Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Any given Tuesday

Back in 2005, I gave a presentation called "Any Given Tuesday" which describes two entirely different scenarios for the same day. In the first scenario :-

I wake up at 6:45 am, spend 10 minutes trying to find my watch, leave the house at 7:15 am, drive like a madman to the station, spend 30 minutes waiting for a train due to cancellation, get to London bridge at 9:15 am, get soaked because it is raining, rush to work missing my coffee, arrive at work 9:35, discover my CFO has been trying to call but I've left my phone at home, realise I have football today but no boots as I threw them away last week, my partner calls to remind me it's Mother's day and my Sister's birthday tomorrow - both of which I've done nothing about. Overall : I'm wet, late, had no coffee, I've annoyed my CFO, I'll miss out on football and I've still got to work out what to do about Mother's day and my sister. I'm hardly in the best mindset for work.

In the second scenario, I wake up fifteen minutes earlier at 6.30 am, pick up my watch and phone that are on the kitchen table, leave the house at 6.50 grabbing an umbrella from beside the door, arrive at the train station at 7:10 am and catch the 7:15 am, arrive at Canon Street at 8:20 am, pick up pre-ordered football boots from the sports store, grab a coffee, walk to work putting up my umbrella when it starts to rain, arrive at work 9:15 am, tell my CFO the reports been done and when my partner calls explain that I've sent my Mother flowers and my sister has a new ipod which will be delivered tomorrow as her last one broke. Overall : On time, dry, plus coffee, I'll be able to play football, mother and sister's presents are sorted and reports done. I'm in the right mindset for work.

Ok, so what happened between the two scenarios? Did I become Mr organised or learn the twenty seven secrets of successful people? No, it's all done with technology and asking a few simple questions.

First, everything is tagged, everything is online and everything is a network. My network of things knows it's a Tuesday, how long it takes me to get ready, what I need for work, where those things are and the weather forecast. It can interrogate the train stations network to get times and cancellation information, it knows where I need to be. It knows I play football on Tuesday and that I threw my boots away. It knows I like coffee, that it's Mothers day tomorrow, that I bought flowers last year. It can ask my Mother's network what sort of flowers she has and whether anyone is buying her flowers? It knows it's my Sister's birthday tomorrow, it can ask her network for suggestions. It now knows she broke her ipod, that she hasn't replaced it and what her favourite songs are and where she will be tomorrow. My network knows my CFO was in a meeting where they discussed a new way of analysing value from users.

My network of things can now, find a shop with the boots I need, find a coffee shop, pre-order, and calculate a route to work to pick up both. Calculate time for journeys and dynamically deal with cancellations. Sort out ipod and flowers. Analyse CFO meeting and determine most probable analysis to be done and who to contact.

All it now needs to do is ask me some basic questions :-
  • Do I want to buy some new boots for £35 so I can play football tomorrow?
  • Do I want to send my Mother flowers for Mother's day?
  • My Sister's ipod is broken, do I want to buy her a new one for her birthday?
  • The CFO is after an examination of user spend vs latency on the site, do you want me to prepare an initial analysis?
Then it needs to calculate my journey and wake me up when I need to be woken up. This is what I call augmented intelligence - ask the questions, take care of the details. All of this was technically feasible in one way or another back in 2005, just it was incredibly difficult and uneconomic to do so. However today, things are changing rapidly and it's all becoming much more economically feasible.

To start to really achieve the above, we need smart agents and this is more than just smart devices but instead devices which can record, analyse and start to interpret all the data exhaust we create. Our network needs mechanisms for sharing between agents i.e. the information that I'm prepared for my network to give to your network depends upon who you are.

All the components for this are coming into place. On the iphone we have SIRI on the android we have EVI.  We have compute utilities, analytics capabilities and Amazon has recently released a distributed task and decision manager in Amazon SWF. We have increasing use of printed active RFIDs and near field communication. We do need some security mechanisms but there are smart people like the Bromium crowd who are working on things which may well solve those relationships.

The world above is within spitting distance. This future of augmented intelligence goes way beyond popular misconceptions of heads up display information. There are also serious social implications but for now, I'll just say, that I think some people are seriously underestimating this.

The LEF is running a study tour on this issue later in the year because we think the subject is huge.

-- Update 26 January 2014

Seems like pre-ordering with Starbucks will soon be here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Of false debates and Baronesses

One of the most popular and dubious techniques in debate is to create a false polarisation of subject in order to insert your view as the rational mid-ground. Baroness Warsi has done exactly this with the debate of religious freedoms vs militant secularism.

The two extremes of this imagined debate are a theocracy (where state is ruled by religion) and militant secularism. But what is militant secularism?

In order to be the opposite of a theocracy, we can only presume that militant secularism is supposed to represent a system whereby the state defines religion such as the banning of all religious thought i.e. none. No freedom of religion, no discussion of religion, no right of worship … nothing.

However such an approach would be opposed ferociously by secularists because secularism has never been about state interference or denial of religious beliefs but instead separation of the church from state.

