Business Ideas: Take-a-Tic App

So I was at the city’s development permit office the other day and just like the DMV or any other government run admin set-up, they asked me to take a ticket and wait for my number to be called.  Problem is that this office takes about a day to get through the queue.  No joke, I’ve shown up at 9am up in the morning, only to be told at 445pm that they wouldn’t be able to get to me today.

Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  I did arrive early in the morning and I did take a ticket but I didn’t stay there all day.  The ticket system that they have is digital and there’s a city URL which lets you monitor your queue so that you can go about your day and pop back in when your number is close.  That’s definitely a step up from having to commit and entire day to waiting in that line without knowing if they’ll get to you… but not by much.  It did however give me an idea.

A few years ago, a new steakhouse opened up in a trendy part of town and apparently it had the nicest patio in the whole city.  A few friends and I were hanging out at a friend’s place a few blocks away and thought we’d try them for dinner.  When we arrived, we were told that it would be an hour wait.  We were about to decline but they suggested we take what looked like a puck with a bunch of blinking lights on it.  Apparently, this contraption would blink and buzz when our table was available.  We figured sure, why not.  We went to a restaurant a few doors down and started with a few drinks but ended up ordering food anyways.  Ironically, the thing didn’t buzz until we were back at my friend’s place a few hours later.  Now it’s a coaster.

That was the first time I had seen one of those, but I’ve seen them plenty more since.  I don’t like it.  There’s a better way of doing this.

What if… there was an app for that?

Let’s call this app take-a-tic, a shameless rip off of a friend’s company, Picatic.  I swear I’ll come up with a better name if I ever pull the trigger on this.  Anyways, the idea is that this is line-up management software.  Whether you’re a restaurant, a city by-law office, or somewhere in between, this just seems… more efficient.

Imagine walking into the DMV and seeing a crowd of people that probably amounts to a wait time of at least an hour.  Ain’t nobody got time for that.  So you head to the front counter and ‘take-a-tic’.  Instead of getting a piece of paper with a number on it, your position in the queue is loaded into your app.  It would be fun to think of all the paper we’d save but I’m far more interested in all the time we’d save.  Imagine being able to leave and getting a notification of when you should head back.  Imagine the app using your GPS, knowing how far you’ve gone, how long it’ll take to get back, and then takes that into consideration for when to send you a reminder.  Imagine being notified at the most inconvenient time and being able to hit the snooze button and let a few people go ahead of you without losing your place in line.  Not bad right?

While the convenience is certainly there for the user, it needs to make sense for the business as well.  There are more demands on our time than perhaps ever before and when a business says their cost savings is more important than your time.. it tends to not go over well.  When you show your customers that you value their time, you tend to end up with happy customers.  As with any scalable app, data analytics come into play and in this case, could help businesses better manage their queue.  Finally, and perhaps the most obvious: cost savings.  Without any need for hardware or physical tickets, the only real cost is the subscription to the service.

My first thought when looking to poke holes in this was nobody’s going to download an app just to wait in your line.  If they have the choice between that and the blinking coaster, they probably take the blinking coaster 8 out of 10 times.  But… what if everyone used the same app?  What if you downloaded the app for dinner a few weeks ago, but through out the year was able to use it at several other businesses?  What if every long lineup was equipped with this tech?  Well, now it has merit.  And if everyone is using it, it opens up a few more possibilities.

What if you were thinking about going to the DMV today but wasn’t sure about how to schedule it in?  What if you could open your app, search the DMV, and see what their queue was like today?  What if it came with comparisons to last week and this time last year?  What if you could even jump in the queue from home?  I’ll admit that last one might create more problems than it solves.. but maybe not.

If you were to give someone the ability to lineup from home, then you’re likely going to boost your no-show rate.  But what if there was a way to screen for that?  If everyone was using the app, perhaps businesses would have the ability to view a user’s no-show rate.  Or maybe it would make sense for the business to set the bar for who can line up from home.  For example, I probably show up to 95% of my commitments on time or early.  If a business could see that, they would have no issues with me jumping in the queue from home.  But lets say my no-show rate on the app was 50%, businesses would have the option to bounce that request.

What this all amounts to is efficiency of time.  I’m the first to avoid a place if it has a long line up.  45 minute wait for brunch?  No thanks.  Line up to get in the club?  Ya right.  Might be able to fit you in at the bar in about an hour?  Bite me.  But there are some lines you can’t avoid.  For those, I’d love to have access to something like this.  If it was mass-adopted, imagine how many hours could be used more efficiently.  Who knows, something like that might even boost GDP, haha.

A Digital Nation

I’m a problem solver by nature and the bigger the problem, the more interested I am in solving it.  In looking to solve things like gun violence, the application of democracy, educational inefficiencies, or health care, I often end up back in the same place – the system for creating change is deeply flawed.

