Tag Archives: future

Book review: Future Minds

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Just reading Future Minds by Richard Watson was a story in itself!

I started reading the book as soon as it was released, because after I read Watson’s first book, I’ve been thinking about his trends of the future ever since, and regularly comment on his blog. About one and a half chapters from the end though, I lost the book on the tube one night (after a few “sherbets” I should add), never to be seen again. I emailed Watson, asked for a second copy and it arrived. Thank you Richard. I waited until I’d finished reading “What Would Google Do?” before finishing off Future Minds.

By Watson’s own admission, Future Minds started off as a different book to it’s current title. Watson wanted to write a book on the best places to ‘think’. What’s the most appropriate architectural layout of a building? What works and doesn’t work? Is a messy desk more productive than a tidy one? Thankfully my the messy one wins over the tidy one (e.g. my next door neighbour at work!).

Watson has an easy reading style. When I received the second copy of the book, I finished the last chapter and a half in one tube journey into work. And I’m not a fast reader at all.

What I appreciate about Watson’s research is that it forces the reader to take a step back from normal life and look at it from a macro view. You want a more personal communication style? Then write a letter rather than a short email. You want a child to learn about something? Then let them read a paper encyclopaedia rather than perform a Google search. While you’re reading the book, real life experiences will occur that confirm Watson’s narrative. As with the first book, you find yourself like a nodding dog whilst reading it.

Watson goes into the process of creative thinking. Creative thinking will (according to Watson) become vital because machines and efficiency drives (Lidl need fewer shelf stackers because they simply put the pallet on show in the supermarket) will be able to perform a high percentage of all the tasks we currently perform. The only thing machines are less likely to be able to do in the medium term is creativity.

Whilst his attempt at creative thinking is good (we don’t get our best creative thinking at work or in front of a computer, so take a long lunch break with the rest of your team and have a glass of wine), the best book I’ve read on creative thinking is from What If? and I’ve nothing else seems to come close.

One of Watson’s recommendations is that for a day each week, you should turn all devices off, and your thoughts will naturally start to file themselves together, and you’ll be able to think much clearer. When I met Watson, I said that this seemed very similar to the monotheistic faiths that all describe a Sabbath as that day of rest. Watson actually goes a step further and said that one day a year, try to do absolutely nothing – again most monotheistic religions have at least one day a year of fasting and all work is forbidden – in order to forget about our usual activities, and be able to concentrate (when was the last time you did that for 10 hours straight?).

I met Watson at the RSA where he gave a talk on the book (a long highlights version is on YouTube). His thoughts clearly polarised the audience. The first question from the audience was a woman who said that last week she opened the front door and saw some black clouds above. She went back inside to look up the weather report on her computer, and when it said “rain”, the penny dropped and she realised her reliance on technology had taken over her common sense. Other people simply think he is anti-technology however I think he’s trying to call out “Use it in moderation!” In the last 10 to 15 years the general population has jumped head first into social networking, Googling and texting. He’s not saying any of those three are necessarily bad, he’s just warning that they don’t replace face to face friendships, encyclopaedias and conversations respectively. 

In summary I found the book as thought provoking as the first one. It’s useful to work inside IT/digital media and have someone talk about technology use in moderation, and to remind me that my creative thinking doesn’t occur in the office or in front of a PC – like most people, it’s upstairs in the shower. Now that’s a thought to leave you with.

 

My view of Wikileaks

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I’ve been asked a number of times this week about my view of the huge amount of publicity of the Wikileaks stories. I have a number of different views on this, so here they are, from a pro stance, to negative:

Pros:

  1. It’s nice to see some behind the scenes communications rather than the public facing toned-down-to-suit-my-allies media sound bites that we’re usually fed. I’m specifically referring to the Arabic countries asking the US (read: “indirectly Israel”) to help solve ‘the Iranian issue’. The Arabic countries can’t do this in front of camera, so it’s nice to see that behind the media façade, they’re actually thinking sensibly.
  2. Many of the articles on the site seem to be more embarrassing than serious. I’m sure that some of the descriptions of key politician’s personalities are no worse than those same politicians hear from comedians or the press. One would hope that the politician’s have thick enough skin not to be affected.
  3. David Cameron wants an open government. Well Prime Minister, like you probably warn your children to “be careful what you wish for”, Wikileaks is what you wished for. Every commercial brand who has ventured into social media has wanted to be seen open and transparent, and then tightly clenched their buttocks when someone on a social platform says something negative. The really open, transparent and consumer facing brands then use the platform and customer comments to respond and demonstrate customer service. OK, I’ve ventured off topic so returning to the main point – don’t try anything half hearted on the Internet, because the Internet population will make sure you go the whole way. The Open Government initiative is an excellent start, but people want the fluffy bits in between the publicly available stats.
  4. If you don’t want to be quoted saying something, don’t say it. Why were some of the embarrassing emails ever written? Most people wouldn’t write an email at work describing their boss in any level of negative detail, for fear of it ever ending up in HR or their boss’s Inbox. Or they might not say anything negative because they are trying to be morally correct about their views (which is why we all prefer people who are positive and aren’t two faced about other people). Granted I understand that not all the leaks are like this (such as minutes of meetings), although most of the newspaper’s quotes related to descriptions of individuals that should never have been said in the first place.

