Welcome to Episode 83 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host, Jon Follett, and with me is founder and co-host, Dirk Knemeyer.
Hey, Jon. The new year is almost here.
Yeah. It’s been a frighteningly quick 2014. It’s been an enjoyable year, but I just blinked and it’s over. I guess we’re all … start relaxing a little bit for the holidays, but before we do that, it’s maybe not a tradition but certainly something a lot of people do in tech circles is ruminate about the future. We’re going to do that today with our episode and think about some of the interesting elements of design and technology that are going to come together in 2015.
Dirk, what do you think the new year is going to bring for the technology sector?
Hmm. I’ve got a bunch of predictions for next year, but let’s focus only on a few. One thing that I think we’re going to see is a prototype in a city, prototype in a city, town, village at some scale of a municipality, home delivery by flying drones. Depending on how inculcated our listeners are into technology, at a minimum you’ve read stories about flying drones on mainstream news websites. Some of you may be conversant in the technology and even own a drone yourself. It’s going to go from the fringes and from drones in warehouses, Google, or whomever trying to get municipalities to accept drones, trying to get the government to institute legislation that is friendly to widespread business use of drones.
We’re going to shift from those stories to a story of, hey, no, Podunk, Wisconsin … and I don’t predict it’s going to be in Wisconsin; I don’t know where the hell it will be … is the first prototype of Amazon home delivery or some Google project or some more obscure company. I think that we’ve reached a point that that’s going to be real and is going to go from this theoretical thing on the fringes to something that’s really being tried at scale that is the precursor to a wider adoption, which I think a wider adoption has some pretty big problems.
Yeah. You think this is going to be a commercial entity of some kind delivering packages via drone flight. Is that the prediction?
Yes, although it’s also possible that whatever the prototype is is something short of home delivery, but it is something that is approximating the impact of drones in home delivery, but it is with drones, multiple drones, many drones simultaneously being turned loose within a municipality, that scale.
Yeah. I think that seems like a likely next step in the evolution of drones and delivery, and I’m going to be eagerly awaiting to see that prediction, which I think is very possible that that will come true in 2015.
It’s kind of scary, though, isn’t it? If you think about airplanes and airplanes are so tightly regulated. The manual for someone to learn to fly a little single-engine jet is this giant, thick, monstrous thing of rules and processes and procedures. If you think about airplanes, you never read about 747s crashing into houses. I don’t have the stats, but it’s very infrequent that the biggest planes by the biggest companies are crashing, are creating calamities. Now, with single-engine planes, every week I read about a single-engine plane going down in some capacity. Sometimes they safely land on a highway. Sometimes, I think it was last week, one spectacularly crashes into a house and the people in the house are dead as well as pilots and co-pilots.
The drones are going to be even worse, and there’s going to be less regulation, less oversight. By definition, they don’t have a local pilot. They’re going to be controlled oftentimes … Today, there’s just random citizens flying drones around. The more accepted drones become, the more pervasive they can become. There’s just going to be a lot of these little crashes. It’s not going to be epidemic. If it ever became epidemic, then it would be legislated out of existence, but it’s going to be more. There’s going to be more drone crashes injuring people than there are now single-engine plane crashes injuring people. I don’t know, for me, a lot of it, it feels unnecessary. I don’t know, it feels like something that is just being done for the benefit of the companies but not really thinking about the communities.
Yeah. There’s a lot of territory to cover there in terms of … We discuss this all the time, the unintended consequences of a technology rollout.
My guess is that you’re going to find some communities that are perhaps more diffuse and so a drone crash wouldn’t quite matter so much, whereas in a tightly packed environment like a city, you certainly have a lot more probability of a mishap occurring. It will be interesting to see if this idea of the prototyping, the service, where that takes place and how that technology integrates with the environment around it, which is going to be critical, I think.
My first prediction for 2015 is in the realm of robotics, which is very much increasing technology presence in manufacturing, whether you’re talking about on the assembly line or robots that are more flexible in doing a whole variety of tasks, including Amazon has robots that help with selecting things that are going to be packed in the warehouse. I think you’re going to start to see labor disputes. The first major labor dispute around robotic labor I think is going to happen in 2015. There have been hints of this already in some strikes, labor strikes in Asia where the general principles of a company are aligned with replacing humans with robot labor. There hasn’t been a direct, oh, this robot came in and took my job, all the workers are now going to be in solidarity with their other human workers, are now going to strike. I think you’re going to see that in 2015.
That’s interesting. Why is that a prediction? How did you get to that point of seeing that as something that’s going to happen next year, in particular?
Part of my reasoning is that the collaborative robotics is just starting to come to the fore. You have a variety of machines that are built to be flexible and work with other human beings on the factory floor. As these machines come online, while they work in conjunction with humans, they also necessarily replace human labor across the board, and they’re done at smaller … They can be implemented more quickly in agile manufacturing processes and potentially in smaller manufacturing operations.