I don’t mind a flawed system, most are.  What I do mind is a reluctance to face those flaws and solve them for the sake of progress.  In the world of business, poorly run companies go bankrupt.  In the world of politics, poorly run governments increase their national debt while raising tax on their citizens – and continue on.  In the great recession, the big 3 auto-manufacturers were running their businesses poorly and were on the verge of bankruptcy because of it.  Some argued that allowing them to fail would be catastrophic to the American economy and that losing those jobs were not an option.  I would argue that failing businesses should be allowed to fail so that from their ashes, ingenuity and integrity may have the opportunity to build something better.  Instead, 2 of those companies were bailed out and 10 years later, not much has changed.  Had they been allowed to fail, I wonder if Tesla would be the only major new entry in the auto-industry in the last several decades.

Tesla wasn’t the first crack at the electric car either.  We tried that back in the 90s but the system we exist in allows large business interests to influence government policy.  Auto-manufacturers weren’t overly interested in the R&D necessary to tackle electric cars and the oil industry wasn’t interested in the competition – so they lobbied.  A government which allows well-funded business interests to limit the innovation and competition in their industry is deeply flawed.

So how do you fix these problems?  Run as a member of a major party and try to create change from within?  I’ve experienced first hand how change from within can be an unrealistic approach, especially when you require the cooperation of those who would rather keep things the same.  Run as an independent?  Good luck getting any legislation passed in a 2 party system.  Try and operate outside the government?  They don’t take kindly to that.  Start your own country?  All viable land has already been claimed.

What to do.. what to do..

My pipe dream was to develop the technology necessary to build large, stable islands.  Once you built an island large enough, you could claim it and start your own country.  With a progressive game plan, you could easily lure great minds and great businesses.  Together, you could set the example for the rest of the world on how things could be done.

I think Elon Musk’s plan is similar, but he prefers the buffer of 50 million miles of empty space.  Given Russia’s announcement of their nuclear missile with indefinite range and all the other fun stuff going on, he might be on to something.

While these are fun contingency plans to think of, it’s overlooking something important.  Life always finds a way.  There’s a natural progression to what happens next and I think we’re starting to see it.

We’re moving from an analog reality to a digital reality.

I’ve watched a few animes over the years which touched on the subject of a futuristic society that was digitally based, and I couldn’t help but connect the dots.  When I saw the first trailer for Ready Player One, I knew it wasn’t just me seeing where we were headed.  With the film out last week and on my way to see it tonight, I wanted to put a journal entry together to document my thoughts before they’re further inspired by what looks to be a Spielberg masterpiece.

For anyone who still needs some context, a digital reality is the inevitable evolution of virtual reality.  Virtual reality as it exists today is rather limited but the momentum is there and we seem to be approaching a new plateau.  Within the R&D being done right now, there’s a focus on getting your brain to accept that the illusion is real.  If that sounds like hocus pocus, you’d be right.  For as long as magicians and illusionists have existed, there has been a craft designed around the manipulation of your senses.  As complex as the the mind is, and as good as it is at processing the outside world, it can be fooled.  Right now, the holy grail in virtual reality is getting your mind to forget that it’s within a virtual reality.

There’s an idea that we all hallucinate our own reality.  Some are quick to dismiss the thought, thinking that what they’re experiencing is the same reality that everyone else is experiencing – but they would be wrong.  Everyone’s mind is constantly collecting information from all of its senses and continually trying to make sense of all of its surroundings.  If those senses are your input, your hallucination is the digital rendering.  And this is the genius of true virtual reality, where all of your inputs have been taken over, and your mind hallucinates your new digital reality.

On the path to a true virtual reality, we have much ground to cover.  Sound is perhaps easiest, sight is where the most progress is being made today, and touch is where new ground is being broken.  There are a few people putting energy towards taste and smell but they don’t seem to be a priority right now (although I can’t help but think that smell may be one of the most immersive inputs).  The piece of tech which I’m most interested in at the moment is the haptic suit, a full body suit which allows for a very real sense of touch.  Within the next 10 years, I think it’s extremely likely that we’ll have sight, sound, and touch dialed in at a very high level.  But perhaps this is where we’ll plateau.  The biggest obstacle I see in VR is getting to the point where we have this brilliant digital universe to explore, only to be bumping into the couch and TV at home as we try.

As I’m trying to map out the future of virtual reality, I’m seeing an eventual division between analog and digital.  Analog will be with the helmet, headphones, haptic suit, and everything else.  Digital will be with what Elon and a few other think tanks are working on right now, a direct neural link.  I don’t understand the science well enough to know what the timeline on something like this is but with the ramp up of AI, it’ll probably come quicker than we’re ready for.  I suspect that this will be the technological jump that truly takes us into the digital age.

