Insights February 16th, 2016
2015 has been a banner year for accelerating humanity forward with technology. In December last year I released my 2015 predictions and called it the ‘Year of Alternatives’. Some bold predictions were made on the growth of The Collaborative Economy, how Wearable Computing will grow up, privacy and surveillance, and the resurgence of psychedelics and Smart Drugs in society.
2015 has pretty much ran the course, as predicted. The biggest eye-opener for me was how much psychedelics has come into the spotlight for medical research. There was even the admittance that many of the Silicon Valley executives are boosting their creativity, and revolutionizing businesses models aided by them. This had been known for some time in the underground business community. This openness and creativity is driving empathetic connections between technology and humanity. In fact, in the past 2 weeks larger publications, like Forbes and Rolling Stone, have been talking about this.
As we head into 2016 we are starting to see a big shift in how society is operating. We are becoming more mature as users of data, information, applications, and applied technologies. And, there is now a more holistic view of how society is connecting and building new economies. We are all changing how the world works exponentially by being active participants in new innovative business models.
In 2016 Predictions: The Year of Consciousness I present 4 bold predictions about how the world is changing and I urge you to watch these closely and open your minds in letting them help all of us redefine the new world we live in. They are:
- The Rise of the Wisdom Economy
- Internet of Things Becomes Responsible
- Facebook and Google Become Health Companies
- The Zero Marginal Cost Economy Gains Momentum
Each area has been chosen from seeing anthropologically how we are changing our modes of operation and this writing is inspired by many conversations, presentations, personal and secondary research, and a strong intuition of what humanity will need as we progress forward. I thank all the journalists, academics, authors, citizens, companies, and think tanks for their contribution. Let’s go!
1. The Rise of the Wisdom Economy
If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.
Communication has changed. People want to be able to connect in a more frictionless way in their personal lives and look towards Facebook, texting, Snapchat, KIK, WhatsApp, and other more immediate communications devices. These platforms, and others, have become business tools as well and there is a step change is offices all over the world.
Benedict Evans, of Andreessen Horowitz, talks about how ‘Mobile is eating the world.’ But, in all honesty we are seeing mobile communication and productivity applications eating email and the office memo.
At the beginning of 2015, 53% of emails opened on mobile, and Outlook opens, have decreased by 33% (Source: Litmus). Businesses are now looking to new productivity platforms to get work done and see the power of the internal and external crowds in doing so.
Slack – the US-Canadian real-time messaging, archiving and search company – is making a huge impact in the business community. Many employees in progressive companies use almost no email at all during the work day. Slack’s user base has grown from 500,000 users, in February 2015, to over 1.1 million daily users in June 2015 (and many more I suspect by now). Their democratized approach to bringing instant messaging into the 2015 workplace along with integrated file sharing and over 100 integrations that they now offer their users – such as Giphy, MailChimp, Crashlytics, and Zendesk – has meant it’s become the essential business tool for many.
Users log in to Slack for over 10 hours each work day, send over 300 million messages a month, and spend over 100 million hours on the platform every month now (source: Fast Company). It’s spreading like wildfire in businesses all over the world. It’s my prediction that Slack will have to defend its position vigorously as the cost to switch is low. Many clones will come out with specific applications for certain communities in health, academia, military, education, and government.
Another part of the ‘Wisdom Economy’ is Crowdsourcing platforms. These have been diversifying over the past few years and they are starting to turn towards motivating groups of innovators to address real-world problems.
The design powerhouse IDEO is already famous for making their methods of human-centered design available to all (you can download the toolkit here.) They have also been investing a lot of time and effort into this space with their OpenIDEO initiative.
OpenIDEO is a global community working together to design solutions for the world’s biggest challenges.
OpenIDEO works by running a three to five month collaborative process that focuses attention on a specific issue – contributed by the crowd or an organization that sponsors getting the outcome realized – and creates an online community that gets members to contribute, refine and prototype solutions. These are not just about generating ideas – ideas are worthless without execution – they are about building long-term partnerships where specific issues like climate change or international development are addressed by launching multiple challenges, events and other activities that lead to the creation of new, innovative solutions.
