Apple TV. Roku. Chromecast. And every other tech player out there trying to build a better OS for the TV. One of them is going to crack the interface design and finally link up our online content and big screens in a seamless way. Maybe we’ve been looking at the problem in the wrong way. Maybe we don’t need a better Apple TV or a superior Chromecast or a less kludgy dongle. The right solution isn’t a better linkage between your computer and your screen. It’s a better linkage between any computer at any time and your screen. If our big screens are to be as useful as they can be to us, they need to become processor agnostic. Otherwise our screen agnosticism may give way to a clear preference to the one in our hand over the one on the wall. Airtame gets this. Airtame is a startup making a wireless dongle for your laptop that works in any ecosystem. It doesn’t matter where your media is stored; as long as you have a screen, you can stream. It’s backend processor agnostic. And we like that.
Passive Wearables to Active Wearables
Who you calling passive? Our Fuelbands and Fitbits of the world are actively synching with our mobile devices, helping us produce better insights about our daily lives. That seems awfully active, but in reality the wearable itself is a passive device strapped to our wrists, our face or other areas of our body passively recording our activity. That’s no longer the only game in town. We’re about to see a movement into active wearables—wearables that act on our bodies. They’ll send pulses through our system, act as an extended neural network, train our muscles, or coach our movement.
3D printing certainly has a wow factor. Home models have dropped to the price of a good laptop, and with one you can make your very own custom candy dish or bobblehead. Ceramics studios around the world are, no doubt, bracing for the coming disruption. Even though the idea is alluring, the printers themselves are still rudimentary. They’re at the same point that the first home computers—which were the 4-function calculators of the 1970s—were at when they were introduced. But as prices come down and sophistication goes up, 3D printing will become more than just a curiosity. It has the potential to usher in a social shift not seen since, you guessed it, the internet. The internet disintermediated content creation, taking it out of the hands of an elite, and giving it to anyone with a sliver of bandwidth and a feature phone. All those newly connected people, in turn, decided to remake global society. The story of 3D printing is not about rapid prototyping and on-the-fly product change. It’s about disintermediating the entire manufacturing model and supply chain. As 3D printing or autonomous weaving or any of the other closely-related robotic production techniques become significantly cheaper and better, they enable consumers to make their own stuff, whatever that stuff may be. What’s the role of a consumer goods manufacturer in that world? Does that brand become a seller of information, blueprints, and brand experience—content, in other words? Maybe manufacturing doesn’t make it into the home for any number of reasons. But does it then become widely distributed and as local as the mall? If you want a pair of new shoes, you scan your feet and customize your shoes. Then they get loomed, printed locally, and sent your way (in a self-driving car, perhaps), thus reversing centuries of industrial centralization and even some of the effects of globalization.
The Privacy Fallacy
Folks are worried about data privacy. We wonder what Facebook or Twitter or Google is going to do with all the information they have on us. The truth is, we’re worried about the wrong things. Those concerns—even the more nervous-making concerns about the data from wearable tech or smart homes—are going to seem quaint once we have to grapple with dirt cheap genetic sequencing. It took years and cost millions to sequence the first human genome. At the close of last year, it could be done for a grand. That cost will continue to go down until it’s just pennies. At that point, DNA sequencing is a mass commodity. Any DNA you leave behind from your hands, your mouth, your hair, even your exhalations can be sampled to find out who you really are. Our personal blueprint will become public. When genes are that easy to read, they’ll be just as easy to write. As genetic and epigenetic medicine evolves, we’ll have to decide where the line between treatment and eugenics falls. So go ahead an opt in on that app. Save your energy for the big decisions to come.
Wait, You Mean the Singularity Really is Near?
All that seems impossible Buck Rogers—absurdly far in the future. That would be correct were technological advancements proceeding at a nice linear pace. That’s the speed we all anticipate says Rob Nail of Singularity University, but technology proceeds at an exponential growth. It may look like a new technology is just creeping along only to explode overnight. That’s what seems to have happened with 3D printing, but in fact, the technology is decades old. It’s been plummeting in cost and growing in sophistication ever since then; it’s just taken this long to get to the cusp of mass awareness. Now that exponential growth curve will take it to places we can only imagine. That’s not the only technology at that point right now, Nail asserts. Mobility, sensors, and artificial intelligence are all at about T-soon on their countdowns, and when they all converge, we’re in for a hell of a disruption. We’ll be able to age at home longer and more securely given that personal sensor nets will monitor not just our vitals but also our habits. Paired with sophisticated computing, they’ll be able to tell something’s wrong long before we know it, thereby keeping our elders living independently deeper into old age. Healthcare can evolve to shift the cognitive burden of medicine onto an AI and away from the doctor, who is then freed up to provide insight, intuition, and relationship. As IBM’s Watson has already shown, AIs will be able to out-process us, and if the exponential growth in computing continues (and it shows no signs of slowing), they’ll be able to do it soon. According to Nail, twenty-five years on, a $1000 laptop will have the computing power of all the human minds on earth. They won’t replace us, though, or nanny us into a dystopian, WALL-E future. Nail believes they’ll sit alongside us; we will be enhanced and empowered by AI. Human plus machine will always be superior to machine alone. It’s a fantastic version of the future…and one worth being terrified of.