Today, so much of what we already do exists in the digital realm.  Our work, our social lives, the way we learn, the way we play, the way we explore, the way we communicate…  it’s now all digital first.  What some of us may not realize or want to accept is that we’re already one foot in the digital world.  We just have a low-bandwidth way of accessing it.  What if it wasn’t through our thumbs on our phones or fingers on our keyboards that we accessed our digital world?  What if we could interact with the digital world as quickly and accurately as we interact with the physical world?  What would that look like?  What would that lead to?  Or maybe there’s another way of looking at this.  If this is the direction we’re already headed in, what problem is this a solution to?

Well, what  if the current level of inequality in the world persisted?

Well, life finds a way…

I’ve watched very closely as the disposable income of the lower and middle class has evaporated over the past decades.  Half your income goes to tax, of what’s left, half goes to rent, of what’s left, you try to live a life you’re happy with.  It’s failing.  And when going outside begins to cost significantly more than staying in, dynamics start to change.

Personally, I’m feeling a very real resistance to leaving my house because of how much it costs.  Rent is so high right now that to remain on budget, I moved to the edge of the city I’m in.  Our city is paying the highest fuel costs in North America, which means anytime I want to go anywhere, I’m mindful of fuel and parking.  High costs of real estate mean business owners need to increase their prices to stay open.  That means the cost of eating out or shopping at local businesses becomes prohibitive.  I used to eat out several nights a week with friends for the company and experience.  Now we all stay in.

Stagnant wages in tandem with a drastic increase in the cost of living has left the younger generations without much to work with.  So we rose to the occasion and introduced the world to the sharing economy and decentralization.  Knowing this leaves me optimistic about our future.  I suppose I’m pretty optimistic in general, but that’s not to say that I don’t see the other side.

Through the trailers of Ready Player One, it looks to take place about 20-30 years in the future where many of today’s biggest problems haven’t been solved – in all likelihood, they’ve gotten worse.  In a world where the cost of living rises faster than income and a minimum wage doesn’t afford you a minimum lifestyle, in a world where government has forgotten its responsibility to the people and in a world where a handful of people horde the majority of the world’s wealth… where do the rest of us go?

According to Spielberg… into the Oasis.

I can’t help but think that I’m glimpsing that future now.  As the digital approach has made things easier and more convenient, we’ve adopted them.  From our finances to our social lives, we’re already most of the way there.  What I think may determine how quickly we move towards being fully immersed in this digital reality is going to be a function of cost.

If it continues to cost more to be outside than to stay in, we’re going to come up with better reasons for staying in.  Virtual commuting, virtual sporting events, virtual concerts, virtual dating… virtual sex… did I mention that porn was likely going to be one of the biggest drivers for advances in VR?  I digress.  If it costs $100 to go out and have the full analog experience, or $10 to have a virtual experience that’s most of the way there, which would you choose?  And what if you didn’t have $100?

Personally, I’m kind of excited about event-based virtual reality.  Big Jay Z concert on tonight?  Don’t want to spend $200 or deal with the lines and crowds?  No problem, just put on your VR headset with your VR headphones and you’ll be teleported to a front row seat where you can H to the Izzo along with everyone else.  Now imagine being ring-side for a big UFC match… or pitch-side at a world cup finals where you didn’t have to pay for the flight, hotel, and rental car.. and where you go back to your normal life when you take the VR kit off.  That sounds pretty darn neat to me.

While the cost of staying in versus going out is likely going to have a huge effect on the development curve of this technology, I don’t think it will change the destination.  There’s something extremely unique about a digital reality that’s so much harder to create in the physical world, and that’s freedom.  In Ready Player One’s digital reality, everyone creates an avatar for themselves to explore The Oasis.  Want to try out another gender for the day?  Go for it.  Want to be the giant robot from Pacific Rim? why not.  When the limitations of how you project yourself rest within your own imagination, I can’t help but think we’re going to encounter something very, very cool.  And it’s not just about the freedom to be who you want, it’s also the freedom to do what you want.

Something especially interesting about a digital reality is that it literally comes with it’s own laws of physics.  I have a recurring dream in which I have the ability to fly.  Sometimes it’s even lucid, so in a very real way, I’ve been able to experience what it’s like to fly around the city like a superhero.  Best thing ever.  Unless that experience would be available to me anytime I wanted.  Or maybe you’d rather fly around the galaxy and explore the other planets.  Imagine being able to shrink down to the size of an atom and explore molecular structure.  Or imagine having no physical form at all.  Crazy right?

I was watching Elon at SXSW a little while ago and what stood out most to me was something he said about AI.  At least in the early stages, it’ll be our responsibility to give direction to the AI – A prime directive.  As Hollywood would suggest, telling the AI to keep us safe probably isn’t the right approach.  We’re terrible at keeping ourselves safe and it’s a big part of how we’ve gotten this far.  So what directive do we give the AI?  According to Elon, it’s to maximize our freedom.  I can’t help but think that he’s done the same deep dive that I have and understands how central the concept of freedom is to the human condition.