And then you have the crowdfunding model being revolutionized.
Peter Diamandis, the XPRIZE founder, helped to usher in a new era of commercial space exploration and applications with the $10 million Ansari XPRIZE. Peter has now joined up with a new team to democratize the innovation model of XPRIZE with their company HeroX.
Much like OpenIDEO, HeroX exists to enable anyone, anywhere in the world, to create a challenge that addresses any problem or opportunity, build a community around that challenge and activate the circumstances that can lead to a breakthrough innovation.
These open communications, open funding, and new models of innovation will yield some amazing results. We’ll see more organizations push forward with internal initiatives like this as well and tap into the wisdom locked in the human capital of their organizations.
The implications of these predictions will be better organizational culture, new ways of working, more innovation, better solutions, and increased revenues.
2. Internet of Things Becomes Responsible
We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.
George Bernard Shaw
We are at risk of a chaotic world with the introduction of the ushering in of Internet of Things (which Cisco believes will be composed of 500 billion connected devices by 2020), Big Data, and more ubiquitous computing.
In today’s world we see more than 6 billion people have access to cell phones, and more than 2 billion people have smartphones in the world. These devices remind us of their presence every time, text, message, or notification comes in. They are hungry for attention. This technological personality could very easily be translated into the connected ‘things’ coming into our home, office, factory, retail, and other environments.
Now, more than ever, we need to push forward with the idea of ‘Calm Technology’. This idea will be central for commercial designers of Internet of Things devices.
‘Calm Technology’ is a term that was coined in 1995 by PARC Researchers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown in reaction to the increasing complexities that information technologies were creating (download their research paper from Xerox PARC here). It’s the idea that not all technologies that we create will disrupt and vie for our attention.
Brown and Weiser felt that the promise of computing systems was that they might “simplify complexities, not introduce new ones”. Weiser believed that this would lead to an era of “calm technology,” in which technology, rather than panicking us, would help us focus on the things that were really important to us. Amber Case, well-known technology advocate, can be seen here talking about ‘calm technology’.
In addition to designing responsibly we are seeing the need to create a resilient network to create ‘always on’ 24/7/365 networks to keep critical IofT, or machine-to-machine (M2M), systems up and running.
Earlier this year the engineering titan general Electric (GE) announced that it was expanding its Predix Internet of Things platform to provide Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
Predix is part of the Industrial internet “a cloud purpose-built for industrial data and analytics” and generated $4 billion in software revenue in 2014. It’s not just biog business, it’s going to be critical for society going forward. Here’s Dave Bartlett, GE’s Chief Technology Officer, talking about Predix.
Other large companies including IBM, Amazon, Microsoft and Google are also looking at various aspects of the Internet of Things. This will be the new cloud computing. GE are making big steps to own the space as they are a key manufacturer of large industrial equipment and that will need a network.
Looking back towards the home we will see more devices connected and monitoring things as you go about our daily lives. One of the biggest challenges that will arise is how much do we let those things monitor us. I explore this idea in what I call ‘The Internet of Things in 2020 Dilemma’:
You go out and have a nice meal, some drinks and then onto a club. On the way home (you’re inebriated at 2:30am) you stop the cab to grab 2 slices of dollar pizza and you add more sauce and messily eat this. All of this has been ambiently-captured by your cellphone.
When you get home the stereo refuses to turn up its volume, the fridge auto-locks the beer drawer and the cooker/oven won’t allow you to cook anything. You’re home hates you (and is doing this for your own good) and various appliances start lecturing you and agreeing with each other.
In addition, the gym unlocks, and your sofa won’t let you sit down…
Do you have to negotiate for your own rights? Do you turn off the appliances and incur a potential arrest for cruelty against sentient intelligence (as defined in the Charter of Robot Rights)? Or do you undertake a 30 min workout and then go to sleep on the floor and pray that you are forgiven in the morning?
The dilemma is, do you let this kind of connectivity into your life as it delivers reduced waste, cost, connectivity and efficiency or do you rely on your own discipline going forward. Not being connected feels more human, being connected and having connected devices feels cool but there are definitely implications.