What you have is the collaborative robotics. They can learn very quickly how to do certain tasks, and they’re going to be adopted across a whole number of companies as they roll out. What that means is you’ve got human beings who maybe never expected that their job was up for grabs. Now, with relatively inexpensive spend, they can perhaps be replaced. I think it’s just the quantity of robotics that are going into the marketplace combined with the style of integration into the assembly lines is going to bring that to the fore.
Interesting. That’s not something that I would have thought of, but I think is a really nice prediction.
What’s your next prediction for 2015, Dirk?
I think I’ll go with cyborgs. We’ve talked about cyborgs before on the show. I think what will happen in 2015 is the media coverage is going to become really more extensive, that we’re going to see stories in mainstream media as well as certainly more technical media. We’ll see a lot more of it in things like Fast Company, of course, but even in mainstream media of the emerging class of cyborgs.
When I first thought about this when I was doing my predictions a few months ago, very shortly thereafter I saw a story on CNN where they were talking about a cyborg. It was just ridiculous where they had this guy and he had this thing attached to the back of his neck and this hoop came over the top of his head, right in front of his face. I go, oh, my god, they’re calling this a cyborg. This is just in- It’s ridiculous. I’m sure there’s some functional benefit from it, but the usability and the unrealistic nature of the device is just goofy. But they were calling it a cyborg. There is a mainstream media example of a cyborg, and it’s just going to increase. The devices are going to be less goofy, they’re going to be more useful, they’re going to be more integrated. That word cyborg and examples of cyborgs are going to become more and more and more common.
Yeah. That’s an interesting prediction for 2015. I think that’s probably going to engender a whole slew of reactions that will probably be … They’re going to happen in the realm of emotion, but you’re going to get things like cyborgs who feel like they’re discriminated against. If you have a certain prosthesis that lets you do something better and maybe people feel a bit of prejudice around that, I think you’re going to have another class of people who are going to have to deal with that idea of human rights but at a slightly different level there.
I think cyborgs, it’s like someone changes from a person to a cyborg. It’s a little weird to frame it that way, but I think that digital augmentation of our physicality will be pretty pervasive. I actually don’t think that there will be much pushback against it, and I’m going to cite for that the pervasiveness over the last decade or whenever the trend began of tattooing as well as Botox and other forms of plastic surgery. The question is kind of asked and answered around will people fuck with their body to look better or to have something on it that makes them happy or makes a statement, and the answer is just a resounding yes.
There’s some of us for whom … We wouldn’t be interested in tattoos and wouldn’t be interested in plastic surgery. I’m one of those people. However, I’m going to be first in line for digital augmentation. If it’s useful and just a good, correct product that makes my life better, that leverages the barrier between humanity and digital existence, I’m right onboard. If you’re even getting people like me who really shy away from body modification, it’s just going to be all over. It’s going to be a small minority of people who proudly rebel against it, but those are the people who already are proudly against the progress of all of these emerging technologies or even these more mundane technologies, things like smartphones and tablets and so forth.
Yeah. That will be interesting to see how cyborgism plays out in 2015 and beyond. My second prediction for 2015 is that we’re going to see a lot more personal DNA services roll out across more of the consumer level products. Right now, the example of 23andMe, they had some problems with the FDA, but they’re very much a consumer-level product, but I think their reach has been somewhat limited in terms of the adoption of that as something that your everyday person would take up, the reason behind that why am I going and examining my genetics not entirely there with 23andMe.
I saw an ad the other night for DNA ancestry, ostensibly a similar product to 23andMe, but they are specifically targeting at folks who want to know their ethnic backgrounds, where they came from, how their genome reflects their history, their family history. I thought that was a really interesting angle and something that was more of an equalizer when it came to your maybe not mom and pop adopting DNA sequencing, but it seemed to me like that product would reach more people and based on that there is so much opportunity for us to learn from our genetic code. I think there is a great possibility for a lot of new consumer products to come in and leverage that in 2015.
Yeah, definitely. I’ve been a 23andMe customer for a long time now. I want to say, I don’t know, five, definitely more than five years. For me, I waited until it came down to ninety-nine dollars in price. Initially, I think it was like a thousand dollars and the price came down, price came down. They had a sale. The price wasn’t down that low, but they had some blowout sale and I bought kits for my whole family. At a hundred dollars, it was worth it. I felt good about the investment and getting it for everyone, but there wasn’t much more about it than novelty. It was really interesting to learn about my haplogroup, which is a … I won’t explain it on the show, but you can look it up. It’s very specifically getting into what genetic group you’re in. That was cool. There was some health stuff saying, hey, you’re more likely to have this, you’re less likely to have that. You’re more likely to die of this, you’re less likely to die of that. That was interesting.
