A reblog from Mark Hurst, original can be found here. Definitely worth a read
Google Glass might change your life, but not in the way you think. There’s something else Google Glass makes possible that no one – no one – has talked about yet, and so today I’m writing this blog post to describe it.
To read the raving accounts of tech journalists who Google commissioned for demos, you’d think Glass was something between a jetpack and a magic wand: something so cool, so sleek, so irresistible that it must inevitably replace that fading, pitifully out-of-date device called the smartphone.
Sergey Brin himself said as much yesterday, observing that it is “emasculating” to use a smartphone, “rubbing this featureless piece of glass.” His solution to that piece of glass, of course, is called Glass. And his solution to that emasculation is – well, as VentureBeat put it, “Sergey Brin calls smartphones ‘emasculating’ – but dorky Google Glass [is] A-OK.”
Like every other shiny innovation these days, Google Glass will live or die solely on the experience it creates for people. The immediate, most visible problem in the Glass experience is how dorky the user looks while wearing it. No one wants to be the only person in the bar dressed like a cyborg from a 1992 virtual-realitymovie. It’s embarrassing. Early adopters will abandon Google Glass if they don’t sense the social approval they seek while wearing it.
Google seems to have calculated this already and recently announced a partnership with Warby Parker, known for its designer glasses favored by the all-important younger demographic. (My own proposal, posted the day before, jokingly suggested that Google look into monocles.)
Except for the awkward physical design, the experience of using Google Glass has won high praise from reviewers. Seeing your bitstreams floating in the air in front of you, it would seem, is an ecstatic experience. Weather! Directions! Social network requests! Email overload! All floating in front of you, never out of your sight! For people who delight in a deluge of digital distractions, this is much more exciting than a smartphone, which forces you back to the boring offline world, every so often, when you put the phone away. Glass promises never to do that. In fact, in a feat of considerable chutzpah, Google is attempting to pitch Glass as an antidote to distraction, since users don’t have to look down at a phone. Right, because now the distractions are all conveniently placed directly into your eyeball! (For a more accurate exploration of Glass-enabled distraction, see this darkly comic parody video. Even edgier is this parody – warning, some spicy language.)
As if all that wasn’t enough, Google Glass comes with yet another, even more important feature: lifebits, the ability to record video of the people, places, and events around you, at all times. Veteran readers will remember that I predicted this six years ago in my book Bit Literacy. From Chapter 13:
The life bitstream will raise new and important issues. Should it be socially acceptable, for example, to record a private conversation with a friend? How will anyone be sure they’re not being recorded, in public or private? … Corporations, police, even friends with ‘life recorders’ will capture the actions and utterances of everyone in sight, whether they like it or not.
Today, finally, that future has arrived: a major company offering the ability to record your life, store it, and share it – all with a simple voice command.
And this is where our story takes a turn, toward a ramification that dwarfs every other issue raised so far on Google Glass. Yes, the glasses look dorky – Google will fix that. And sure, Glass forces users to be permanently plugged-in to Google’s digital world – that’s hardly a concern for the company or, for that matter, most users out there. No. The real issue raised by Google Glass, which will either cause the project to fail or create certain outcomes you may not want (which I’ll describe), has to do with the lifebits. Once again, it’s an issue of experience.
The Google Glass feature that (almost) no one is talking about is the experience – not of the user, but of everyone other than the user. A tweet by David Yee introduces it well:
There is a kid wearing Google Glasses at this restaurant which, until just now, used to be my favorite spot.
The key experiential question of Google Glass isn’t what it’s like to wear them, it’s what it’s like to be around someone else who’s wearing them. I’ll give an easy example. Your one-on-one conversation with someone wearing Google Glass is likely to be annoying, because you’ll suspect that you don’t have their undivided attention. And you can’t comfortably ask them to take the glasses off (especially when, inevitably, the device is integrated into prescription lenses). Finally – here’s where the problems really start – you don’t know if they’re taking a video of you.
Now pretend you don’t know a single person who wears Google Glass… and take a walk outside. Anywhere you go in public – any store, any sidewalk, any bus or subway – you’re liable to be recorded: audio and video. Fifty people on the bus might be Glassless, but if a single person wearing Glass gets on, you – and all 49 other passengers – could be recorded. Not just for a temporary throwaway video buffer, like a security camera, but recorded, stored permanently, and shared to the world.
Now, I know the response: “I’m recorded by security cameras all day, it doesn’t bother me, what’s the difference?” Hear me out – I’m not done. What makes Glass so unique is that it’s a Google project. And Google has the capacity to combine Glass with other technologies it owns.
