In, out, in, out, what’s it all about?

You put your first vote in
your second vote out
in, out, in, out
you shake it all about

You do the EU hokey cokey
and you turn around
that’s what Brexit’s all about

Woah, the hokey cokey
woah, the hokey cokey
woah, the hokey cokey
ears bent
patience stretched
ra-ra-ra

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Table of Megatrends & Technologies (in Polish)

If anyone out there did this or knows who did please get in touch. I don’t mind at all, but I would love a digital copy.

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Thought for the day

There is occasional wisdom in card shops….

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No reason.

Just liked it, thats all.
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2019 Trends

Six of the best – something I wrote for the Sunday Mail in Australia.

1.Digital provenance

We’ve had provenance as an important trend in food and drink for some time and interest in where things are from and how they’re made is spilling over into areas like fashion too. A next step is digital provenance, whereby we become interested in how virtual products are made and what resources are used in their manufacture. An early example of this is Explainable AI, whereby the decision histories of automated systems can be revealed. This might sound geeky, but as we cede more control to machines it becomes increasingly important to establish whether computer code contains errors or biases. This is especially true when machines like autonomous vehicles make life or death decisions on our behalf.

A further development from this is what might be termed stories of creation, specifically, ‘extractivism’, which seeks to expose the natural resources used in the creation of everyday goods, especially virtual goods and services that we take for granted. This links with localism and sustainability, but also taps into a thirst for reassurance in the face of declining trust. Look out for growing awareness of the hidden costs of digital products and virtual services. (Did you now, for example, that the internet is now responsible for 15% of global energy use? – Data centres alone could use 20% of all available electricity by 2025).

2. Rise of the vegans.

Veganism, which, in case you have been asleep for the past few years, is the militant wing of vegetarianism, seeks to avoid the use or exploitation of animals and animal products in any form. This is claimed to be healthy for people and the planet too. At the extreme, activist groups such as Peta are seeking to shame or convert non-vegans, which perhaps taps into a growing level of ethical consciousness, especially among younger generations.  There is currently a case before the courts in the UK to establish whether veganism can be considered a philosophy, in which case vegans will be conferred with certain rights. Indulgent self-identity or a sensible and sustainable solution to resource scarcity and climate change?

3. Digital balance

Digital transformation has been a mega-trend for some time, so it’s perhaps inevitable that a counter-trend would eventually emerge. Digital balance refers to people seeking to limit their use of digital products, especially mobile phones and social media. Evidence is starting to build that being overly connected can cause physical and mental harm and this is fuelling an interest in everything from analogue activities to pilgrimages where mobile devices are left behind in order to focus the mind on more important matters. At the extreme (there’s inevitably an extreme) some individuals, known as digital hermits, are rejecting digital technology altogether and are moving to remote places where such devices won’t work. Watch out for Tech-Free Tuesdays, schools banning mobiles and Wi-Fi networks, the growth of long-format journalism and, ironically, apps telling you when you’ve been online for too long.

 4. Air quality

First it was carbon, then it was water, now the world’s global elite are worrying about air, and rightly so. Air quality, especially urban air quality in the world’s major cities is dreadful and in places like China and India it’s positively dangerous. But it’s not only outside that we have an invisible issue under our noses. Indoor air quality can be harmful too and it won’t be long before workers in places like Shanghai are sent home from work, not because the office or factory is too hot or too cold, but because the air quality inside is outside acceptable limits.  Watch out for a growing demand for indoor air purifiers, air quality testing devices and Tasmania proudly proclaiming that it’s the fresh air capital of the world (queue fresh air migrants and fresh air tourism from the world’s most polluted mega-cities).

5. T.E.A

If you’re sitting on a beach in Asia or tucking into a backyard barbeque in the Southern hemisphere life probably seems pretty sunny. But in other parts of the world, especially northern Europe and the United States, dark clouds have appeared on the horizon.

T.E.A. stands for Tired, Emotional and Angry and describes the reaction of some people to everything from the BREXIT fiasco and the Teflon Trump trauma to the rise of authoritarian democracies and stagnating real incomes. Being T.E.A. results from being on the wrong side of globalisation, automation and digitalisation, where work is less secure and trust in experts and authority of all kinds has evaporated.  The way to dilute T.E.A. is to seize back control from professional politicians and big business and provide a vision and most of all a narrative that makes sense to the vast majority of people. Keep Calm and carry on? More a case of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

6. Return of the human

It’s early days, but we are starting to see signs that people do, in fact, like having physical contact with other people at some level, especially when they largely live or work alone. Automated systems are all well and good in terms of convenience, but they often fail and the cost savings they produce are rarely passed onto end users. More crucially, digital has started to disappoint in that virtual interfaces can be sterile and lacking in human warmth.