In all those years, they haven’t done much to develop the software. It’s more usable. They’re adding little things here and there, but at the end of the day, it’s just this static list of stuff. There’s just so much more they could do with it if they really focused on software extension. They could turn it into something where instead of it being this one-time thing, you’re looking, oh, that’s cool and then periodically you scoot back over to it just to remind yourself, it could be something that’s more of an ongoing service. At one point, they did … I don’t know what their business model is now. They tried to make it so it was subscription-based where any new research they did, they wouldn’t give you. This was in the base research, but just to give a common example. They’d say, hey, now we’ve got data on diabetes. If you’re a subscriber, your information will be updated to reflect this. If you’re not, tough cookies. That was such a turn-off.
They were wanting basically a monthly fee for some abstract promise of more data, but how much data, how often, and if it would even be relevant. At a certain point, when they bundle all these things together and say, hey, these are things that could hurt you, these are things that could not, that’s super interesting. If they drib and drab, oh, hey, here’s this idiosyncratic disease, congratulations, you’re less likely to get it. That’s not particularly interesting and especially not for ten or twenty dollars a month. They really did a bad job of making it consumer-friendly and making it something that had an arc beyond just, oh, that’s an interesting new exploration for two weeks, now let’s move on with my life and forget about it. I hope that some of the new services or where this industry goes is such that can really leverage our genetic data and make it more integrated into our digital lives.
Yeah. I think there’s no doubt in my mind that genomics is going to be a great new frontier and there’s going to be … Just based on the promise of personalized medicine, I think there’s tremendous potential there. I’m looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings in that area.
Dirk, you have one more prediction for 2015. What is that?
I’ve got a few, but the one I’m going to pick to finish off my contribution for the show is I think that in 2015 that some other company will replace Apple as the preferred, trendy lifestyle brand. Apple, ever since the death of Steve Jobs, they really haven’t launched even one exciting product. The most exciting launch was the iWatch, but to me, there’s not a whole lot exciting about the iWatch. It may be a good product. I may end up getting it, even, if the utility seems to be there, but god, it’s not the sort of thing that an iPod or an iPhone or an iPad can do. It was only in that innovation, in that redefinition of categories that Apple was able to really hold that sweet, trendy position. It’s been weakening ever since Steve Jobs died. I’ve talked many times, I’m no big fan of Steve Jobs, but you just can’t deny the impact and the success that he had in leading Apple to the vanguard of innovation, success, and leadership.
Since then, again, Apple has released nothing exciting. The stuff they do is shoddy. The software is crap. The new iPhone with the ridiculous camera that sticks out, it’s not all soft edges. Steve never would have shipped that. The cracks are showing all over the place, and it’s further been complicated by … Since the iPad or even I’d go back farther and say since the iPhone, Apple went from being this thing that just the cool kids knew about and had this cliqueness to it to something that’s just mainstream. The people who are walking around now with iPhones, I’m just shocked. Wow, that person would never have had an Apple device before. That contributes to it, too, where now it’s more like Walmart, where before, it was more boutique-ish. There’s all of this erosion on the foundation of Apple.
Because it’s gotten so big from a financial perspective, it’s still going to be the biggest or second biggest or top five or whatever in terms of market cap in the world for awhile, but I think we’ll be able to palpably see some company from a cool perspective replace Apple, whether it be Google or Amazon, those would be some of the two, I think, most obvious candidates. One of those type of companies who are one of the second tier behind Apple right now, from a coolness, from sort of like the best lifestyle brand, the best computing lifestyle brand perspective, it’s going to have a great release. It’s going to string some things together, and the tide is going to change. Momentum is going to shift and we’ll be able to say, hey, it’s not Apple anymore, it’s this company. I don’t know what company that will be, but I think the time is right. I think the time is now for that change to happen.
Yeah, that’s an interesting prediction. I, too, share that lack of clarity around who that company might be. I can definitely see, because I’m a big fan of Amazon … I’ve just recently picked up their Echo product, which is a voice-activated sound system. I can see they’re making forays into different areas, cutting edge areas like Internet of Things. They’re really trying to get there. They’re not there yet, so it’s almost like the cliffhanger of a movie. It’s okay, the Echo is pretty good but not super great. What do you got coming, Amazon? I think we’ll all be interested to see who the tech giant is who wins the lifestyle category in 2015.
Listeners, it’s been a fantastic 2014, and we’ve really enjoyed doing The Digital Life for you during that period. We hope you have happy holidays and we look forward to seeing you next year.
Remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with things that we’re mentioning in here in real time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com, that’s one “l” in thedigitalife, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody, so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on Twitter @jonfollett, J-O-N F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course, the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O.com. Dirk?
You can follow me on Twitter @dknemeyer, that’s @D-K-N-E-M-E-Y-E-R, or e-mail me Dirk@goinvo.com.
That’s it for Episode 83 of The Digital Life and for 2014. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett, and we’ll see you next time.