First, take the video feeds from every Google Glass headset, worn by users worldwide. Regardless of whether video is only recorded temporarily, as in the first version of Glass, or always-on, as is certainly possible in future versions, the video all streams into Google’s own cloud of servers. Now add in facial recognition and the identity database that Google is building within Google Plus (with an emphasis on people’s accurate, real-world names): Google’s servers can process video files, at their leisure, to attempt identification on every person appearing in every video. And if Google Plus doesn’t sound like much, note that Mark Zuckerberg has already pledged that Facebook will develop apps for Glass.
Finally, consider the speech-to-text software that Google already employs, both in its servers and on the Glass devices themselves. Any audio in a video could, technically speaking, be converted to text, tagged to the individual who spoke it, and made fully searchable within Google’s search index.
Now our stage is set: not for what will happen, necessarily, but what I just want to point out could technically happen, by combining tools already available within Google.
Let’s return to the bus ride. It’s not a stretch to imagine that you could immediately be identified by that Google Glass user who gets on the bus and turns the camera toward you. Anything you say within earshot could be recorded, associated with the text, and tagged to your online identity. And stored in Google’s search index. Permanently.
I’m still not done.
The really interesting aspect is that all of the indexing, tagging, and storage could happen without the Google Glass user even requesting it. Any video taken by any Google Glass, anywhere, is likely to be stored on Google servers, where any post-processing (facial recognition, speech-to-text, etc.) could happen at the later request of Google, or any other corporate or governmental body, at any point in the future.
Remember when people were kind of creeped out by that car Google drove around to take pictures of your house? Most people got over it, because they got a nice StreetView feature in Google Maps as a result.
Google Glass is like one camera car for each of the thousands, possibly millions, of people who will wear the device – every single day, everywhere they go – on sidewalks, into restaurants, up elevators, around your office, into your home. From now on, starting today, anywhere you go within range of a Google Glass device, everything you do could be recorded and uploaded to Google’s cloud, and stored there for the rest of your life. You won’t know if you’re being recorded or not; and even if you do, you’ll have no way to stop it.
And that, my friends, is the experience that Google Glass creates. That is the experience we should be thinking about. The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience – it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.
Just think: if a million Google Glasses go out into the world and start storing audio and video of the world around them, the scope of Google search suddenly gets much, much bigger, and that search index will include you. Let me paint a picture. Ten years from now, someone, some company, or some organization, takes an interest in you, wants to know if you’ve ever said anything they consider offensive, or threatening, or just includes a mention of a certain word or phrase they find interesting. A single search query within Google’s cloud – whether initiated by a publicly available search, or a federal subpoena, or anything in between – will instantly bring up documentation of every word you’ve ever spoken within earshot of a Google Glass device.
This is the discussion we should have about Google Glass. The tech community, by all rights, should be leading this discussion. Yet most techies today are still chattering about whether they’ll look cool wearing the device.
Oh, and as for that physical design problem. If Google Glass does well enough in its initial launch to survive to subsequent versions, forget Warby Parker. The next company Google will call is Bausch & Lomb. Why wear bulky glasses when the entire device fits into a contact lens? And that, of course, would be the ultimate expression of the Google Glass idea: a digital world that is even more difficult to turn off, once it’s implanted directly into the user’s body. At that point you’ll not even know who might be recording you. There will be no opting out.
The web, fundamentally has changed three things: Firstly it has vastly increased the amount of information available. Secondly it has organised that information. Thirdly it has made it available regardless of time, geography or (almost) cost. The result has been rapid, exponential change in absolutely everything. How?
1) Many-to-Many Model
The web connected people in a particular format that had never been done before, this format resulted in the largest increase in expressive capabilities in history. It is called the ‘many-to-many’ model.
What we had before the web was a series of communication revolutions: the first was the printing press in 1500 (mass media), then came the telegraph and telephone (two way media); then recorded media like photos, sound, movies; then radio and television. All of these technologies fit into one of two categories: either they were good at addressing a group ( i.e print / tv), or they were good at conversation ( i.e telephone). They performed the ‘one-to-many’ or the ‘one-to-one’ pattern.
But then came the web, and it was different. It was capable of the ‘many to many’ pattern, in which consumers are also producers of media, and media can be shared to billions with zero friction. All other media is migrating to the internet, because they are all capable of being replicated within a ‘many-to-many’ system. But not only are all these previously distinct methods of communication migrating to the internet, they are merging together. An off-the-shelf computer/smartphone is also a telephone, book, printing press, radio, broadcaster and tv. Companies like Facebook and Google are merging these communication methods into single platforms.
