The Control Conundrum

As a species we highly value “control”. To illustrate just a few examples:

  • Free will is an expression of our ability to exhert control of our experiences by making choices
  • Human rights is the desire for others to exert basic controls on their life and not be the subject of control by some government or other entity
  • Safety is a way of trying to contain the random threats that can impede our control

I’m sure I could go on but work bekons. In any event the main point I wanted to make is that we value control and if you ask the average person they will believe that they have control. I’m not trying to take away from that view — although I tend to believe that we’re all a lot closer to chaos that we’d like to accept — but when I observe the people around me (as well as myself) I am always struck by how little people actually move away from the “status quo” and exert any control on their circumstances. Instead their conscious and subconscious minds collaborate into generating a series of cognative illusions on why this change or that hardship just shouldn’t be taken. Sometimes the idea/opportunity for change is categorized as “too extreme” or maybe the “timing isn’t right” or quite possibly it would be “unfair to others”. The point is for a species which values control and feels they exert control we are surprisingly “lead” and unwilling (unable?) to create movement away from the norm.

I say this as an observation not necessarily as cricism or even an expression of my views. In fact, I am contradictory in my own observations for continuing to believe that there is free will, that I am self-empowered, and that change and differentiation is important and achievable. I am also of the opinion that I create change in my own path (although I pass on change more often). I am probably as deluded as the rest of you. :)

My parting words of wisdom. Enjoy the ride, make sure to fall off the well worn paths.

NFL Game Pass

 

I have been a UK season ticket holder for the past 3 years but I skipped it this year. Kinda bummed about that as the games at Wembley are always sold out and great fun. Still one thing I couldn’t be without is the NFL’s “Game Pass” which I think is only available to international customers. For £99 I get every game every week in HD streaming to my desktop. Wholely awesomeness. This time of year it helps to have two monitors. :)

Tracking article in the Telegraph

I was interviewed and photographed for an article in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper which went to print today (article). I enjoyed getting exposure to the whole process of article generation for a newspaper and while there were some aspects I found annoying it was overall an enjoyable process.

My quick thoughts:

  • Newspaper Sensationalism – the Telegraph came up with a title “Meet the Fitness Tracker Obsessives” which fits with what their audience might expect but doesn’t actually match the tone of the article. Obsessiveness carries an unduly negative tenor that just doesn’t fit with the optimism, excitement and feelings of self-empowerment that characterise the QS and bio-hacking communities that I’m involved in. That said, I’m not terribly surprised that a newspaper might represent it this way as their business model is selling subscriptions which involves finding catchy titles that meet their audiences expectations rather than challenge them.
  • Short Form Content – short-form content has limits in how much research the content goes through and I’ve seen some pretty bad content show up as a result but in this case the journalist — Katrina Megget — showed personal interest and a professionalism that made me feel good about newspaper reporting. It was a pleasure working with her on this and I feel her content was very appropriate and caught the spirit of the QS and bio-hacking movements. The telegraph — of course — cut the article down in size — but I still feel the tonality that Katrina produced came through.
  • Photography – being a amateur/hobbyist photography myself I always look forward to chatting up professional photographers. So when the Telegraph photographer showed up I was happy to see that he was using Canon equipment — because that’s the religion I preach, and more importantly allowed me to dig into the weeds a bit more — and while I was jealous of some of his equipment I came away feeling like my photography investments (lenses primarily) were inline with “accepted professional views”. :)
  • Silly Photographs – I laughed when the photographer saw that I was dressed in jeans and button up shirt … he said something to the effect of “sorry but I think the newspaper would like a newspaper photograph and maybe imagined you to be in workout clothes with all of your devices attached”. We both laughed but the photo above is what came out (after agreeing that all of my devices wouldn’t fit on my body). To my surprise the article actually had a second photo of me in my regular attire too but I did have to hold up my glucose monitor (btw, that reading of 3.4 mmol was my all time low … I cheated a bit).

 

Windows 10

When I switched to OSX 5 or 6 years ago I was surprised by how quickly I made the change. OSX wasn’t exclusively better in every regard but it just felt right whereas Windows felt old and clunky. In the intervening years I have had to work in Windows occationally and each time I’m left with the impression that this is an OS that was left behind. I couldn’t wait to get back to OS X.

About 18 months ago I decided to upgrade an old laptop to Windows 8 just to have a look. I did kind of like the idea of “apps” for the desktop which resembled the eco-system we now expect from more mobile devices but very quickly I found the new OS to be confusing and ineffective. That laptop now runs Ubuntu.

Yesterday I decided, in a moment of irrational exuberance, to upgrade my Windows 7 virtual machines to Windows 10. The installation took a while to get right but it wasn’t painful and when I finally got the new OS unpacked I was very impressed. Wow. It is a nice looking and well thought out OS. I suspect that this will stem the tide of defectors leaving Windows for OS X (a trend which I will anecdotally say has been strong for several years now). Gone is the dual nature of Windows 8’s “metro” and “traditional” desktops. The apps ecosystem is immediately filled with interesting offers. And most importantly it feels like an efficient place to get work done while delighting its user with a visually attractive environment to do it in. Yes it’s still a little square in places that OSX is “rounded” but really I don’t think it is at all a second class citizen anymore.

