What Were They Thinking?

I learn of interesting new technologies and products every day.  Because a successful business reflects more than the value of its products, most of these won’t be big hits even if they are really good ideas – and many are really interesting technologies.

But then there are others which remind me that not every technology advance makes sense.  Some indeed raise that old question – what were they thinking?  I’m sure I’m going to get complaints about pointing out some of these items, so I’ll apologize ahead of time that maybe I’m just missing the genius of these ideas 🙂

The government of the United Arab Emirates has decided to adapt one of the ideas proposed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.  See the Reuters story at http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/10/us-emirates-drones-idUSBREA1906E20140210  The UAE too would use a very modern technology – unmanned drones.  But instead of delivering products, they would deliver paperwork to their citizens.  The technology also uses sophisticated fingerprint and facial recognition.  Perhaps they haven’t heard of a different technology that eliminates the need for the paperwork to begin with – ah, the Internet?

Then there’s this concept that is the merger of the much heralded Internet of Things and wearable clothing – the bra that cannot be unhooked without “true love”.   While the Japanese clothing company responsible for this idea only created it as a celebration of their anniversary (https://www.ravijour.com/anniversary/moodup) you can see they do take it seriously in this video at http://youtu.be/B8Wd831gUt4  .  I’m not sure anyone else would trust or try to use this particular application of the latest tech.

There have been a few recent experiments in making music in non-traditional ways.  (I’ll have more on that in a future blog post.)  But one of those experiments that belongs here perhaps is Lickestra.  As you can see at http://www.emiliebaltz.com/2014/01/lickestra/ , people generate musical sounds by licking ice cream.  Obviously this is not for concert length pieces.

And so it goes on the far edges of the technology world … more to come, I’m sure.


The Telephone’s History & The Internet’s Future?

In my presentations, I have pointed out that the Internet is still very much in its early stages.  There are tremendous gaps in the availability of high speed, low latency Internet everywhere.  It will only be at some point in the future that we could truly expect to have a visual conversation with almost anyone, almost anywhere on the globe. 

Beyond expanding connectivity, there are other factors standing in the way of ubiquitous high quality visual communications.  First, the software – the interface that users have to deal with – is quite awkward.  Second, the mindset or culture of users seems not to have changed yet to readily accommodate visual conversations over the Internet everywhere.

Indeed, I use a rough parallel that we are today with the Internet about where we were with the telephone at the end of the 1920s.  That was more than fifty years after the telephone had been invented.  Of course, we’re not even fifty years into the life of the Internet.

While there were many articles written at the time about the impact of telephones on society, the economy and life, even in the 1920s (or 30s or 40s or 50s …) telephone usage was not taken for granted.  Among other things, long distance calling was not widely considered to be something most people would do.  Mobile telephony wasn’t anywhere close to existence.

The chart below shows the pattern of historical adoption of telephones in the US from 1876 until 1981. 


From the perspective of 1981, never mind 2014, the first fifty years of telephony were the early age. 

And since 1981?  We’ve seen mobile phones overtake land lines in worldwide usage and become much more than devices for just talking to people.

So imagine what the next 100 years of Internet development will bring.


Mapping The Future: Technology, People & Rural Prosperity

This Tuesday, Queen’s University of Kingston, Ontario held its last annual conference on Rural Prosperity in Canada.  As Senior Fellow leading the Rural Imperative for the Intelligent Community Forum, I was asked to give the opening, keynote speech. 

My overall theme was that the countryside has a new opportunity to flourish, considering developments in technology and broadband, as well as the major post-industrial trends in North America, Europe, Japan and elsewhere.  I also emphasized that broadband, while a necessary condition for community development, is not sufficient and must be integrated with other elements that build quality of life.

I won’t go into more detail here, since my presentation will be posted on their website.  Instead I’ll report on some of the items presented by others that caught my attention.