2) B.G – A.G
Information increases exponentially, but this in itself isn’t useful. You have to organize it. The significance of the search engines was to allow the web to usefully increase in size and complexity, by organising and making available exabytes of data. Roughly between 0 A.G and 10 A.G (After Google) we saw search engines organise an internet that was basically a data storage and retrieval system. Someone put up static information on a server, Google made it possible for you to find that information. In the last few years though, the semantic (rather than syntactic) web has sprung up. The semantic web means building on the common language that has been developed to allow meaning to be understood. Though everyone seems to hate the term, ‘Web 2.0’ usefully describes the attempt to understand the semantics – its about creating contextual data, and using it to understand our intentions when we use technology. This is why the iPhone was such a revolution – not because it had a touch screen , but because it contained a compass, accelerometer, GPS, touch capacitor, proximity sensor, gyroscope and ambient light sensor. All the contextual data being thrown out is what allowed the device to be an order of magnitude smarter – they didn’t call it a smartphone just because it had a faster processor. in the soft tech side IFTTT is basically a script-runner that’s aware of your online context and thanks to that can do lots of stuff for you automatically.
Access to the web is increasing massively: barriers are dropping away – it’s increasingly cheaper (smartphones, netbooks, OLPC, open source OS); increasingly widespread (the world is increasingly connected by fibre, alternative internet infrastructure is growing rapidly, free wifi spots and internet cafés abound); and increasingly cross-generational; computer literacy is growing faster than the demographic – literacy is spreading up to older people.
1) Stuff moves faster.
Its seems like the more information there is, and the better it is shared and consumed, the faster things move. Students are starting degrees that are outdated by the time of graduation, business plans are legacy by the time they are completed, politicians are playing catch-up with grassroot movements.
2) The web has supported western post-war public doctrine like nothing else.
By public doctrine I mean the set of ideas that are accepted by the majority of a society, and the questioning of which causes a backlash. The post-war public doctrine includes ideas like equality, non-discrimination, fairness, democracy, meritocracy and mobility. But most of all it is defined by ‘freedom of choice’. Choice has been the most sacred value of the post-war era. Choice of the political class, who to work for, what to buy, who to listen to, what to do, what to eat, where to sleep, who to sleep with, how to live, who to worship… This is the age of the individual, the age of personal expression, and that process happens through choice.
People can withhold or allocate their money, time, talent and labour in ways they never could; they are mobile, connected and informed – free to migrate to institutions that reflect their values, or abandon the ones that don’t. Blind acceptance of authority has been replaced by rationalism – everything can and should be questioned. Tradition for tradition’s sake has no place in a new set of values based around the preservation of personal time and the cultivation of relationships based on earned trust, not faith.
Just a quick thought:
Capitalism and Democracy are decoupling.
China is emerging as the first model of genuine capitalism run by a non-democratic state.
The strongest argument against China being capitalist used to point out that about 50% of its GDP is Investment which is stimulated artificially through financial repression (50% is not sustainable). But today we see exactly the same kinds of things at home. The developed-capitalist countries’ central banks are printing unlimited amounts of currency (literally in the case of Japan), causing incredible financial repression – negative real yields on German Bunds and Treasuries; massive excess liquidity is being pumped into european banks. The result is a similar misallocation of capital. And then you have all the bank bailouts which are proceeding exactly like China’s investment vehicle shenanigans in the late 90s. hmm.
On the other hand, the democratic countries are becoming less capitalist, and some capitalist countries are becoming less democratic. For example:
- Again, because it is the single most important macro-economic event at the moment: Central bank interference is completely skewing the markets, due to massive injections of cash which forces money out of bonds (low yields), cash (real or anticipated inflation) and into stocks or junk bonds. They are basically preventing bankruptcies big or small by preventing the market from allocating capital.
- In the US the democratic process is hindering capitalism – complete political paralysis over the fiscal cliff is causing huge economic uncertainty. The reason for the paralysis is not genuine ideological difference – the comes down to simple maths – but political parties engaged in PR warfare over who looks like the good guy. it doesn’t matter whether things go to shit as long as you aren’t the one getting blamed.
- In Italy, a decision to play by capitalist rules forced a suspension of democracy in which Monti was brought in without any democratic mandate to lead the country since June 2011.
The connections between capitalism and democracy, so long held to be synonymous, are breaking up.
We have a lot of debt, and it is increasing. At some point this has to stop.
There are three ways of doing this:
1) Increase revenue as proportion of GDP + reduce spending (fiscal austerity).
2) uptick in business cycle, resulting in higher tax receipts and less benefits spending (grow your way out)
3) inflation, which erodes nominal debt.
Traditionally, inflation is a political impossibility, since it punishes savers, anyone working for a salary that isn’t inflation-linked and reduces investment (due to lower price certainty).
