Things Are Getting Faster

One of the common themes of life today is that it’s getting faster. It’s not that time has actually sped up, rather the rate of change in society has sped up.

This is really happening; it’s not just crotchety old men pining for the days of martini lunches. One way to measure this trend is through technology adoption rates.

This chart from somewhere on the Internet shows how long it took for different technologies to reach the same portion of America’s population:
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You don’t have to be a genius to see that it’s getting faster.

If you’re a science fiction fan, the acceleration continues inexorably until it’s infinite and we hit something called The Singularity. Who knows what happens then; perhaps we turn into pure energy (Didn’t realize Powder was a documentary) or we all upload our brains to computers and colonize the stars. Or maybe the rate of change stabilizes and we just end up in a period of constant – but not accelerating – change (I’ll bet on that).

This trend has some unique implications. We see, for instance, that it’s harder to stay successful. How many overnight Internet celebrities have appeared over the past few years? Similarly, the Fortune 500 lost is turning over faster then ever. Glory is increasingly fleeting.

Some more evidence of this:

  • ebooks-a category that basically didn’t exist six years ago-have almost stopped growing. We went from no one having them to saturation in the blink of an eye
  • Apple’s iPad sales are flat; they’re selling tons but the rate’s not accelerating. It may be that everyone who needs a super high end tablet has one-and it only took 3 years

I find this fascinating. You’d think the iPad is a growth hit that you could take to the bank for 10 years; now it looks like some dramatic rework is required. Ditto if you’re Amazon with your Kindles.

What I take away is that we’re in an era where we can’t rest on our laurels and we’ll have to constantly adopt new ideas and learn a lot of new things. In fact, resistance to new ideas (or at least technology) could potentially become a leading indicator of future o failure.

I’ve given up trying to predict what I’ll be doing in five years time and instead focus on learning lots of new things and meeting interesting people. We’ll see where the journey goes.

Everything Old Is New Again: Vol. 47

I was reading an old (1966!) New Yorker interview with Buckminster Fuller when I came across this gem:

…”But, of course, the university itself won’t be anything like what it is now. We’ll get rid of all the teachers who are just holding on to their jobs in order to eat—all the deadwood, which is the biggest problem in a university anyhow. The deadwood will get fellowships to study or work on their own, and TV will come in to take over most of the actual teaching. There will be a large technical staff making documentary movies. The university is going to become a really marvellous industry, with tools like individually selected and articulated two-way TV that will permit any student anywhere in the world to select from a vast stockpile of documentaries on any subject and watch it over his own TV set at home. The individual is going to study mainly at home. And the great teachers won’t have to spend their time delivering the same lectures over and over, because they’ll put them on film. The teachers and scholars will be free to spend their time developing more and more knowledge about man’s whole experience—past, present, and future.”

“But what about the students?” I asked. “How will they react to being cast adrift in a world of impersonal educational machinery? Isn’t part of the answer implied in the recent disorders at modern multiversities such as U.C.L.A.?”

Fuller considered the question. “You know, young people sometimes have an infallible sense about these things,” he said, at last. “In my youth, we used to talk about ‘square shooters.’ Today, when a student calls somebody a ‘square’ he means something entirely different. It doesn’t imply that he’s lost respect for integrity, or anything like that. A ‘square’ these days is somebody who’s static, immobilized, obsolete—as obsolete as the square box in architecture. Today’s student knows instinctively that his world is dynamic, not static, and that the normal state of affairs is constant change and evolution.

Fuller describes what we’re seeing now with MOOCs, only he got the technology wrong (he thought TV). Once again, everything old is new again…

Drones as a Service

Earlier today my tech partner and I were grabbing coffee and shooting the shit about all the cool physical devices that are appearing these days. Spheros and Myos. FitBits and Jumps and FuelBands. Arduinos and Raspberry Pi’s. Kinects and Pebbles and quadcopters.

It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out. Some are platform plays and will require an ecosystem; others are vertically oriented. Who knows which one will create the most value; if it was obvious the people who love these things wouldn’t be called “early adopters.”

Anyways, we were trying to imagine what the world will look like when some of these technologies go mainstream – and that led us to quadcopters.

Currently used mainly to bounce balls in Switzerland and chase kangaroos in Australia, it’s worth considering what the world looks like when they’re mainstream items.

You can imagine lots of people wanting access to drones as a way to provide a set of remote eyes-and not just the cops.

Want your roof fixed? The roofer sends the drone to look and then gives you an accurate quote.

Issue with nearby cell tower or electric utility? Send the drone over before sending a human so that we can make sure the truck’s got all the right gear.

Neighborhood watch sees something funny? You guessed it: fire up the drone.

City needs some real time data on the ‘hood? Bingo. Drone time.

Now, the key thing here is that most of these organizations don’t need a full time quadcopter drone-and they’d rather not have to worry about maintaining it, etc.

And this is where the idea of Drones-As-A-Service (DAAS) is born.

Basically, someone sets up a network of drones (we already have spaces for them: they’re currently called cellphone towers) and creates an API or web form. If you need the drone, you just fill out the form stating what you need it do for you (“fly to roof at 1515 West 2nd Ave and execute site sweep. Pause for close-ups.”). You can even imagine an app that notifies you when the drone is available and let’s you communicate with the pilot (alas, she’ll still have to manually fire the Hellfire missile at your neighbour).

I’ve thought about this idea for about as long as it took to write this blog post, so maybe it’s the stupidest idea ever, but thought it was entertaining enough to share with y’all.