If freedom is core to who we are, and essential to our growth and evolution as a species, shouldn’t we pursue the direction which affords us the most freedom?  Would that not be one which also frees us from the limitations of our physical selves?  Worth pondering.  But who’s to say that we’re not putting ourselves in the matrix by pursuing the future.  In The Matrix, it was a war between man and machine which led to machine dominating man and plugging them into the Matrix as batteries.  Maybe a more accurate future is one where we plug ourselves in and forget to leave.

The Illusion Of Privacy

Every so often, I come up with an idea which I think is worth writing about.  When I do, I make a note and then come back to it when I’m ready.  This one is from December, but all the hype around Facebook and Cambridge Analytica suggested it was time.

There seems to be a fair bit of traction behind the #deletefacebook movement and I find that surprising.  But then, less so.

We seem to be in an age where we quickly look for someone to blame.  I can relate to looking at a problem and immediately looking to identify the cause, but there’s often a wide gap between the cause of a problem and someone you can blame.  In many cases, the individual being blamed, even when ‘justified’, is a symptom of a bigger problem that isn’t being acknowledged.  It’s why problems usually find ways to persist when you remove the symptom.

In a world where people are quickly looking to label the bad guy, I find a lot of people blaming businesses or technology.  Something something corporations are ruining the world.  Something something technology is destroying humanity.  I find this perspective rather challenging.  As far as I know, technology and business becomes rather hollow when you remove people from the equation.  In that sense, both are extensions of our own humanity.  Both are tools we’ve developed over time to help us accomplish more with less.  Understanding that these tools are a reflection of our own humanity, we accept that we can be capable of both good and evil.  From fireworks to gunpowder, from missiles to rockets.

What I’m getting at is that if we want to move past the blame game and start looking to solve the problems we’re facing, we need to look at the people.  It’s people who are behind the development of this technology.  It’s people who are behind the companies like Cambridge Analytica.  And it’s people who are allowing themselves to be taken advantage of by both.  So it’s about time we look at the people involved.

For the most part, I place very little responsibility on the tech developers at Facebook, or anywhere else for that matter.  Almost every piece of technology that’s made, is made to solve a problem.  If it doesn’t solve a problem, it becomes obselete.  Throughout history, people have shown a desire to be more connected with one another.  Technological advancements in transportation brought us from horseback riding to hyperloops.  In communication, we went from telegraphs to texting.  Along the way, we realize that we didn’t have to physically be in the same place to have a social interaction with someone.  To some extent, we realized that we didn’t even need the other person to be there at all.  Asian Avenue, Apartment 107, Black Planet, Myspace… all pre-cursors to Facebook and show a continuum of what we were trying to accomplish.  The internet gave us this great platform where we could connect digitally instead of physically, and it was a dynamic that we clearly wanted to explore.  Had it not been Facebook, it would’ve been someone else.  And to think that this evolution stops at Facebook would be be unwise.  Social Media wasn’t a lab experiment from Silicon Valley, it was a social evolution, started by, driven by, and consumed by people.  Facebook just happens to be the playground we chose to play in today.

The blade is a tool, indifferent to whether it cuts the flesh of your enemies or a dinner for your friends.  It’s the person who chooses how to use the tool.  Could Facebook have made it more difficult for Cambridge Analytica to do what they did?  Probably.  What happened to #DontBlameTheVictim?  Maybe it only applies to people..  Regardless, understanding what happened at Cambridge Analytica is definitely the fun part.

Cambridge Analytica was a firm who realized that Facebook could be used as a platform for modern political propaganda and did so with a high level of efficacy.  That’s it.  I’m trying to see why it’s more complicated and complex than this, and I don’t think it is.  Propaganda isn’t a new or foreign concept.  For as long as there’s been politics, there have been people trying to manipulate the message for the sake of political gain.  And America has probably used those tools more frequently and effectively than any other government in the last 100 years.  How much has been used against its own citizens and how much has been used in countries abroad is anyone’s guess.  But just as propaganda found its way into print media, broadcast media, and digital media, it would surely make its way into social media.

Cambridge Analytica looks like they may have been up to some other shady political tactics.  If they happened, it just strengthens the case that politics desperately needs to be removed from governance.  But politics is how the powerful stay in power so perhaps that’s too big of a topic to tackle here.  What is worth focusing on though is what Cambridge Analytica was able to do and why they were able to do it.  After having watched all the hidden camera footage from Channel 4, one thing stood out to me more than anything else – their goal of targeting people’s fears.