However, governments are finally realising that inflation might actually be the least politically painful instrument of debt erosion:
Abe’s incoming government in Japan is taking about unlimited central bank intervention to achieve a 2% inflation target; Bernanke recently announced Fed rates would remain zero-bound until unemployment fell to 6.5%; Nick Carney, the soon-to-be Governor of the Bank of England is being pushed by Osborne to explore a change in the Bank’s mandate – something he will be comfortable with considering the multiple-objective format of the Bank of Canada (on who’s board he currently sits); Mario Draghi pushed through the LTRO this summer and more recently managed to coax Germany into accepting a radical Outright Monetary Transactions scheme under which the ECB can step in to buy unlimited quantities of short term bonds in any country with a distressed debt market ( and this at a time when the ECB balance sheet is already the largest in the world).
By the end of the year, every major central bank in the world will be testing the boundaries of loose monetary policy. All of them have been pushed there by their respective governments. Mid single digit inflation target is the new norm, even if it isn’t yet official.
So far loose money hasn’t caused inflation because velocity has been so low, but as the economies of the US, China and the other EMs start to pick up then it will start to be felt in the price indexes. It is difficult to imagine Europe in a sufficient state of deflation to counter it.
At that point we will have higher inflation and unprecedented government debt – either we can tighten money and reduce the inflation but increase (double? triple?) the cost of servicing debt; or we can let the inflation run a little, erode our debt and keep servicing costs low. The latter is clearly the easier, but more precarious, option. What i dont know is if it the right or wrong one.
A few quick takeaways from Startup Summit 12, which a few of us hosted in Edinburgh on the 14th November:
‘You don’t have to like your team as long as you respect them.’
‘Building a company that you can sell means internalising all the good things about the people within it – so that the company outlives the founders. Its a constant effort, effectively, to make yourself redundant.’
‘Think long and hard before you get out the bedroom, it’ll be harder, tougher and longer than you think to build a company.’
‘Angels want 3-5 year exits, if you don’t want that as a founder then don’t take angel investment.’
‘People don’t work for money, they turn up for money. People work hard because they feel inspired and they love their job. Money has very little to do with it.’
A BIG thank you to all the speakers who came, couldn’t have happened without you!
Other posts about the event:
There’s a shift in the way businesses make and spend money – not just in the tech industries, but across the board - The cost structures for advertising spend, distribution, accounting PR and customer touchpoints are shifting in response to new technology. Budgeting and forecasting become more uncertain – will your product go viral? how much?
There’s an implication here for credit – in the UK there are low interest rates, political pressure and strong small-business demand for loans, yet few of these are offered, even to secure borrowers. The reason is not that banks are particularly malevolent, and yes banks are trying to deleverage, but there is a more secular issue in play – banks no longer understand some of the businesses they analyse for credit worthiness. This is because business models are undergoing radical shifts compared to times past.
The first of these is the phenomenon of ‘because, not with’ which i talked about previously. Basically this is the move towards free distribution + new ways of leveraging the value created by the free distribution.
For example bit.ly offers most of its services for free, but leverages the data created by it’s users by selling it as business intelligence. Similarly newspapers moved online to take advantage of the lower cost of distribution, and put in ads, leveraging the higher readership base that comes with giving your commodity away for free (and the lower cost structures).
More interestingly, Pay With A Tweet allows you to ‘buy’ a digital commodity by spreading the word – you leverage your social network to promote their product, in effect you buy their product in exchange for your advertising services. It’s genius.
Secondly we have the business model mashup.
The mashup experiment on Board of Innovation’s LinkedIn group was very interesting – the mashups that came out of it weren’t particularly inspiring, but the idea behind it is great. it marks an openness of thought, a creativity, applied to something as conservative (traditionally) as the business model.
What happens when you mix SaaS with music – well you get Spotify, and what is Spotify doing? it is shifting the relation between the consumer and the commodity from ownership to access. and that’s a very powerful fracture.
Access, not ownership – how far can this idea be pushed? Well, it has application across two main verticals: digital commodities (zero marginal cost of production), and high-idling-capacity items (cars, lawnmowers, drills). Selling digital commodities that can be effortlessly copied and frictionlessly distributed between peers is not a good long term strategy – so instead you give them everything they ever wanted – all the music in the world – in exchange for control of the access.
What’s the significance? There’s an impact here on consumer-merchant relations – the consumer is dependent on the merchant, and continuously so.
Product (means of access) becomes the commodity as much as the commodity itself.
The merchant continuously mediates the relationship between the consumer and the commodity, placing himself in the middle of the relationship. This has huge implications for how the merchant company needs to be run, where its priorities lie (emphasis on great product, ubiquity of access, instant customer service…)
The list goes on, and will evolve fast, the consumer will continue to be empowered, products will increasingly become cheaper, or free as companies figure out ways of leveraging the value of every aspect of the transaction, rather than just the actual sale.
And all this, incidentally, will have a very interesting deflationary effect at a macro level.
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