Negatives:

  1. After reading a few of the newspaper articles, which seemed to hold up Julian Assange (the founder of Wikileaks) as some sort of superhero (including the Evening Standard’s “if in doubt, a journalist should always publish first and question later“, I didn’t realise until today that Assange is a ‘wanted man’, with every country in Interpol looking for him. I think Mr Assange should be attacked in the press, because of the next point…
  2. Due to the simplicity of the site, it’s just too easy for a copycat Wikileaks to appear. I’m sure there are already a few hundred. Unless the press make the practice of Wikileaks ‘socially’ unacceptable, Pandora’s box will remain open.
  3. My final worry is about how this might will extend into the corporate world. A couple of years ago a website was setup where upset, anonymous employees could publicise internal memos/emails within companies. It was mainly used for companies announcing redundancies, hence it was called ‘FuckedCompany.com’. The site has since been shut down. At the time it was very similar to Wikileaks. I’m not sure how much publicity the site generated, however you can imagine that with the level of publicity of Wikileaks, it would hit share prices very hard. It’s a real worry that these sites may return because share prices rely on secrecy, hence ‘Chinese Walls’ exist within investment banking (a key role of the FSA) and the public companies.

Other comments:

  1. Tongue in cheek – I did joke with a a friend yesterday that the government and large corporations who spend hundreds of thousands of pounds a year trying to integrate their electronic documents together to make them easy to navigate, are probably scratching their heads at Wikileaks from a technical perspective! Mr Assange has received documents in all formats, from CDs to whatever else, and organised them in one site.
  2. How is Wikileaks funded? The site has gathered a lot of publicity, which will have sent a huge amount of traffic. Bandwidth needs to be paid for, and the cheaper hosting providers limit the amount of bandwidth for a website. I just can’t believe that many people are donating money to the site, and the only advertising on the site is to it’s own donation page.
  3. To demonstrate how far behind the curve the authorities are, if you go to the Interpol page for Assange, it says a picture is unavailable. Yet Google has about 2.9 million of him.

My overall view of Wikileaks is that it’s illegal and should be shut down. Publicising what everyone else can be tried for treason for is illegal. Assange needs to be made to account for these potentially damaging secrets and politically unstabling releases. Governments also need to behave more, and watch what is said rather than worry if it’s leaked. I think Assange will be caught, and governments won’t change, for the time being.

Google the answer engine, not ‘just’ the search engine

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I watched my nine year old son doing some homework this week on the computer and noticed for the first time that Google didn’t just point him in the right direction to answer a question, it actually provided the answer.

He didn’t think anything of it. He thinks that Google is there to provide answers, and is an absolutely reliable source of those answers. He doesn’t question the validity of the source any more than I would have questioned Encyclopaedia Britannica when I was his age. I found that it was a further leap for Google-kind than even, two years ago.

The question was “Who watched the ancient olympics?”

He actually typed in “who watch the ancient olympics?” which actually brought the answer closer to the top of the results than the grammatically correct question. That’s a separate issue I’ll have to deal with and it was difficult to ascertain whether he typed in the incorrect grammar to obtain the best results rather than a genuine mistake.

Education is changing at an amazingly quick rate. My son’s [state funded, primary] school has an interactive projector in every classroom, and is aiming that within two years will have a laptop per child.

Children are being taught to use Google to search for answers.

In Richard Watson‘s book, Future Minds, he describes how it took less than a generation to go from reading long form (e.g. a paper article on Ancient Olympics) to consuming bite sized snippets on a screen. I don’t have a major problem with this leap, except for the fact that we need to understand and accept that general knowledge will deteriorate because children will only know exactly what they’ve searched for, rather than anything broader.

Reading the paper article, or even one of the search results’ full articles would have taught my son that the games used to be one day long, then five days long, the different events, and even that in boxing, the boxers would wear hard leather straps with metal over their knuckles – ouch.

Image courtesy of Arkntina

A cheap answer to the impending UK cyber attacks

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The news over the last week has been the biggest threat to the UK is cyber attacks on our power plants, transport infrastructure and water plants.

A simple solution – just disconnect them from the Internet. Anyway, why are they connected to the Internet in the first place?

The future: Sidecars, Commodores, Camping and Scalextric

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On Wednesday, Commodore USA announced that they will be re-producing the Commodore C64. Essentially, Commodore USA has bought the rights to re-produce Commodore computers from the 1980s. Except the new Commodore’s have more processing power than the laptop I’m using to write this article (and my laptop is extremely powerful).