The only thing that Facebook really provided Cambridge Analytica with were details on the things that you liked and didn’t like.  The sinister part was when they took the details of each voter profile and used them to created targeted groups based on what they were most afraid of.  If you were from a southern community which had lost jobs to immigrants, it was ‘build that wall’.  If you were afraid of a change in gun legislation, it was ‘Hillary will take your guns’.  If you were concerned with political corruption, it was ‘drain the swamp’.  Whatever you were afraid of, they would play to your fears.  While most people know that making decisions from a place of fear isn’t great, not everybody knows why.   Turns out it’s literally the wrong part of the brain for making these decisions.  The part of the brain which governs emotions like fear, is different from the part of the brain which governs rational thought.  People are navigating this propaganda in an emotional state of mind instead of a rational state of mind.  Instead of being able to think critically and rationally about the content that’s in front of them, they’re thinking emotionally and looking for an enemy.

And this is where I let Cambridge Analytica off the hook.  They should be held accountable for what they did, but then, we should also be held accountable for what we let them do.

The first few times I saw a juicy headline on Facebook, I definitely clicked through.  Juicy headlines and misdirection have been around since well before the Facebook news feed so it’s not like I was being duped, I was just sufficiently curious.  But each time was a let down.  The headline was always better than the content.  So I learned to stop clicking on what was eventually termed ‘click-bait’.  Seemed straight forward.

Over time, digital publications like BuzzFeed and Vice started popping up on my timeline.  They were far more legitimate than the click-bait articles I was used to, but something else was going on.  These publications also realized they had tapped into fear.  The fear of being a racist, the fear of being a sexist, the fear of being transphobic, and perhaps most importantly, the fear of being on the wrong side of a movement which seemed to be based on the virtuous pursuit of equality.  Their approach was more nuanced than Cambridge Analytica.  Instead of pushing raw propaganda to their audience, these digital publications started editing interviews or not properly sourcing articles, looking to craft a narrative which their audience was hungry for.  They were more interested in providing a narrative which made you feel good about what you already thought.  When you think you have the moral high ground, confirmation bias can be a dangerous thing.

But not everyone fell for it.

Not everyone took Jordan Peterson’s Vice interview at face value.  Not everyone liked or shared memes saying ‘The South Will Rise Again’.  Not everyone saw a comment section where everyone was agreeing with them and jumped right in.  Not everyone avoided a perspective that challenged their own.  And for those who did debate, not everyone approached it as a battle of them versus us.  Some of us couldn’t help but look at it as us versus the problem.

The problem isn’t privacy.  The problem isn’t Facebook.  The problem isn’t even Cambridge Analytica or the shady politicians they help put in positions of power.  The problem is us.

The problem is us.

When tools stop working, people stop using them.  Propaganda is the tool, and it will be used as long as we keep letting it work.  If we #deletefacebook, I can all but guarantee that this propaganda will follow us whichever social media channel we choose to spend those hours.  If we put the team at Cambridge Analytica behind bars, I can all but guarantee that another organization will take its place.  So why is our reaction still to place blame instead of facing the reality that this is about accountability.

If you think that sharing information about yourself makes you a better target for people looking to take advantage of you, welcome to the world.  But there’s hope.. and perhaps things are darkest before dawn.

I’ve learned to live my life like an open book.  I’ve abandoned the illusion of privacy.  I understand that information is more valuable when fewer people have it, but I also understand that knowledge is most valuable when everyone has it.  Digging deep on why people value privacy, it almost always comes back to a fear of what others will do with their private information.  So I choose to live without a fear of what others would do if they knew everything about me.

And – it – is – glorious!

I really couldn’t care less if Facebook showed to the public: my health records, my genealogy, my personal finances, my relationship history, purchasing behaviour… all of it.  To some extent, I wish they would.  I would gladly take that risk to try and demonstrate that transparency isn’t itself a risk.  In reality, our ability to share more information with one another has been at the core of every big leap forward our species has taken.  From a spoken language, to a written language, to the printing press, to the internet.  We just seem to have momentary lapses in judgement where we’re afraid of what will happen when only some of us can access that information.

We’ve now arrived at a point where between Facebook, Google, Apple and the NSA, there isn’t much that isn’t known about us.  The data is already being collected and unless you’re keen to go live off the grid, it won’t stop.  Who gets access to that data is largely out of our control.  There will always be bad actors with innovative ideas on how to abuse that dynamic… which means we either have to accept that we’re screwed, or find a way to rise above it.  I choose to rise above it.

My choice is that when someone takes the time to learn about me, and to use that information to take advantage of me, I’m prepared.  Not only am I prepared to be critical of the information I’m being presented with, I’m also prepared to be critical of my own actions if I allow myself to be misled.  It’s not always easy and I’m not always perfect, but when you let go of right and wrong and prioritize the truth, seeing through the noise becomes much easier.