Seems fantastical, and will likely take 3 to 5 years to come into fruition, however it brings up the idea that we will consume data and give ‘things’ permission to consume our data and guide us towards the greater good. We will just need to work out the constant state of our lives to be comfortable with that and organizations holding and analyzing our data will also need to give back.
The implications of these predictions will be a calmer, more secure life along with greater control and efficiencies in running our homes, businesses, and our lives.
3. Facebook and Google Become Health Companies
Fundamentally, the answers to our challenges in healthcare relies in engaging and empowering the individual.
Great healthcare comes from data. Every day we create more than 2.5 quintillion, that’s 10 to the power of 18, bytes of data. That’s so much data that 90% of the world’s data today has been created in the last two years alone (source: IBM).
Data comprises of free form text, images, structured data, and other formats. Some platforms capture this in more useful forms than others. Companies like Facebook and Google are organizing data in new ways are creating a narrative through advanced analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) that help analysis and research get ahead.
On Monday, 1 in 7 people on Earth used Facebook to connect with their friends and family. When we talk about our financials, we use average numbers, but this is different. This was the first time we reached this milestone, and it’s just the beginning of connecting the whole world.
Mark Zuckerberg (via a Facebook post)
If we then turn our attention to Google we see over 100 billion searches per month by 1.17 billion people (sources: Mashable and SearchEngineLand). Youtube, another sub-brand of the Alphabet empire that also owns Google, is now seeing over 300 hours of new footage being uploaded every minute (Source: Marketing Pilgrim).
Here we see two companies with a lot of power, and huge profits, from using the data they hold, and now we see them at an inflection point. Both have started to help connect the world, both have dabbled in different uses of the data (for better or worse), and both are passionate about making a change. This year we saw both of these companies unleash their integrated AI solutions on the world.
Yann LeCun is Facebook’s Director of AI Research (you can also see what they are doing at Facebook Research) and in this video he shows an Facebook Em, their AI that analyses imagery at an incredible depth of detail.
Google also recently announced a new, open-source machine learning platform called TensorFlow, that will accelerate the pace at which neural networks will integrate into giant’s service portfolio, and potentially its business model. Google claims it can significantly improve both the speed and power of neural network development across a wide variety of platforms and applications by open sourcing the solution and empowering the community to develop the platform.
Google’s hope is that TensorFlow could become Google’s new organizing principle, and a major driver in the continuing evolution of the Internet.
So what do these developments in AI mean for us all?
Faster processing of data, more analysis and insights, increased value unlocked from data. Let me reiterate – great healthcare comes from data. I spoke on a panel on wearables and privacy at the Privacy and Access 20/20 Conference this year. On that panel we discussed fair use of and stewardship of data. I spoke about what if we were to have a centralized repository of data for everyone in the world where we controlled it and released it for the greater good on our terms. That is when it struck me that both Facebook and Google had the basics in place and the AI that will progress this forward. Sure, they control our data and maybe there are internal discussions about relinquishing some control back to us (I really hope so).
These companies have databases that have billions of images and free form text that can show us all sides of humanity – good, bad, and indifferent. They can also tell us when there are tell-tale signs of mental health issues, poor relationship dynamics, stress, skin cancers, disease outbreaks and origins, and other incredible insights. In addition, applying advanced analytics to healthcare will also help suggest over the counter drugs, diet regimes and special offers of vitamins, or even alerts that drive you to connect with your doctors online.
Google had originally started an initiative called Google Health but discontinued it in 2013 (see their vlog post explaining this here), and thsi comment is key:
Now, with a few years of experience, we’ve observed that Google Health is not having the broad impact that we hoped it would. There has been adoption among certain groups of users like tech-savvy patients and their caregivers, and more recently fitness and wellness enthusiasts. But we haven’t found a way to translate that limited usage into widespread adoption in the daily health routines of millions of people.
They were just too early. I would like to see Google and Facebook opening up and releasing insights back into the world. There will however be 3 key things that will need to change:
- Data ownership – people will have to have more control over their data and give distinct permission to companies on what they can use the data for.
- Data consumption – education in what these services deliver will be key to the success of this. The Internet hypochondria is already bad. It could get worse.
