recent update. Which means that the best use of technology will be leveraging existing behaviour, not trying to change it.

Yet, another reminder that the digital world ‘is‘ the real world.

You should totally read my book – The Great Fragmentation.

Why petrol cars will not exist in 10 years

tesla charging

If you haven’t already realised, cars are no longer machines, but rolling computers. This also means that cars will move from being powered by fossil fuel engines to electric motors. It’s already started, and it is going to happen much more quickly than we anticipate. I’d go as far to predict that there will hardly be a petrol car on the road in 10 years. Here’s why:

When cars transition to rolling computers, the Law of Accelerating Returns applies. Innovation goes from incremental and factory-based to curve-jumping and technology-driven. You’ve probably heard of Moore’s Law – the maxim that states that computing power will double roughly every 18 months while prices halve. This maxim and many other accelerating technology laws will apply to the production of cars, laws which make the end product better and cheaper by significant degrees. The revolution which transformed smart phones, cameras, laptops, solar panels and flat screen TVs is about impact the auto industry.  Let’s take the pricing example of the Tesla Electric car range:

1st car – Tesla Roadster:  $109,000 (released 2006)

2nd car – Tesla Model S: $75,000 (released 2012)

3rd car – Tesla Model 3: $35,000 (projected – release due 2016)

Not only has each model been progressively cheaper, but also far better in terms of range (distance per battery charge), safety and features.

It’s the same pricing pattern we saw during the personal computing revolution. Here is where we get an entire curve jump. The Tesla model 3 is so cheap that an electric car is no longer a plaything for Silicon Valley types, but a viable new car option for everyone. This is because the switching costs get very close to zero. Why? Because the running costs of having a Tesla Electric car does not include the cost of petrol. (Tesla already have 453 free super charging stations and the cost to fully charge the battery at home is around $3). This means the average consumer can use their saved petrol money towards acquiring a brand new car without increasing their weekly expenditure. For example:

Model 3 Tesla

  • Cost to buy = $35,000
  • Avg petrol p.a. = $3,120
  • New funds available = 8.9% of purchase price.
  • Avg Cost new car finance = 6-7% unsecured interest rate.

When the Model 3 arrives, it only takes some creative financiers to change the landscape of the auto industry virtually overnight.

Want a new car at no cost?*

*Just give us your weekly petrol bill and drive away in a sexy new high tech Tesla!

It’s when this happens that we transition to an all-electric car world. The transition will be as swift as the smart phone – in a few short years, non-electric cars will be a lot like feature phones.

This is exactly how disruption happens. It’s not the product itself, but often the change in the business model around it which leaves industry incumbents blindsided. When there’s an opportunity for consumers to get into a superior product with low or no switching costs, they will always take it.

Buckle your seat belt.

Australia’s top rated TV show – Do you know it?

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This is Troye. He is the host of Australia’s top rated TV show. He gets more than a million viewers every week. He has been around for a few years now and yet I never see him featured in the Nielsen ratings. I find it curious.

Sure Troye isn’t on channel 7, 9, 10, ABC, SBS or even on Foxtel. He’s on Youtube. But tell his 4.3 million subscribers that he isn’t on TV and you’ll get a dumbfounded look. They might even tell you they already watch it in their lounge room, stream it from their phone to the family flat screen, watch it on their laptop or on any audio visual enabled device. And that’s exactly the point, what is TV? A screen in a lounge room, or something which serves up audio visual content?

The easiest way for any company to get disrupted is to define the market by traditional infrastructure instead of how needs get met.

New Book – The Great Fragmentation – out now.

The hidden asset base

Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 9.44.58 pm

I was speaking with a friend about some of the great quotes from long gone captains of industry. J.D Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Benjamin Franklin and cohort. One quote that got me thinking was this:

“If I went broke, just give me my 5 best people, and we’ll be double the size in 5 years.”

I searched Google, Wikiquotes, Brainyquote and all sorts of places to find who it was with no luck. My buddy said it was JD Rockefeller, but I can’t confirm it is, or even find the quote. In the end it doesn’t even matter. What I do like about it is the layers it carries. Some of which are pertinent in an age of technology disruption.

  • The people around us are more important than ourselves.
  • The business is the people and the culture, not the infrastructure.
  • Business is ephemeral, skills are enduring.
  • It’s easier to grow with a fresh start, than with legacy constraints.

But above all it reminds us that our most valuable asset is what we know. Something which can’t be taken away from us, even when a business falls apart.