I think that everyone’s life will be impeded by dishonesty and misdirection at some point, but I think it’s worth considering that it’s our tendency to be dishonest with ourselves which impedes our progress most.  A fear of how others might perceive us and how that might impact our lives.  But what happens when we let that fear guide us?  What happens when everyone had the ability to project to the world what they thought the world wanted of us?  Social Media gave us that ability and we’ve used it to create noise.  It’s a feedback loop of confusion where people struggle to understand the disconnect between how we present ourselves and who we really are.  And the closer we get to facing the truth, the louder we yell ‘Privacy!’

Or we could just let go.  When I imagine a world that has abandoned the premise of privacy, I see a world which has embraced the value of transparency.  I see a world that has truly realized the value of honesty.  A world where every piece of information is always available to every person.  I can’t help but think about that being the ultimate equalizer.

 

The Future of Advertising

Part of my degree was in marketing so I tend to see advertising through a different lens than most.  The other part of my degree was in psychology so I can’t help but see the psychological component as well.  One dynamic which I find particularly interesting is in how we actively tune out the noise for traditional advertising, but when we see someone we respect engaging positively with a brand, we take note.  The Starbucks cup or the Lululemon tote bag may be a bit played out today, but both are great examples of how this works.

Years ago, I was watching TV and noticed how the characters on the show had to avoid mentioning specific brands – likely because they didn’t have approval and seeking approval would’ve required legal paperwork and perhaps a fee.  In certain instances, it actually made for rather awkward speech.  In reality, we actually reference brands and products on a regular basis, in our regular speech, for the sake of accuracy.  Which means that not being able to use brand names in certain areas of media actually hurts the dialogue.  Wouldn’t it make sense to write the dialogue as you would naturally, and then approach the brands mentioned in a positive manner for ad revenue?

There are certainly some complexities to this strategy, but I doubt they’re beyond our ability to solve.  Based on how I’ve seen things progress, I think this is actually being done now to some extent.  What a concept, letting a character talk about their Mercedes or BMW, let them talk about their iPhone or Android, let them talk about their favorite restaurant or coffee shop.  Script writers would have to maintain integrity so that it didn’t come off as a plug or mini-infomercial, but I don’t think that would be too difficult.  The idea isn’t about sneaking an advertisement into something we’re already paying attention to, it’s about letting a brand impression exist where a brand impression would already naturally exist.

 

So maybe we’re starting to turn that corner, but where does it go from here?  I have an idea.

Right now, AI and computer vision allow YouTube to recognize most copy-written material and then defers action to the original owner.  As AI and computer division develop further, they won’t just be able to recognize the content, they’ll be able to recognize what’s in the content.  Watching a movie, and see a sweet car that you’ve never seen before?  No problem, hit pause, hover your mouse over the car and see a few quick details.  Super interested?  Click on the details and you’ll head straight to the website.  Now imagine being able to do that with clothes, foods, toys, and everything else.

If we approach this correctly, I can’t help but think it would be a massive win-win for everyone.  No more advertisements.  No more commercials.  No more jingles.  And especially no more manipulation of public perception in the hopes of earning a sale from someone who doesn’t actually need or want your product.  If this done correctly though, I think the biggest winners may actually be the businesses.

Rather than guessing at where to advertise, how to advertise, and how much to spend on advertising, just paying per click.  Every time someone sees a piece of media that includes your product and someone wants to know more about it, there’s your point of monetization.  Next-level pay-per-click advertising.  Effectively, you’re only paying to connect people to your product, when they’ve shown an interest in your product.  Not only is that a more streamlined approach, it builds trust rather than degrades it.

Efficiency is my North Star.  When someone sees something they’re interested in, they want to know more about it.  If they learn more about it and they want to buy it, they want a quick and easy way to complete that transaction.  Businesses want to provide those details and the option of that transaction to potential customers, however, they would prefer to only spend their advertising budget on people who are interested.  This strikes me as a remarkably efficient approach compared to what’s out there now.

Thinking it through a little further, I know there are bound to be a few hiccups.  What happens if someone you don’t like is wearing or using your product?  What if you’re just getting started and you need to get your product out there to begin with?  I could come up with a few other issues that would exist in today’s unspoken rules of advertising but I can’t help but think that it’s just not that complicated.  If you’re on the alt-left and someone on the alt-right is wearing one of your products?  Grow up.  Appreciate the extra revenue, and appreciate that if they’re wearing your stuff, you may have more in common with them than you might think.  Just getting started?  Send free products out to influencers who would appreciate them.  If you have solid product, they’ll show it off and you should end up with a cascading effect.  If you send your product out to the people who would appreciate it, and they don’t?  Maybe you picked the wrong influencers, or perhaps your product just isn’t very good.  Regardless of what obstacles I come up with, the solutions don’t seem very far away.

I’d estimate we’ll have the tools to do this within about 10 years.  Whether or not major industry players are interested in challenging the status quo is a different story though.  But this is why ‘revolutionary’ has become the holy grail of doing business.  Whoever breaks that mold, I’m rooting for you.

