While I’m a big fan of cool new technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain and VR/AR, I have to confess that I’m starting to get tired of these technologies sucking all the air and taking the shine from a lot of other cool technology being developed across the world. We have AI in art, in finance, healthcare. While these technologies are providing value, the hype is getting a tad bit too much.
I’ll be at SXSW for all 10 days this year (hit me up at @SeyiFabo if you’d like to connect), and I know I won’t be able to avoid ‘AI and VR in everything’ but here are 6 other trends that I’m hoping to learn more about at this geek fest.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin just announced the first paying client for his space exploration company. This after Elon Musk suggested that two SpaceX customers will fly to the moon. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan are building a school. Google’s Sidewalk Labs is transforming 16 US cities in smart cities with technology to improve commutes, add clean energy etc.You get the point; our largest technology companies are taking the money they’ve earned from likes/clicks/ads and using them to address systems (large systems) like space, education, cities and energy. Sign me up for capitalism becoming civic tech.
This is not so much a new trend as it is one that will be amplified over the next few years; doing deep collaborative work across time zones on company critical projects without being a ‘regular employee’. This is different from consulting (you’re brought in to assist but you aren’t part of the core work of building a company), freelancing (time and task/project bound work for a company/client) and temporary employment (time bound work). This new type of work structure is different and it’s based on companies recognizing that when a person is an expert or well sought out in their field (whatever the field), this person does not just want a job. This ability to employ a professional without them being an employee is aided by collaboration technology (Slack etc) and the ability to plug in and work from anywhere in the world. Kevin Kelly touches on this in ‘The Inevitable’ and the Microsoft Future of Productivity video below does a fantastic job sharing this
Branded Cities and Digital Countries
As more cities open up city data, digitally savvy brands and marketers are diving into this data to figure out when and where to sell to you and I. Combining traffic data with weather data, with information gleaned from your plate number (you’d be amazed!) and distance traveled in your car on that particular commute, brands can hyperlocally target ads to commuters (e.g. deals on rotisserie chicken at your local grocery store on your way home after a 2 hour commute). While creepy, it’s the future of customized advertising that is inevitable in a world where all our data (personal and city scale) is out there for the world to mine. This becomes a new revenue stream for struggling cities.
Hand in hand with the branded city movement will be the digitization of whole countries. I was in Mauritius last year and there is a push, with Chinese help, to move the whole (albeit small) country to high-speed internet to support the service economy transition that the government is embarking on. The most ambitious digital country plan is in India; Microsoft has pledged to supply broadband to 500k villages and the countrywide ID initiative is going ahead full steam. Expect more countries to push into these as they smarten up their cities.
Grid Defection as a Service
The movement to disconnect from the centralized grid structure gained traction last year as Amazon, Google, 3M, Apple and a bunch of other large corporations started transitioning their energy supply to Distributed Energy Services Companies. There are willing companies that are interested in providing the hardware (wind turbines, grid-scale solar and battery technology) and combine it with service (acting as the utility partner). Expect this trend to accelerate this year. The acceleration will be aided by Fortune 1000–2000 companies hopping on board this train. For these companies it makes more business sense now than it’s ever done as electricity prices from renewable sources are on par and dropping compared to solar.
With taglines like ‘Better brains, Better Society’, companies like Nootrobox are pushing the frontier of cognition-enhancing supplements that are purported to have no side effects. We’ve been here before with products that make these claims. But the convergence of trends in what is considered as food (Soylent anyone?), protein lunches (Protein Bars) and a willingness to try new technology more than ever before have warmed us up to healthy energy in new containers. The next logical step is the miniaturization of brain enhancing products like what Nootropics promises us. I might be skipping this one :).
L’Oreal generates $28bn revenue selling skincare and beauty products across the world. So it’s no surprise that the company seems to be at the forefront of the beauty tech trend. At CES, L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator released a smart hairbrush (image below). People laughed (I was one of them), but our consciousness has been shifted just a little; our beauty products can now be personalized to serve individual needs. With personalized and connected beauty products like the Mapo mask, our technology now allows us to cater to the true diversity in what we consider as beauty.
Now We’re Editing Genes (CRISPR)
Now this is the stuff that truly starts to worry the ethics folk; over the last four years, scientists figured out a way to quickly edit animal and human genes using a quirk in the immune systems of bacteria. CRISPR (or Cas9) enables scientists to make these edits in days. It used to take weeks and sometime even months! And it’s led to a flurry of work across research institutes (University of Pennsylvania researchers received approval to edit T cells in cancer patients) and startups are diving into the game too (Editas Medicine is focused on curing congenital eye disease using CRISPR methods).
I’m pretty excited about where technology is these days. And beyond the hype of AI, Blockchain and VR/AR, there is a lot of great work going on across the world.