Archives for category: Emerging Technology

A quick link to an article in The Economist on a topic that we’ve explored many times for different clients, starting back in 2007 for the Shell Technology Futures programme.

The factory of the future will focus on mass customisation—and may look more like those weavers’ cottages than Ford’s assembly line.

via Manufacturing: The third industrial revolution | The Economist.

Over the weekend ABC Australia played a programme about the rise (or otherwise) of cashless society.  It contained an interview with me about my experience of technologies, and specifically about my experience at egg (the UK branchless bank) in the early 2000s.  Here’s the blurb (and a link at the bottom)

We hear a lot about the cashless society and the death of the local bank branch—as commerce becomes increasingly digital. But how close are we to a completely cashless environment? Is it still possible to live a whole year without those little pieces of paper or polymer we carry in our pockets? We look at the rate of change when it comes to money’s digital future and whether all of us are heading for a cashless future at the same speed.

via Money, banks and our changing times – Future Tense – ABC Radio National Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

A short snippet from an article in the Economist that links a new hobby of ‘tinkering’ with possible disruption.  This is something that we could easily see a few years back and identified as part of the Shell Technology Futures programme in 2007.  It’s fascinating to see it unfolding:

“The tools of factory production, from electronics assembly to 3D printing, are now available to individuals, in batches as small as a single unit,” writes Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine.

It is easy to laugh at the idea that hobbyists with 3D printers will change the world. But the original industrial revolution grew out of piecework done at home, and look what became of the clunky computers of the 1970s. The maker movement is worth watching.

via Monitor: More than just digital quilting | The Economist.

Quick update that has implications for distributed manufacturing, supply chains and last, but not least, intellectual property:

The Pirate Bay, announced a new, legitimate direction yesterday: It’s going to host physibles, downloadable models for constructing 3D objects.

 The Pirate Bay’s move into physibles breaks new ground, since 3D printing is territory copyright lawyers have barely begun to fathom.

A “physible” is a digital plan for an object that can either be designed on a computer or uploaded with a 3D scanner. Those plans can be downloaded and used to assemble real, tangible objects using a 3D printer. Printers are getting more affordable, but they’re still limited by the kinds of materials they can use. But that just means it’s the dawn of this technology, and The Pirate Bay is getting in early. “We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare [parts] for your vehicles,” TPB writes on its blog. “You will download your sneakers within 20 years.”

via Forget MP3s: Soon You’ll Download Your Sneakers From The Pirate Bay.



File this under “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed.”

Using the viewfinders of their smartphones, gamers can view paranormal activity layered over their surrounding environment and join a massive multi-player game that requires completing location-based missions and casting spells on real-world locations. Missions are generated in any real world location, asking players to complete challenges in order advance the story line, gain new spells, and earn status points. The game can be played anywhere in the world, enabling multiple players to compete and collaborate in the global battle between good and evil.

Read more about this fascinating combination of technologies in an interview with the developers at PSFK here: Game Creates Worldwide Zombie Hunt Using Augmented Reality.

The wonderful London gaming studio Six to Start is working on a project that has been funded by Kickstarter. It’s a game called Zombies, Run!, and is an augmented audio running game for the iPhone, iPod Touch and Android that challenges users to rebuild civilization after a zombie apocalypse by completing location-specific tasks while running in the real world.

Users cue the app and don headphones to collect medicine, ammo, batteries, and spare parts which can be used to build up and expand their base — all while getting orders, clues, and a story through their headphones. Missions last around 20-30 minutes and can be played in any city. The platform additionally records the distance, time, pace, and calories burned during all runs.

This is a wonderful mix of many interesting trends: crowdsourced funding, augmented reality, and mobile computing combining to create a game with real world goals.

via Augmented Audio Game Spurs Fitness By Immersing Runners In Zombie Infested World @PSFK.

Every so often I read something which stops me in my tracks.  “A Long-Wave Theory on Today’s Digital Revolution”  on the Booz & Co Strategy and Business site falls squarely into this category.

It’s an interview with historian Elin Whitney-Smith and has a range of insights that are worth sharing.   Whitney Smith has spent 30 years researching and refining her theory of economic progress as a series of information technology disruptions, drawing on studies of subjects as varied as digital media design, medieval gender relationships, and the extinctions at the end of the Pleistocene epoch.