Non Biological Intelligence

Had a thought.

It was that artificial intelligence was a misnomer because biological intelligence is no more real than non-biological intelligence.  I would be wrong.

While my statement would be correct in reference to the concept of intelligence, it was incorrect in reference to the world artificial  I grew up understanding artificial to mean fake, not real, or an imitated version of.  Turns out it’s a little more nuanced.  Artificial simply means created by humans instead of occurring naturally.  I’m happy I looked that up.

I had another thought.

At this stage, AI is being largely designed and furthered by humans.  That workload is starting to shift.  At a certain point, AIs will be able to further their own intelligence and will require no more from humans than humans require from computers today.  At this point, if you can no longer say that an AI’s intelligence was created by a human, is it still artificial?

The definition of artificial suggests two things: created by humans and not occurring naturally.  Once an AI takes over the development of its own intelligence, is that development not happening naturally?  When naturally is defined as without special help or intervention, the answer is yes.  But what about when we consider the definition of nature?  Well, Google would suggest that nature is the phenomena of the physical world […] as opposed to humans or human creations.  While you could make the argument that a self-developing AI was originally created by a human, it would like someone having planted a seed saying that they created a tree.  And just like the tree, the next generation of offspring would lack any direct connection to human creation.

So by definition, artificial intelligence becomes non-biological intelligence once it becomes responsible for its own intellectual development.  Very interesting.

Reddit Might’ve Just Saved Net Neutrality

Reddit is one of my primary information feeds.  Perhaps needless to say, I’m a fan.  Over the last week or so, I’ve observed something rather significant.

First, the gaming community mobilized against EA and their release of Star Wars: Battlefront 2.  EA’s new progression system meant that most of the game’s best content had to be earned.  Doesn’t sound too bad at first, until you find out that to unlock all the game’s content, it would take over 4500 hours, or $2,100.  To put that in perspective, if you were to play for 3 hours a day, 365 days a year, it would take you just over 4 years to unlock all the content.  To put that in perspective, the next generation of consoles is expected out before then.  And that $2100 that they’re hoping you’ll spend?  That’s above and beyond the $80 price tag for the game itself.  Short-sighted greediness for sure, but something was different this time.

Someone on Reddit had a rant, and EA replied with a classic, corporate speak, disingenuous answer.  I won’t bother repeating the entire reply as the opening sentence says it all:

“The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment for unlocking different heroes.”

I’m tempted to pick it apart, but I’d just be pointing out the obvious.  The response though, was something special.  That reply, became the most down-voted comment in the history of Reddit, earning over 600,000 demerits within just a few days.  Not only did this make the news across several major outlets and cause the execs at Disney to check in on EA, but EA also froze the in-game payment system until further notice.  A win?  Maybe,  but the gaming community isn’t buying it (literally) as they suspect EA will just unfreeze the payment system once enough gamers have caved in.  Well fortunately for the gamers, sales are down significantly compared to the game’s first installment and that’s starting to weigh on EA’s stock price.  Effectively, the gaming community found a way to mobilize on Reddit to deny EA the opportunity to make a really dumb decision.  All within a few days.  All with a few clicks.  Very interesting.

Among all the gaming hoopla, I saw a post that said something to the effect of, ‘If we cared half as much about Battlefront 2 as we did about net neutrality, we wouldn’t have to worry about net neutrality’.  Well, Reddit responded.  Earlier this week, for about 48 hours straight, Reddit’s entire front page was entirely dedicated to the mobilization for net neutrality.  This wasn’t a banner, or an ad, or front page image, it was what seemed to be thousands of posts, across thousands of sub-reddits, all being up-voted by the masses.  I was almost a little annoyed that for 2 days, I didn’t have normal access to one of my news feeds, but I couldn’t help but be in awe of what I was seeing.

I don’t know if the effort by Reddit or any of the other tech majors will be enough to stop this repeal.  Senators don’t pay nearly as much attention to internet chatter as they do to phone calls to their office.  Assuming an average call takes 10 minutes, an office could theoretically take 144 calls over a 24 hour period, or 1008 calls over the course of a week.  There are 100 senators, meaning a little over 100,000 calls would completely occupy the senate’s phone lines for a week.  If that happened, it would probably be the documented as one of the greatest public protests of all time.

At this point, I don’t have a clue how many up votes were cast across how many posts.  If I had guess, somewhere between 2-5 million, suggesting that the support is somewhere between 20-50 times what it should probably take to get the government to reconsider their position.