The Rise of the Human is distantly related to the Big Tech backlash, which taps into the tax-shy and ethically ambiguous behaviour of the FANGs (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google), but has more to do with the fact that many of the products we now rely on have been invented by nerdy and emotional stunted young men who have little or no understanding of real human needs. Keep an eye open for products that celebrate the human element, slogans, t-shirts and labels saying ‘Human Made’ and companies otherwise celebrating human uniqueness and imperfection. Also, watch out for the rise of craft, a celebration of ancient cultures and companies re-introducing people to replace machines. What goes around comes around as they say.

 

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Table of Disruptive Technologies

It’s made its way to Ukraine -in Ukrainian…

Link to PDF of table

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Poem on a Sunday

Have you slept in a tent alone—a tent
Out under the desert sky—
Where a thousand thousand desert miles
All silent round you lie?—
The dust of the aeons of ages dead,
And the peoples that trampled by?
Have you looked in the desert’s painted cup,
Have you smelled at dawn the wild sage musk,
Have you seen the lightning flashing up
From the ground in the desert dusk?
Have you heard the song in the desert rain
(Like the undertone of a wordless rhyme?)
Have you watched the glory of colors flame
In its marvel of blossom time?
Have you lain with your face in your hands, afraid,
Face down—flat down on your face—and prayed,
While the terrible sand storm whirled and swirled
In its soundless fury, and hid the world
And quenched the sun in its yellow glare—
Just you, and your soul, and nothing, there?
If you have, then you know, for you’ve felt its spell,
The lure of the desert land,
And if you have not, then I could not tell—
For you could not understand.

The Lure of the Desert Land
by Madge Morris Wagner

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Watson is out of the office

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Wow.

11 years ago I wrote about the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi (see below). Yesterday I finally went to have a look. It is quite simply the greatest modern building I’ve ever seen and one of the world’s top museums and art galleries. It is simply spectacular.    I mean, when was the last time you walked into a building and your jaw just hit the floor in awe? You can’t even speak for 60-seconds – you just look with your mouth open. The gallery is worth seeing for the building alone, but inside it’s just as good. So, in fact, you can create one of the world’s finest museums from scratch.

From 2007….

Abu Dhabi recently paid US$520 million for the rights to use the word ‘Louvre’ for 30 years. The country is spending a further US$747 for art loans and art advice. The franchising of art galleries and museums is a new trend. Abu Dhabi sits on 10% of the world’s known oil reserves and has plans to turn itself into the cultural capital of the Middle East. The new museum will be placed inside a US$27 billion centre that is perhaps the most ambitious arts project ever conceived, involving some of the highest profile architects alive today. The project is not without controversy though. In one corner sit the critics who argue that the ‘French’ collection is being compromised and diluted. On the other side are critics arguing that the new complex should feature Middle Eastern art and not ‘imported’ artefacts. The project stated with a meeting in 2004 that identified high-end tourism as a wave of the future. This, in turn, appeared to be driven by art and education, so a plan was born to attract a world-class cluster of cultural icons ranging from the Louvre to Yale University and the Sorbonne. One obvious parallel here is the Guggenheim in Las Vegas. There is also an art gallery in Skipol airport in Amsterdam. But is this really anything new? The works of Michelangelo and Donatello partly exist because of money provided by the Medicis, so culture has always been ‘bought’. The difference, perhaps, is context, but then again, everything has to start somewhere.
Ref: Newsweek (US), 6 August 2007, ‘Buying Culture’, Z. Krieger. www.newsweek.com

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The future of money and other matters

You’ve heard of the Internet of Things (IoT), where things that were once static and generally lacking in any form of intelligence ‘wake up’ and become somewhat aware of who they are, where they are and what condition they are in. This links with Big Data and predictive analytics, where objects generate data about themselves, and talk to other objects. As a consequence, many things that were once hidden, opaque or private become observable, verifiable and perhaps tradable.

One consequence of the IoT is that physical objects start to have digital doubles and start to dissolve into a spectrum that is neither wholly physical nor wholly digital. This is a world in which ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ start to lose clear meaning and where companies that were once purely in the business of selling physical products start to be involved with data, information and added value services.

