In 2011 the entire tech ecosystem descended toward entropy. Devices and services had a harder time playing together, and simply choosing what to use became an occasion for a flowchart. Some of the simplest tech questions — How should I send a text message to a friend? Which video phone service should I use? — are now hopelessly fraught.
There’s a big opportunity, in 2012 and beyond, for startups that attempt to solve the complexity problem.
The noisy disruption of media business models by the internet in the past decade has obscured a profound demographic transformation. Whether they are buying music, listening to the radio, reading newspapers or watching television, media consumers are ageing even more quickly than the overall population. Rather than trying to reverse this trend by attracting younger people, many companies are attempting to profit from the greying of media.
As your audience ages, approachability matters more. Kids see a new technology like a video game: a challenge to figure out. Their elders see it as work.
But the greys have money. As the article notes, "people aged 60 or over spent more on pop-music albums in 2009 than did teenagers or people in their 20s".
This is a strong—though generally overlooked—incentive to make new technologies feel comfortable and familiar.
I fear the Internet is doomed to fail, to be replaced by tightly controlled gardens of exclusivity. The Internet has extended beyond the capabilities of its origins: the trusting, open interactions among a few research universities. Today it is too easy for unknown entities to penetrate into private homes and businesses, stealing identities and corporate secrets. Fear of damaging programs and the ever-increasing amount of spam (some just annoying but more and more deadly and malicious), threatens the infrastructure. And so, just as previous corporate warlords used the existence of real inefficiencies and deficiencies in other media to gain control, equipment, service and content providers, large corporations will try to use the deficiencies of the Internet to exert control and exclusivity. All the better, they will claim, to provide safe, secure and harmonious operation, while incidentally enhancing profits and reducing competition. Similar arguments will apply to governments as well, invoking the fears of the existing Internet in order to exert control for the benefit of the existing ruling parties.
I have seen the future, and if it turns out the way it is headed, I am opposed. I fear our free and continual access to information and services is doomed to be replaced by tightly controlled gardens of exclusivity. It is time to rethink the present, for it determines the future.
Kasparov is a writer, a political activist and a firm believer in the advancement of technology to solve world problems. When he speaks, he pulls no punches. “I feel we are now living in the era of the slowest technological progress in the past few hundred years,” he says, unsatisfied with consumer toys like smartphones and social network diversions.
He told the audience, comprised mainly of young Palantir software engineers, that humans are still using many of the same fundamental technologies invented in the past couple of centuries, like the internal combustion engine or the airplane. “Call it lack of courage or complacency, but to a certain degree we lost this passion for the sweeping changes,” Kaparov said.
“Complexity should be abstracted, synthesized down to the simplest possible interface for instant gratification, with the shortest possible learning curve—that is the wave of the future.”
Michael Okuda's and Gene Roddenberry's emphasis on ease of use as driving factor behind technology made their devices seem prescient. I enjoyed this Ars Technica discussion of Star Trek's PADD versus today's iPad, and what happens when the software defines how the device can be used.
Interestingly, Okuda notes part of his emphasis on simplicity originally came from budget constraints. This is another example of my theory that price vs performance need not be a trade off. By aiming for simplicity and elegance instead, technologists can achieve higher performance at a lower cost.
I made 108 predictions in The Age of Spiritual Machines (TASM), which, incidentally, I wrote in 1996 to 1997. It takes a year to publish, so the book came out at the end of 1998...
To summarize, of these 108 predictions, 89 were entirely correct by the end of 2009. An additional 13 were what I would call “essentially correct” (for a total of 102 out of 108).
The specificity of my predictions in TASM was by decades. There were predictions for 2009, 2019, 2029, and 2099. The 2009 predictions were providing a vision of what the world would be like around the end of the first decade of the new millennium. My critics were not saying “Kurzweil’s predictions for 2009 are ridiculous, they will not come true until 2010 or 2011.” Rather, they were saying that my predictions were off by decades or centuries or would never happen. So if predictions made around 1996 for 2009 come true a year or a couple of years after 2009, given that the specificity was by decade, and the critics were saying that they were wrong by decades or centuries, then I would consider them to constitute an essentially accurate vision of what the world would be like around now.
Kurzweil's book "The Singularity is Near" is a fascinating read, suggesting humanity is on the cusp of a new stage in evolving technology, particularly in genetics, computers, and nano machines, to the point we could potentially upgrade ourselves. The implications are staggering.
Thanks to that, Kurzweil is sometimes dismissed as a kook, or worse. Critics seek to disprove his future theories by debunking predictions he's made in the past.
Given a little latitude, plus or minus a couple years for predictions made in terms of decades, Kurzweil's predictions have a much better track record than, say, those of Joan Quigley, Nancy Reagan's astrologer.
What does his track record mean for his predictions about the 2050s? At the very least, it's time to read his book.
PS. Isn't the new Jawbone ICON a personal computer embedded in an earring or body ornament that looks like jewelry, networked using a body-scale local area network? See: http://us.jawbone.com/productsPageIcon.aspx