There are a few problems here.  First, why is it that in a democratic framework, where the people have not asked to repeal net neutrality, is the Chairman of the FCC introducing measures to repeal net neutrality?  The second problem is that internet community, arguably the constituents of this decision, are protesting this decision more fiercely than anything they’ve ever done – and it might be ignored.  Finally, and perhaps the worst problem is that we’re encouraged to think that calls into our senators’ offices are what will make the difference here but at this point, we know that’s bullshit.  They listen when they have to, and they use public backlash as a measure of what they can get away with while still being able to get re-elected.  In all likelihood, there are only two calls that would make a difference here:  If Ajit Pai received a call from the president, or if received a call from the chairman of Verizon.  Unfortunately for us, both have vested financial interests in restricting how the general population accesses information… so I don’t see it happening.

Doom and gloom, I know.  But there’s a bright side.  An awesome bright side.  Government needs tech, desperately.  I’ve been mulling over the idea of a app that would let governments better connect and engage with their people.  The current lines of communication between politicians and their constituents minimize inbound traffic which increases the disconnect.  Without a live connection to your people, it becomes a lot easier to pay attention to the lobbyist that just took you out for a nice steak dinner.  The people need a platform that lets them engage in real time with the people making these kinds of decisions, one that’s easy to use, that people would want to use, and one which decision makers would be held accountable to.  The way that EA and Disney reacted to the Star Wars: Battlefront 2 issue was the first time that any modern platform, let alone Reddit, ticked all those boxes.  If we manage to stop the repeal of net neutrality, I might even say proof of concept.

While Reddit might be the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of a platform like this, Reddit wasn’t designed to bridge the gap between a government and its people.  To do that, it might have to be a little less rough around the edges and frankly, that’s just not Reddit.  But that’s ok, because I have a hard time thinking that I’m the only one that’s been inspired here.  I suspect there are a lot of smart people out there who are seeing what I’m seeing.  We need to revolutionize the way that a government listens to its people and I think the public is figuring that out in a hurry.

One of the greatest counter-productive efforts throughout history has been the ruling class putting a greater emphasis on maintaining their power than helping their people.  A lot of us assumed that kind of behavior died off with the monarchies but somehow it’s more obvious today than ever.  I think we have the internet to thank for that.  The internet revolutionized how we access information which means the government is having a harder and harder time controlling the conversation.   They’re still trying, and it’s confusing the hell out of a lot of people, but the truth keeps finding a way.

The best thing about this for me is that when I keep pulling at that thread and try to visual where this takes us, I start to see something pretty special. If we could create a public that’s actively engaged with the governance issues that they’re interested in, able to control the public discourse, and aware of what one another is thinking in real-time, we have a highly capable voter base that’s capable of decentralizing a government’s power.  If we can connect that voter base to governing officials who are accountable to public discourse and the ongoing engagement of their constituents, we may just be able to put everyone back on the same team and point them in the same direction.  Wouldn’t that be neat.

 

 

Business Ideas: The Next Great Chat Platform

First came texting.. or sms.  Then came a slew of other chat platforms like BBM, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snap, and not to mention the messaging functions in other apps like Instagram.  I thought it was downright ridiculous what Facebook paid for Whatsapp considering that they could’ve bought all of Blackberry, including Blackberry’s BBM platform and security IP for a fraction of the price.  I could see a shift away from sms but considering that 99% of my texts were just brief text messages, all the added functionality on the newer platforms were lost on me.

The craze over Snapchat also seemed rather ridiculous.  The novelty of sending nudes that would auto-delete wore off pretty quickly when people remembered you could still take a screen shot, but the platform persisted.  I think I eventually figured out why Snapchat was so popular, and it’s rather interesting.  When pictures auto-delete, they don’t take up space on your phone, meaning you can send them frivolously.  A picture is worth a thousand words so a facial expression along with a text is a far richer message than just the text.  It’s also a bit of a game with all the added functionality of filters that continue to push the boundaries of augmented reality.  Effectively, it’s a superior mode of communication to classic texting and like with most things.. the kids are all over it while the old people are complaining about how they don’t understand kids these days.

So what’s the winning recipe?  Especially when you have such well established heavy-weights dominating the industry?  Simple solve the two most relevant problems.  Give them a centralized messaging platform and take an opensource approach to the development of add-ons and other features.

A central messaging platform would allow you to receive messages from all the other messaging platforms, features in tact.   The opensource approach to feature development and add-ons would effectively give the platform to the people, letting them continually develop what they wanted for it.  Almost a democratic approach to its evolution.

Anyone already using more than one platform would likely to gravitate to a centralized messaging hub.  Knowing that the hub maintains the features of all other major platforms, you wouldn’t even need to have the app on your phone after adding your account.  Keeping the feature development in the hands of the users would also ensure that the platform would always remain current.

Texting is like a utility.  Sending brief messages from person to person has become standard mode of communication and the technology is readily available.  Make it secure, make it quick, and have a rich set of continually updated features.  One and two are the responsibility of the business, number three are for the people.  I see a few other businesses who have pulled this off, and many more who might benefit by taking a closer look.