1. Research on the economic impact of broadband

The researchers at the Monieson Centre of the university’s Business School presented the results of their analysis of the impact of broadband on employment and wages.  They found that broadband deployment, from 1997-2011, had only a minor positive impact on employment in urban areas, but had a significantly more positive impact in rural areas.  However, broadband was associated with wage increases in both rural and urban regions.

Moreover, they found there was no impact on employment at firms producing physical goods, but a major positive impact on employment and wages for services (although not all services). 

Although we didn’t coordinate, it was nice to see results that tracked with the broad trends I’ve been highlighting for the last few years.  In a way, my presentation explained the research results.

2. Rural broadband network in eastern Ontario

The association of the key leaders of rural counties in eastern Ontario (called the Eastern Ontario Wardens Caucus), with others, have spearheaded a project called EORN that is wrapping up its initial deployment this year.  The Eastern Ontario Regional Network is building out rural areas with broadband that provides its 500,000 residents with 10 megabit connections – much more than is common even among most urban users of the Internet in North America.  EORN officials think it is the most ambitious project of its kind in the Americas or possibly the world.  They are certain it is the “most sustainable rural network” in the world.

Later in the day, Bo Beaulieu of Purdue University’s Center for Regional Development spoke about the necessity and value of regional cooperation among rural counties.  My observation was that, with broadband and regional cooperation, these areas can present themselves as the virtual equivalent of a city and be able to compete economically in many ways not otherwise possible.

3. Creative uses of the countryside

There were various presentations on how the new countryside is more than just farming.  One example was a “multi-functional” farm – yes, it grew food for sale, but also was an environmental education center, alternative energy demonstration site, publishing office, and a bed-and-breakfast set up by a “refugee” from Toronto. 

Since, especially in this area of Canada, much of that nation’s history is better preserved in the countryside than in cities, historical and cultural resources have been used as a basis for economic development.  See, for example, History Lives Here which has a variety of products, from videos and guided tours to History labelled wines from local wineries.

All in all, a very interesting day that provided strong evidence of the energy and innovation which is creating the future of rural areas in Canada and the rest of the world.


Internet Everywhere Where It Isn’t Yet?

Here are some news items that caught my eye as part of the ever expanding Internet and associated technologies – to places where people don’t have it yet, to personal things near you and even into your head.

Facebook’s Connectivity Lab aims to spread Internet access via satellites, drones and lasers : Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, a prime backer of Internet.org, aims to connect the several billion unconnected people in the world, using a variety of technologies.  With all the emphasis on fiber optics for broadband over the last few years, this is a useful contribution to the discussion because it points out that there is more than one way to provide Internet connectivity.  And, as he said: “connecting the whole world will require inventing new technology too.”  There’s video with Yael Maguire explaining the Connectivity Lab at http://thenextweb.com/facebook/2014/03/27/facebooks-connectivity-lab-looking-drones-satellites-lasers-provide-internet-access/.  I hope Internet.org succeeds in its goals.

MLBAM completes initial iBeacon installations – Petco Park, Dodger Stadium first of 20 ballparks to receive cutting-edge technology :  Major League Baseball is deploying iBeacon proximity sensors in ball parks to personal the experience in various ways.  Apple’s iBeacon has so far mostly been a retail store phenomenon.  It will be interesting to see how much it will be used in sports venues and other large public venues.

OCHO introduces world’s first cloud-connected smart key tray : This is another example of proximity devices that consumers will be offered.  OCHO is now raising funds on Kickstarter, but their goal is clear.  As they say “OCHO technology connects common items people rely on every day, such as keys, phones and wallets, to notifications that help organize time and their daily routines”.

Electric “thinking cap” controls learning speed : Getting even closer to your body, there’s Vanderbilt University’s announcement about two of their psychology researchers who have developed a “thinking cap”.  This device helps a person learn better by the application of electric current to the brain.

3D-printed skull implanted in patient : Not quite the Internet inside your head (yet!), but certainly an intrusion of technology.  A surgeon at University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, has replaced the complete skull of a young woman with a 3D-printed skull, as pictured here.