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Blog > Predicting the future is hard, part 5

>> Predicting the future is hard, part 5

Sun, Mar 8th 3:19pm 2009: Tech Toys

From: Jonathan Oxer <> To: [Internal IVT staff mailing list] Subject: RE: [IVT-Staff] Microsoft vision of future technology Date: Fri, 06 Mar 2009 14:32:24 +1100 On Fri, 2009-03-06 at 11:41 +1100, Luke Sparke wrote: > Oh, it's on! Bring it, baby. > Agreed. Need anti-gravity. But you missed the bit about silver suits! I don't want to look like a member of Devo. > The site doesn't even have images loading properly. Forgive me if i'm not > convinced this is off-the-shelf ready to go. It is, at least to manufacturers, and they're using it in things right now. It's even starting to become available to experimenters in the form of development kits that are relatively easy to interface with. Check out this example of Android running on a device with an e-ink display: And Firefox running on e-paper which also has pen input: It's just that we're not seeing a lot of it yet in consumer devices, but we will. And it won't necessarily be in the format of... > Also, the internet was supposed to be the death of newspapers. ...a big newspaper that's floppy and hard to read in a train because it's too big and annoying. You made the point that the problem with predicting the future is that people just think of the things they already have, but made better, and that's exactly right. It's not about e-paper allowing us to have a big floppy newspaper that follows the traditional format, it's about allowing totally new things. Everyday things have their form dictated by the physical characteristics of the materials from which they're made and the ways in which people interact with them. A printed newspaper has its current form because it's dictated by using cheap paper and printing techniques, by the volume of information that has to be contained within it, and by the locations in which people read it. The fact that the Herald/Sun is physically smaller than The Age (but often has more pages) isn't an accident, it's a result of the different audiences for those papers and the physical constraints under which they're read. Read the Herald on a train? No problem, unless it's really crowded. The Age? No chance. I think a point that we agree on is that it's necessary to free our minds from constraints imposed by historical factors and consider totally new form factors that are enabled by new technologies, new usage requirements, and new physical constraints. > I think Murdoch would disagree. I don't. The Internet hasn't killed off printed newspapers yet, but you can hardly claim it hasn't affected them. Newspaper publishing has gone through a huge shake-up over the last couple of years with consolidation and closures, and the newspaper publishers themselves have totally changed the way they manage their journalists and information sources as well as the way they deliver news to customers. > I have no doubt it can be done, but there's no way its economically viable. > Airlines are cutting costs left, right and centre. I'm sure providing > passengers with groovy dynamic tickets is the last thing they're about to > invest in. Most airlines have difficulty just keeping the aircraft in the > air. You're seeing it as an added cost because the unit cost of an intelligent boarding pass is higher than the unit cost of a printed boarding pass. Stop thinking about it that way, and start thinking about the things that could be enabled by changing the whole concept of what a boarding pass is. A similar argument could have been made a few years ago against putting RFID tags on consumer goods or clothing, but now just about everything you buy has them attached. Are they more expensive than a printed price tag? Yes, but that's not the point. They enable a totally different usage profile that removes the need for a human to read a tag and manually type that amount into an old-fashioned cash register. The fact that a printed tag might cost 1/10th of a cent versus an RFID tag costing 3 cents is irrelevant if the tag allows a new, more efficient mode of operation. OK, so you're going to say that a smart-paper boarding pass is going to cost a lot more than 3c. True, for now, but once again that's not the point: if whatever it *does* cost is low enough that it enables some new beneficial mode of operation that we haven't even thought of yet, then it will come into use. > Uhem. An embrella with a glowing handle when it's going to rain is hardly a > multi touch, internet connected device. Didn't see any way to check the > stock reports on the umbrella, nor sync it with my phone. It's not meant to, which is the other point: we need to stop thinking about computers as general-purpose devices that can do a bunch of different things. The use-case for this umbrella is very simple: you're about to leave home and you're not sure if it's likely to rain today. As you're walking towards the door you have two options: divert yourself and check the weather report on TV or online or in the old-style printed newspaper, or look at the handle of your umbrella near the door and see what colour it's glowing. The glowing handle is about smoothing the sequence of events associated with walking out the door, and that's *all* it's meant to do. But if you want stock quotes: > I wonder how many > people are buying them anyway. It seems to have the moron factor to me. Just about everything has a moron factor before you get used to having it. It's once little things like this are integrated into your daily life that they become a seamless part of it. Just like earlier inventions that seemed to have the moron factor like, oh, the Internet. Or printed books, for that matter. > If > you've got your umbrella with you, do you really need it to glow to tell you > it's raining? "What, what is this wetness falling on me, hang on, i'll > check the umbrella, nope, not glowing, can't be rain". That's missing the point, the use-case is about the moment you're walking out the door, not the time you're out on the street with the umbrella in your hand. > >> (It also seems the people in 2019 will be complete morons, requiring > >> arrows pointing them in the direction to go. > > >I see that as really useful. Having been through places like Changi and > LAX, which is so big it has its own postcode, yes, I'd love to have a > personal head-up navigation >system for just walking around. > > Fair enough. I use signs. Once again start thinking of quite different use-cases that are more specific and personal. We're actually both talking about signs, it's just that the signs you use are coarse-grained (in terms of being general and conveying information likely to be useful to many people) and fixed in place. A personal navigation system is an example of signs that are fine-grained (in terms of conveying specific information that is only of interest to you) and appear in-context. It's not practical for an airport to post signs pointing to *everything*, because the noise drowns out the message. But with the system portrayed in the movie it *would* be practical to have a sign that points to where you need to pick up your bag. And not just a general sign to "carousel 3", I mean a moving sign that leads you right to your exact bag, which the system could have located down to a meter or so accuracy using some other mechanism, and the sign then leads you directly to a specific hire car that you booked, not just to the carpark where you have to find the car you've never seen before in your life with rego ABC-123 among 200 other cars that look identical. It's about granularity of information conveyed: very personal, very specific, and very context-relevant to what you are doing at that moment. > >Yes, interfaces that require large physical movements aren't very > practical. > > You're not doing your argument any favours. Aha, maybe this is part of the issue: I'm *not* trying to defend specific gadgets portrayed in the movie. I'm saying that what they portrayed is conservative, which is not the same thing. If someone in 1900 had said that in 50 years they'd have steam-powered computing machines like the Difference Engine, that would make sense in the context of the technology that they knew about and I'd still say it was conservative. The fact Difference Engines were never built (at the time) and that the end result came about using totally different technology and worked in a totally different way to what they expected doesn't mean their prediction was over-enthusiastic. I'd still call them conservative, because the vision or the intent was achieved even if it was in an unexpected way. > You already made it specific, that the video is "conservative", which means > that at the very least we'll have everything they show, with far more. No, that's a misinterpretation. Saying it was "conservative" meant that what they showed wasn't radical enough, not that we'd get those specific gadgets that work in those specific ways. For all I know what we'll have will be as unexpected as electronic computers to someone who had only ever seen steam-powered difference engines. > That's the wager. That by 2019, everything in the video will be common > place, coffee mugs, airline tickets, arrows on floor, everything. The > stakes... An internet fridge! Already done. See attached. ;-) ** Attachment:

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