Her theory is that:

There have been six information revolutions in human history. Each represents a major change in the organizational paradigm — a change in how people form themselves into groups.

  • The first was among hunter–gatherers just before the invention of agriculture;
  • second, the rise of counting and written language;
  • third, the fall of Rome;
  • fourth, the invention of the printing press;
  • fifth, the electric information revolution that accompanied trains, telegraph, and telephone; and sixth, the digital information revolution that we are now living through.

In the last three, the economics follow the same pattern: a long boom followed by a crash. Then a difficult and turbulent struggle begins. New ways of organizing emerge and the old ways, supported by established elites, fail.

This has close parallels with the theory of technology innovation as proposed to Ray Kurzweil, and has led him to propose his theory of ‘the singularity’ where humans and machines merge.  Kurzweil’s theory is that each technology wave – from the discovery of fire –  has happened successively faster.  Whitney-Smith makes a similar observation:

Throughout history, the time frame has gotten shorter. Among hunter–gatherers, it took thousands of years to make the transition to agriculture. From the fall of Rome to the press was almost 1,000 years. The printing press revolution took 220 years. The electric revolution [trains, telegraph, and telephone] took 110 years, and, as I count it, the digital revolution started about 50 years ago. So, in recent information revolutions, there is a kind of rule of halves.

According to Whitney-Smith this has wide ranging implications, including changes for organizations:

We’re just starting to see the organizational innovation of the second phase emerge. These new companies take the Internet for granted. They are designed by a generation that had access to computers from childhood. Businesses that are less bound by old forms of hierarchical authority, such as Facebook (where any engineer can modify any part of Facebook’s code base), are thriving. So are companies with massive line worker input such as the “open management”

…companies that use these new ways of organizing will out-compete the old. If the rule of halves still applies, we would expect this new information order to manifest itself by sometime around 2012.

This is supported by evidence that companies are already embracing a ‘co-creation’ framework rather than a top down approach.  For example I’m working with a number of forward-thinking clients on the deployment of Spigit  – an online idea management tool which empowers everyone in an organization (especially front-line workers).

Whitney-Smith’s theory also has implications on a global scale:

In the short run, it’s better to be a member of the elite in China than a college student elsewhere with free information access. But bottom-up innovation will always be more successful in the long run. Therefore, if China continues its closed information policy, its success won’t last because regular people won’t be able to innovate.

Last but not least, the theory weighs in on the importance of moving away from the core to look for changes at the periphery and the edges:

“Lasting innovation in an information revolution doesn’t come from the elite, or from people who already have access to wealth and authority. It comes from the edges…”

I’ve just got back from a weekend of cognitive overload at Science Foo Camp at the Googleplex.  Given that there’s just so much to take in, here’s a list of three interesting links that are worth exploring more:

  • Victimless Leather – a small coat growing from living human and mouse stem cells
  • Bjorks new album called Biophilia, and the interactive apps that redefine what music is
  • Learning about the ‘small spacecraft’ initiative at NASA under Will Marshall.  The plan is to use Andriod smartphones to power small, inexpensive satellites  that run on Open Source software. Below is a photo of the finished satellite.  Note that the metal tape measure is the aerial and there is no shielding on the device.  The first launch is later in the year, but the beer bottle shown in the photo will not be on the rocket.

Worth a look, if only to remind yourselves that it doesn’t take experts to have an accurate view on where things can go in the future:

The Latitude research organization believes children can contribute to scientific advancement through their unbounded imagination. The Children’s Future Requests For Computers and the Internet asked children to draw what they wished computers could do in the future. Some of the predictions, such as Google image search, would come true on the day the study was announced. Many others are on their way. Even without the general knowledge of what scientists are working on, the surveyed children show remarkable (and adorable) foresight.

Children Adorably, Accurately Predict The Future Of Computing | Slideshows.

Echoing some of the trends that we’re seeing emerge from Future Agenda, Dr Moody holds that the global financial crisis of heralded the start of a sixth major wave of innovation — that of resource efficiency. You can take a look at his book called  The Sixth Wave, or scan this Wired article for a precis of his four main points:

  1. Waste is an opportunity
  2. Sell the service, not the product
  3. Bits are global, atoms are local
  4. If in doubt, look to nature

Recommended reading.

via Resource Efficiency: The Sixth Wave of Innovation | Epicenter |