It’s interesting that as technology advances, we long for retro items. Don’t confuse this with everyone looking at ‘the old days’ with rose tinted glasses.

In a car park today I found the motorcycle and sidecar shown above. Two hours earlier my kids had been helping wash my 2009 motorcycle. It has huge amounts of technology such asride-by-wire throttle. Yet the kids were so interested in this 40 year old bike with a kick start.

Whilst the kids love to sit in front of the computer or our flatscreen TV at home – they love camping under canvas even more – to the point that when we were on holiday earlier this month we went camping (see the tepee image above). No electricity or laptop for a few days.

Not all retro things seem to go down well in our house. Our Scalextric only seems to come out a handful of times each year, which is a shame because 25 years ago I remember playing Scalextric after getting bored on my C64.

 

NHS Direct

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I was disappointed to hear that the government have decided to shut down NHS Direct for a number of reasons.

On a personal note, as a family we have used the service many times. With four young kids we have all sorts of germs and knocks each month, and we’ve always received a good service from NHS Direct.

As a concept I think the service is spot on. When we were on holiday last week, one of us felt a bit under the weather. The local hospital was glad to see tourists, for a few hundred pounds on the first consultation. We had travel insurance, but to lay out the money and the aggravation of going to A&E on hospital just didn’t appear. Whilst looking through the travel insurance documentation I noticed a phone number to speak to some private nurses, free of charge for the policy. After a quick call they gave a satisfactory opinion, some confident reassurance and suggested remedy. We took their advice and 24 hours later the problem had gone, with no inconvenience of having to claim back any expenses later when we returned from holiday.

If you try to imagine how healthcare will operate (no pun intended) in say, 25 years, I think we’ll have a lot more remote healthcare. We will sit at home and have a video call with a doctor based anywhere in the World. As for how the doctor performs his tests (temperature, blood pressure and so on) – these devices are already available with USB connectivity (e.g. this BP monitor or this thermometer patent request), to send your results through immediately.

Maybe NHS Direct is ahead of it’s time. When I speak to Americans, they are totally envious of our NHS, including NHS Direct. The thought of phoning a service that provides medical assurance (I would imagine this covers half the calls – and keeps the people who just want reassurance out of A&E) and advice – all without providing a credit card, is alien to most countries around the World.

I for one, will be sad to see it go.

Reading the Future

If I’ve bumped into you during the last 3 or 4 weeks, I’ve probably mentioned the book I’ve been reading – Future Files by Richard Watson.

My introduction to the book began in the reception of a creative agency in central London. I picked up the book from the coffee table and thought the front and back covers described a shallow author who claimed to be a ‘futurologist’.

“What a great idea – write a factual book that no one can argue with (or at least, for the next 50 years)”, I mocked. “Worse still, he works for some sort of futurology consultancy”.

I shared my views of the book to a colleague, and opened it half way. Hmmm, it seemed quite interesting.

Knowing that I had a trip to the New York the next week, I got back to the office and bought a copy from Amazon.

Since the moment it arrived, not only did I have difficulty putting it down, I had difficulty not discussing a number of the points raised in the book with pretty much anyone I met.

The opening chapter pretty much agreed with my original assessment – here was a guy who was interested in articles that described future trends, and decided to make a reasonably light hearted living from it.

The difference between this book and other futurology books and documentaries is that it only brushes on technology. It’s not written by a technologist. This means that Watson often refers to social impact and psychological effects of future events.

For instance, it’s hard to deny that we’re all obsessed with covering our work surfaces, home surfaces, and even our hands, with antibacterial spray. However it’s the generation before us, who never used the spray that are living the longest, and more children are being born with allergies. I’ve digressed. Watson predicts that in the future we all have┬ádefibrillators in the home, blood test machines that send the digital samples via the Internet to a doctor the other side of the World (which we’ll use daily), and so on… we will become more and more paranoid in the future.

How can we tell if Watson is right or not – well we can’t. However he did predict the global recession triggered by banks and debt (he wrote the book in 2007), and quite honestly, I don’t care if his predictions are true or not… the point is that trends are going in a direction and he’s trying to see how they are linked together and what the sum of all the parts will be like. For instance I disagree with him about the availability of ‘free’ – my personal opinion is that we are at a peak in terms of free products and content – and our children won’t believe what we have access to in 2010, for no cost.

Watson has produced a map of all the trends that he keeps a tabs of. The maps are available here:
http://www.nowandnext.com/?action=misc&subaction=trend_maps

In a nutshell, if you want to read a book that predicts flying cars, interplanetary transport, Warp speed motorbikes or Internet links implanted in our brains, don’t buy this book. If you want a glimpse into the kinds of things that may affect our children and their children in the future, it’s definitely worth a read.

My apologies to Richard Watson for the initial mocking – it just proves you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.