For developers the fact that OSX sits on top of a Unix kernal is a big plus. That’s something Windows will never have (although with container tech like Docker maybe this isn’t such a big hindrance anymore?). For designers there is a long history of hating windows that won’t disappear overnight. But for the rest of the population I suspect there will be a contentment maybe even excitement about Windows that hasn’t been around for many, many years.

The Structure of Capital and Innovation

I have long felt that an important trend in how the world organises around its most pressing problems/opportunities comes down to the structures and concentration of capital flows. More specifically I have been in the camp that feels that the 21st century will be much more characterized by decentralised control, innovation, and capital concentration than the 20th century. The idea being — in part — that empowered decentralised structures will prove more apt at identifying and navigating a more fine grained set of opportunties and probably with little doubt also be more able to separate from the status quo more effectively because of their lower investment in it.

Arguably two leading examples of this might be healthcare and energy markets. In the 20th century both were felt to need central control and were dominated by a small set of highly capitalised entities which not only controlled production, services, but also innovation. While we can certainly look at the 20th century as a period of significant change and improvements in both fields neither field would be fairly characterized as innovative at the core. In Energy the main achievements were ramping up to a global scale while taking the necessary commercial optimisations to make sure the business machinery was highly profitable. In healthcare it was about building out scale, consistent formality, and successfully capitalising on solving people’s medical problems that could be solved in a consistent fashion from person to person.

Both industries are entering the 21st century with the world holding a lot of expectation on their continued potential. Yet both industries are structurally under attack. In energy, solar and other technologies are openning all sort of non-centralised alternatives. Oil’s price collapse looks more long lived than analysts initially thought which poses as a serious thorn in the side of the status quo and to existing centralised capital structures. Along with this, the accelerating electrification of transportation along with the insatiable demand for consumer electronics means opportunity remains strong but capitalising on this new opportunity is far less of a linear scaling job and therefore needs more nuance and innovation to guide it to successful outcome.

Meanwhile the traditional healthcare industry is suddenly being outmanuvered by nimble startups (both product and service), retailers who know how to market to the end customer better, and technical companies exploiting the latest technology available to healthcare. As the focus moves toward individualised care and a growing involvement of the individual in the health process increases the slower moving and centralised businesses of the 20th century will have their hands full trying to adjust.

My simple prediction is that these two industries will look completely different and be operated by a very different set of actors in 20 years time. That will likely be good for us regardless of who the new successors are but does it prove the directional arguement that capital will become more decentralised? I’m actually less sure of this than I have been in the past. It appears that at the same time that industries like healthcare and energy are forced to be more nimble or to give way to smaller competitor who are, the overall ability for businesses — across industries — to carve out and maintain margins has been under attack. Maybe as a result of this it is my perception that a few super-companies are starting to emerge that are less sensitive to the typical risks of operational cashflow and margin that are the lifeblood of any normally sized business. These companies — typified by giants such as Google, Apple, etc. — are unlike the large corporate entities that they preceeded in that they appear to breed a fairly strong ability to innovate. Capital and agility? That’s a strong combination and if indeed the next 20 years continues to change at a breakneck speed with lowering margins this could prove a toxic combination for the traditionally small innovator.

Well it’s late so that’s enough speculating for one night. If you have any thoughts on these matters I’d love to hear your thoughts.

21st Century Challenges to Human Labour

In the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s we started to see machines take over human labour. In these times we started to realise and then expect that machines could play a commercially efficient role in (at least) manufactoring. While it had real impacts on human labour, the impacts were muted because of the capital needed for this effect to employed, the distraction of low cost geographic markets (as a human face to job displaced), and the relatively high rate of job creation that were not only new but better jobs.

Labourers in 90’s and millenials experienced a continuation of the trend but somewhere in this period a different environment started to emerge to those who were paying close attention. The linkage between revenue, profits, and human labour started to weaken. IT was still strong, jobs in the “new economy” were distractingly good signals and yet while the new entreprenuers continued to dream of global enterprises and excessive wealth they no longer associated this with a need for human labour. In fact the goal within the startup community has shifted from from “outsourcing” to cheap labour markets to avoiding labour altogether with automation and open-source platforms that reduce capital startup costs.

This is a mindset shift that hasn’t yet made its impact on society but from my vantage point the following “macro states” are without doubt a part of our collective future. I reserve the right to avoid timeframes for now and only predict course:

Blue and White Collar Job Displacement

The main message is this … artificial intelligence will decimate white collar employment as we know it, and robotics will create a much bigger reduction in blue collar labour than centralised mechanisation did in the past. Both white and blue collar job markets will be altered dramatically. I’m not talking about the much talked about “singularity” when machines build machines but a more near term future where we still have a cognative role to play but the opportunities for humanity to “add value” will be changed faster than at any part of recorded history.

I do not look forward to this future but rather anticipate it. I try to keep my glass as close to half-full as possible and always with an eye toward allowing change to take it’s course (it will anyway) while directin it to the betterment of mankind. My hope, is that this great change offers opportunities but right now the threats are more visible.

Despite my ruminations of doom … I remain, faithfully yours, a technology advocate and a witness to the birth of modern machines.