For example, if you connect a pair of shoes to the internet they can start to generate data. They can record their ‘mileage’ so to speak, advise us when they need to be booked in for shoe repair (or do this themselves) or even diagnose certain medical problems, something that could be more valuable than the shoes themselves. Similarly, if you connect a floor or a carpet to the internet it can recognise people that walk across it or recognise when someone it knows falls down and doesn’t get up, which might trigger a call to a neighbour or the ambulance services.

What might such developments mean for money and banks?

First of all, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves with digital or connected money. According to De La Rue, the banknote printer, 85% of all transactions globally are still cash and while central banks and large companies might delight in the idea of a totally digital and frictionless future, many ordinary people prefer the anonymity and security of physical money. But what if money was to become fully digital and smart? For instance, what if you could program money to achieve certain social or political goals?

Allow me to elaborate.

In a smart future, where money becomes intelligent, my money will know where it is and whether it should perhaps be somewhere else. My money would have the ability to move itself around, either with or without my direct control, seeking better interest rates or responding to current and future needs.

This happens already with trading algorithms, but I’m talking about ordinary savings and cheque accounts. At a basic level, my money will know what I’m buying and when I’m likely to need something else. It would know, for example, when I’ve bought a car and could talk to it about it’s likely lifespan and forewarn me of the need to save to buy another.

Similarly, tax could become real time. No more annual tax returns, instead tax could be removed at point of purchase, as it is already with sales tax. But, and here’s the clever bit, with smart tax paid in real time, governments could vary the tax paid on particular items according to observed spending patterns, lifestyle choices and government policies. So, for example, the tax on a packet of cigarettes might be 50%, but if I try to buy another packet on the same day the tax on the second packet might rise to 90%. Tax becomes dynamic.

Insurance would similarly become more predictive and more individually tailored too. Rather than being sold annually, it might be sold by the minute based upon real time data and intelligence about risk. So, if I park my new car in a secure garage the payment goes down, but if I park it in the street outside a known trouble spot at 3am the cost would rise. Hence, companies that were once in the risk recovery business would become more involved in risk reduction. In other words, what’s happening with healthcare – a shift from disease cure to disease prevention – would happen within insurance.

Credit cards, debit cards and phone based payments could all become programmable in a smart future too. Parents could limit where and when their children spend their money, locking off certain times of day, certain product categories or certain geographic locations. You could even program a credit card to change colour if it was being used incorrectly or a credit limit had been reached.

But here’s the really good bit.

Not only could money be programmed by governments to achieve social goals. Money, or private currencies such as Bitcoin, could be issued and controlled by its community. So, a currency could, in theory, collect its own data and apply its own rules about how it is being held, how it is being spent and how it’s sold or exchanged.

So, in the future you may not be able to use Bitcoin in KFC restaurants, not because KFC doesn’t accept Bitcoin, but because the Bitcoin community doesn’t accept KFC for some reason. Or perhaps the Bitcoin community will not allow you to buy products produced by certain countries or even certain individuals.

In other words, you combine the idea of shareholder activism, with ethical capitalism and conviction brands to create currencies that bypass traditional business models and methods of exchange.

But we might stretch this idea even further. If money became smart and was represented by an avatar on your phone, we could have conversations with it. We could argue with our money, much in the same way that we argue with our bank manager at the moment.

We could ask our money to model various financial options for us or track the reliability of its advice. This happens already, to some extent. Travel websites use AI to track the cost of flights and offer advice to their customers as to precisely when they should buy a plane ticket.

Something else that’s starting to happen, which I’m quite excited about, is Explainable AI, which we should think of as an offshoot of Blockchain. As AI becomes more sophisticated and we trust machines to make important life decisions for us, it’s important that we are able to interrogate it, not only about decision histories, but potential biases too. To my mind this links to a number of societal trends such as the decline of trust in some societies to peoples’ thirst for transparency, narrative and provenance.

Where things come from, how they are made, by whom and when is emerging as important in many areas and digital is not immune. Indeed, digital provenance is in some ways more important than physical provenance due to the secrecy that currently surrounds so many of the algorithms that why now rely on.

Another idea that’s starting to emerge is the idea of lifelong digital assistants. These are AIs that grow up alongside us and know our needs, wants, behaviours and desires better than we know ourselves in some instances.

A lifelong personal assistant could make important decisions for us, such as advising us on when to buy a home or start a pension. It could talk with us, but also with other AIs owned by banks or other service providers. This is a future where AIs sell to other AIs and filter information, offers and advise on our behalf.