But let us take up this inferred axis of theocracy (where religion governs state) vs a militant position (where state governs religion such as denies all religious belief). In such circumstances secularism is the mid-ground. Tolerance and acceptance of a wide range of religious beliefs whilst ensuring separation between the state and any church.

From the National Secular Society - "we campaign from a non-religious perspective for the separation of religion and state and promote secularism as the best means to create a society in which people of all religions or none can live together fairly and cohesively."

Baroness Warsi's entire debate rests on creating new extremes and attempts to portray secularism as connected to one of those extremes. It isn't. There is no secular group who wishes to outlaw all religious thought or wishes the state to define religion. There are no militant secularists.

Certainly you can probably drag up some loon who is willing to call themselves a secularist and say that they want to ban religious thought but then that person is not a secularist and never will be. That person would deny religious belief and that's not what secularism is all about.

Intellectually, the debate is dishonest - shame on Warsi, you're supposed to be a cabinet minister and above such things.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The most dangerous patent in the world?

I first started following the field of 3D printing around 1999. Subsequently as printed electronics formed, I took an interest in both areas.

Each year I used to write reports on the subject, though I haven't updated any of this since 2007

For reference, I've linked to an old report (2006) on the subject. It's completely out of date but the concepts are still probably valid. Don't expect any insights though, this stuff is widely known today.

For those completely new to the subject, it might provide some very generalist background info. However, be warned, being so old the industry is likely to have changed significantly.

Back around 2004, I came across something which I thought was truly dangerous for this future world. Unsurprisingly it's a patent but this patent is for the equivalent of soldering in the future manufacturing processes.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

In search of Spime Script ...

Back in 2006, I gave a talk at Euro OSCON on the future of technology covering commoditisation with a specific focus on 3D printing. This was based upon research and talks I'd given many years earlier on the subject.

Our world is heading in a fairly clear direction in terms of continual evolution of business activities such as commoditisation of discrete IT components, creation of higher order systems, disruption of past industries, development and exploitation of ecosystems, co-evolution of practice and ... well, I've covered this lots.

The strategic use of open source as a weapon is also becoming more common along with the new forms of organisation that are necessary to cope with this more evolved world. We should see the development of higher order agents and hence augmented intelligence with Siri being a starting point on this journey. Increasingly organisation will learn to exploit flow, the natural evolutionary path of any activity from chaotic (genesis) to the more linearly ordered environments (commodity and utility services). Flow was a topic I touched up again in Strata last year.

The reactions of past industries (e.g. legal protection as barrier to entry), the inertia of many, the next wave of change (being commoditisation of the manufacturing process), explosions of un-modeled data, the confusion, the arguments  ... oh, it's the same cycle.

Don't worry if you're missing out in the buzz around today's hot topic (commoditisation of IT nee cloud) or tomorrow's (commoditisation of manufacturing nee 3D printing) as there's much more to come and invariably the giants of today will fail to cope with flow and new giants will appear to replace them.

The trends are already in motion and it's just a question of how the game plays out. To mangle one of Tim O'Reilly's favourite phrases - the future has been here for some time, it's just not uniformly distributed.

So, I want to return to one part of that 2006 presentation which I still find relevant - the formation of Spime Script. We're entering a phase where hardware will become increasingly as malleable as software which leads to a problem of choice - if I want to change the function of something, do I do this in software or hardware? The tendency today is obviously towards software because its more malleable  but the future is never the past. However this creates a problem of skill - will I need to become proficient in both software and CAD / electronic design?

In reality both CAD and whatever software language you use, compile down to instruction sets and the function of the device is the interaction of these instruction sets - one which is substantiated physically and the other which is substantiated digitally.

Turning this on its head then why not write the function of what you want, the function of the device. Compilers can therefore undertake the complex decision trees (which is what they're good at) required to determine what element of that function is encoded as physical and what element is digital.

A future language is needed, something whereby the output is both physical and digital and I describe merely the function of what I'm after.

A sort of ...

class smartphone : public phone, public camera, public calculator, public GPC
mydevice smartphone
mydevice.colour = blue, .os = android, .connection = wifi, .storage = cloud
mydevice inherit public walkie_talkie
mydevice inherit public watch
mydevice.format = wearable, .location = wrist, .materials = recyclable

and let the complier work out the best way of making this. Maybe the watch will be digital, maybe it'll decide that a mechanical self winding element is required etc.

This may sound like crazy talk of the form "that'll never happen", "it's too complex", "technology could never do this" etc but I'm used to a world where today's impossible things become tomorrow's Walmart special offers.

Anyway, I'm interested in whether people are working in this space. It's about the right time for Spime Script to start emerging, so leave me a comment, pointers welcome.

--- Update 26 August 2014

Unfortunately the video of the talk from Euro OSCON 2006 has now been removed on due to their wonderfully awful change of service. Thanks Blip.

So here are the original slides, now uploaded to slide share which is mainly based upon research I had done much earlier (varies between 1998-2004) with some updates for changes that were happening at the time.