- Data sharing – people will have to be willing to share with Doctors, Specialists, medical researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and medical institutions.
I think they will start these initiatives with more education on what they can do during 2016, and it will gain momentum through 2017 and 2018 with wider adoption kicking in in 2019 and 2020. Apple will also be a part of this as well at this point.
The implications of these predictions will be wide-ranging, and will introduce a shift in drug research, disease control and prevention, and improved personal health.
4. The Zero Marginal Cost Economy Gains Momentum
What I’m suggesting to you is that this could be a renaissance. We may be on the cusp of a future which could provide a tremendous leap forward for humanity.
This final prediction has relevance to the three that goes before it, and lives in the same family. It will be key to the happiness and joint consciousness of society.
In the early 1970s US Economist Richard Easterlin explored ‘The Economics of Happiness’ and outlined the ‘Easterlin Paradox’. This states that at any given time, people with higher incomes are happier, since they judge themselves to be relatively privileged compared with those on lower incomes. However, over time, rising levels of national income do not raise the average level of happiness, since the consumption norm by which people make comparisons also increases. The implication is that this personal and narrow focus on economic growth is indeed a costly mistake. What people need more of are the social goods that are judged absolutely, not relatively. Financial security, access to health care, technical solutions to help with life, and dignity are prime examples.
So, with openness, democratic access, a new perspective on personal value, and the creation of affordable goods means that more happiness can be creative however there needs to be a radical shift in the way that society works.
Jeremy Rifkin – the author of 20 on the impact of scientific and technological changes on the economy, the workforce, society, and the environment – talk about The Zero Marginal Cost Economy.
This is the idea that goods and services have been democratized to the point where we live with zero margins and priceless goods alongside the idea that we can equalize income to lead us into 2016 and beyond It feels deeply socialist however, in reality, it is still based in good capitalism, and opens the world using the Sharing Economy. To make this happen Rifkin talks about the meteoric rise of a global Collaborative Commons and the eclipse of what we call capitalism today.
Rifkin has identified a paradox at the heart of capitalism that has propelled it to greatness, but is now taking it down towards its death. There is now the entrepreneurial dynamism of competitive markets that drives productivity up and marginal costs down. These businesses reduce the price of their goods and services in order to win over consumers and market share. That is bringing marginal costs to near zero (absolute zero is hard to make happen in reality).
Economists, and many of us, never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution making goods and services priceless, pretty much free, and abundant, and no longer subject to market forces. Reducing ownership and increasing the sharing of cars, homes, items, alongside the Maker movement, sustainable living, the freelance economy, and 3D printing is helping to usher this in. Not everything will be driven down to zero margins – the world cannot survive if that happens unless there is a fundamental change in how money is earned and distributed. Now, discussions around Basic Income have started to happen more widely however it’s unlikely to hit in significant countries for some 10+ years regardless of experiments taking place today.
Capitalism will remain alive and well however it will change it’s shape and become more streamlined. It will have to become an aggregator of networked services, community creation hubs, and home-based plus managed solutions. Society will need to move to work under an interdependent, and global, Collaborative Commons. We will have to all work together to make this happen. Community and connection play a key role in this.
Maybe there is a hope for humanity through working together to provide access to what we need in very affordable ways?
The implications will be huge. Increased happiness, more connected communities, an understood value for services (over profit), shared consciousness, and the beginnings of working out how a basic universal income could work in society.
So, it seems fair to call 2016 ‘The Year of Consciousness’. The Wisdom Economy will raise our involvement, productivity, and output. The Internet of Things will make us feel more safe and empowered. Facebook and Google will step up with real action in the fight for the health of humanity. And, the Zero Margin Economy will develop further and the discussions on how this will change the dynamics of the fiscal health of countries, and what it means to operate in a capitalist society, will be started in the halls of government.
We no longer have the choice to let the changing tide go unnoticed. We all need to be active in carrying these thoughts into our lives and businesses.
Nikolas Badminton is a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, speaks, and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy, and how the world is evolving. He appears at conferences in Canada, USA, UK, and Europe. Email him to book him for your radio, TV show, or conference.