The death of an empire

Every year I follow the Davos parade of clowns, mainly enjoying the fact the leaders of the world gather together to solve Devin problems while making the lives of everyone in Davos miserable. This year, one specific thing count my attention – the list of global threats:

– The weather
– Failing to define the legislation to tackle the weather challenges
– Natural disasters
– Mega data hacks
– Cyber attacks
– Man-made disasters
– Immigration without control or legislation
– The crash of the ecological systems
– Water crisis
– Bubbles in the economy

I read this list over and over again yet the only thing I could think of is that my toothbrush is a much more significant threat than any of these. See, I recently traveled to the US and wanted to pick up a new toothbrush. As I travel a lot, I was looking for a mobile, simple to charge toothbrush. I was thrilled when I came across Oral-B connected toothbrush. It had everything. I was electric, I can charge it’s battery using my mobile phone charger, $199, the case of the toothbrush could act as a phone charger, the reviews are great, and it was connected. Wow. I immediately placed an order. I also decided to pre-educate myself and search for some videos on the device. It all sounded simple.

1. Make sure your toothbrush is charged
2. Start the Bluetooth on your phone and connect it to the toothbrush
3. Place the phone holder on the mirror in the bathroom (wait, what?)
4. Give the app permission to access your camera
5. Make sure your face is in the circle of the app
6. Brush

I canceled my order and bought an old fashion manual toothbrush.

In a world when we strive to connect everything, we often forget the purpose of the things we connected and introduce undesired frictions that become the main selling point of the device. I don’t argue with the market value of connected devices, but I do argue that there is a difference between the Internet of things to things of the Internet and that value should be based on use, not on the production.

Digital development is not about doing something new but improving things until a point where it will redefine society, and it’s at that point when the negative of the economy will become irrelevant and will be replaced by a new set of rules that are anchored in the codification of value interactions.

There is an old chart that shows the penetration of new technologies and how long it took the telephone, radio, TV, the Internet, Facebook, and angry birds to rich to 50 million users. It’s not the speed that bothers me, the comparison is not a real one as it’s more a question of infrastructure than anything else. What intrigues me most is that we, and by we, I mean companies and governments don’t have the tools to understand what is angry birds and how it will impact the economy in 35 days.

The challenges we have are not from technology or the speed it’s spreading but from our inability to cope with the changes that technology is imposing on individuals and society and if there is something I learned from history is that whenever we don’t understand something, we fight it. For example – Google has been fined nearly $57 million by French regulators for violating Europe’s strict new data-privacy rules. It’s not that I have a great love for Google and their use of my data but being honest the entire GDPR legislative process, even so like that road to hell, was paved with good intention, it still ends up in hell. Another example – Unhappy Arizona residents slashing Waymo tires, derailing self-driving cars. Maybe that we need to rethink our societal ground and educational infrastructures before we deploy technologies that obviously require a new set of rules?

When elevators were first introduced, they used to have an operator to regulate the speed, to make sure they stop parallel to the floor. To be a companion to the passenger, ensuring their safety and to project trust – after all an elevator was at that time a sophisticated piece to technology and we needed a “human” mechanism to secure the value they can bring. While elevators technology didn’t change (much) throughout the years and as they are confined to a physical space we rarely need humans to help us operate and movement of going up or down. But what about virtual spaces, where things are continually changing fast? Where the learning curve, adaptation and most important, interfaces that enable us to regularly repurpose interactions and outcomes. When the gap between the potential impacted value and the economy is broader them ever, and legislation, frameworks, and infrastructures are so behind that it feels like chasing a virus that is constantly mutating and reiterating it’s synergies with the host – until the host becomes a secondary product of the ecology of existence.

For the past few years, we see a significant shift in human interaction, one the starts define our language, our communication, the exchange of knowledge and our wellbeing; and it all happens outside the set of rule and legislation that ware created to capture and monetize our human capital. Snap, FB, Instagram, and a few other “communication apps” took center stage in designing the definition of values, triggering our instant gratification needs, enabling us to send money, share feelings, shop for goods and services while more traditional tools like emails are left behind.

We have today more original streaming shows on TV then basic cable broadcast shows yet when the CEO of Netflix was asked about Netflix biggest threats it was a bit unexpected when he named Fortnight and not HBO of the new Disney venture for example. One of Netflix biggest jump in usage was during 4 hours downtime of Pornhub and talking about Pornhub, the most significant impact of the US s government shutdown was a massive increase in traffic to adult sites starting with Ponrhub.

The new upcoming forms of “gig” and “share” even so a bit confusing will demand companies and governments to rethink their taxation, pricing, and experiences offering if they want to partake in the future to come.

Side note: The Sharing economy is about the assets. The gig economy is about the occupation – you share physical artifacts, your gig your time. You can’t do two things in your house at the same time while a song can be played multiple time simultaneously in many places. What happens when artifacts become digital? It’s the whole idea behind industry 4.0 – creativity and productivity are not bound to a physical location or physical governance model.

When automation takes center stage in our productivity and efficiency models, and algorithmic intelligence will extend out cognitive functions beyond our bodies, we will need an environment that is capable of catering to all our needs in real-time and multiple locations (at the same time). Look at Amazon prime, Prime now, Uber and Uber eat (and other) they deliver experiences in minutes from the click of an app. The app economy eventually will fade away in favor of automation and predictive intelligence, and that will open a whole new world of values of demand.

Einstein said: “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.” Now we see our physical universe expanding into digital dimensions and while we can’t really “touch digital” it enables us to redefine everything we knew about productivity and efficiency.

The experience of “access-ship” vs. “ownership” will be a turning point for the so far undisrupted physical goods market. While companies like WeWork and Airbnb made significant money in this area, they needed to rely on an old infrastructure – physical, static location to grow their business. Maybe there is a place for a dynamic market model where the assets themselves can be placed in a various location and can be repurposed to address the growing demand for personal experiences.

From autonomous food carts that can open new possibilities for consumption on demand to the delivery of products directly into one’s fridge. From new interfaces that rely on body language rather than touch to the ability of technology not only to respond to human voice but to also initiate a conversation. Faced expression controlled wheelchairs, wiring three brains together to complete tasks in digital spaces, discovering the power on algorithms to personalize the narratives in virtual areas. To edit human DNA to perfect the evolutionary process. These are not science fiction anymore, this is the world in 2019. We can use technology to give parelized people the ability to walk and talk or to merely escape the misery of loneliness and marry holograms.

The set of rules which we build our world upon, the same set of rules that lead governments to state that “a human should always sit behind the steering wheel of an autonomous car” or “let’s tax porn to build the wall.” is dated all the way back to the Roman empire. Ignoring the fact we are technologically obese and live in a world where We know how to operate everything yet we don’t know how anything works is not an option anymore. Maybe it’s time to rethink our thinking, to understand that we shouldn’t compete against technology in same fields that human blood was shed but compete with technology and pave new roads, ones that enable us to “explore new horizons and boldly go where no one has gone before.”