One further spin-off from this idea might be a kind of merger between wealth and health. If an AI had not only data relating to our income and savings, but also data about our genetics, our medical histories, our daily exercise routines, our eating and sleeping patterns and so on, it could make accurate predictions about how and when we’ll get sick in the future and might offer suggestions as to how we might pay for future treatments. This is potentially where Google is going in my opinion, or at least where Google would like to go if we allow it – a data driven platform that controls our entire lives from birth to death.

But back to banks. Why should advice and financial forecasting be limited to loans, pensions or even healthcare? Why can’t my bank advise me on university courses, career changes, holiday plans…anything at all that has financial implications?

To some extent this is precisely what banks used to do, certainly in the UK. A generation or two ago, bankers in the UK were among the most trusted members of the local community. You might even discuss a marriage proposal with your local bank manager.

Maybe we’ll go back to this future, but only if we can align a few things, some of which banks can control and some they can’t.

First, we need total security. Without digital trust nothing works and the digital transformation grinds to a halt. Money, at its core, is a trusted way to store or exchange value. If this trust collapses, people will use other things, most likely other physical things such as gold to store or transmit value. You might argue this is already happening and explains much of the asset inflation in things like real estate in places like London.

Second, banks need strike a balance between collecting enough customer data to provide useful personalisation and prediction, but do not collect so much data as to undermine individual privacy.

Thirdly, data ownership. We need to agree whose data this is. Is it mine, is it yours, is it shared or does it belong to someone else? Should private data be treated as fundamentally private, a public good or commodity that can be traded for profit?

Personally, I believe that if my actions create data that’s valuable to someone then I should be paid for it in some way or at the very least have an open and fair discussion about what I will receive if I surrender it. Having said this, I do agree that private data might by default be surrendered if it improves general wellbeing.

A fourth and final challenge is the nature of complex systems that underlie the technologies and inventions such as the ones I’ve been suggesting. If we start connecting everything then anything is vulnerable to disruption. So, not so much an Internet of Things as an Internet of Things to be Hacked and generally disrupted.

Complex systems can suffer catastrophic failures and we need to guard against a situation where connectivity creates new systemic risks or increases the attack surface for potential troublemakers. The global financial crisis of 2008 was, to my mind, partly caused by banks being too connected and by risk being too networked throughout the entire global system. (BTW, if you think the crash of 2008 won’t be repeated, I beg to differ).

Another risk worth thinking about is that in the rush to provide digital services for a new tech savvy generation is there’s a real danger that we could end up ignoring or badly serving older and less tech savvy people. This comes backs to the fact that 85% of transactions globally are still cash.

Digital payments are fast and convenient, but physical banks are still a great way to create and defend a brand. With basic transactional banking, speed and convenience are probably is the only factors that matter beyond cost. But with more valuable and more complex transactions I still believe that some people will always prefer to deal with people face to face, especially if economic circumstances are uncertain or unfavourable.

That’s more or less all I have to say, except that I think non-bank competition will increase and I think we’ll see more non-bank lenders offering hyper-personalised loans based not only upon interest rates, but upon personal interests and beliefs.

For example, in the UK veganism (the militant wing of vegetarianism) is a growing trend. There is even a case before the law courts at the moment to establish whether veganism might be considered a philosophy, in which case vegans might be given certain rights. So how about a vegan bank? More likely, how about a peer-to-peer online lender that only lends to vegans and only invests in vegan friendly companies?

If you think that is a little crazy, I have 3 other ideas for you that are possibly even more improbable, but not totally impossible.

My 1st idea is what if a bank, a loan provider or even a national currency gave people data about not only what they are spending but why they were spending? What if a bank or a government were to conduct psychological profiling against my spending patterns to determine why I’m buying certain things and offer advice as to whether I’d be better off spending my money in other ways (again, a link to a government’s social goals and priorities).

My 2nd idea is what if a government or central bank published data about what individuals, companies or organisations spent money on? What if every single transaction that an individual or an organisation made each year was published publically? How might their behaviour change as a result? Would we become better people?

My 3rd and final idea is giving money a use by date. If a central bank is trying to stimulate the economy one way of doing this is obviously interest rates. Another way is negative interest rates. But another idea might be to print ‘use by’ dates on bank notes or invent a digital currency that disappears over time. In other words, people would be penalised if they simply hoarded their money.

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