Alvis Brigis's Blog Posts

The Future of Social Media is Not All Open

June 03 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Social Media   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

Notorious VC Fred Wilson has strong opinions about the future of social media.

“I believe that we are headed to a world in which everyone will share their lives with the rest of the world via the Internet. That is social media. It’s a huge movement and we are at the start of it,” he recently proclaimed on his blog.

Over the years I’ve heard many futurists express similar sentiments about the direction of our species, arguing that the benefits of ubiquitous life-streaming, transparency, and the sharing of all information are so powerful that they will trump people’s reluctance to open up their lives to the rest of the world. While I certainly agree that we are probably at the start of a whole open information movement and that pervasive sharing is a useful trend on which to base forward-looking extrapolations, I nevertheless find it highly unlikely that ALL people will choose to participate, especially over the next 20 years.

Considering that we co-exist in a complex environment in which different people with very different personalities, cultures and behaviors each compete for resources and control, betting on such a simple future seems to leave a great many other futures out of the mix. (cont.)

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Nanotech Will Enable You to Hold Your Breath for Up to 4 Hours

May 30 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 7 Hot

At the recent Low-Volume Manufacturers Association conference, Boris Fritz, a senior engineer technical specialist at Northrop Grumman, said he expects nanotechnology in our lifetime to enable small devices called respirocytes that permit us to hold our breath for up to 4 hours.

“What you do is replace about 10% of your blood with these respirocytes and then you would have literally 4 hours where you can hold your breath,” lays out Fritz, “So if you had a problem with your heart stopping you could just leisurely call the hospital and tell them ‘Well, i’ve had a heart attack, my heart is stopped’.”

Or another option, as Fritz points out, is that “you could go scuba diving without any gear.”

Check out the full Fritz interview by Dean Rotbart, Director of the Low-Volume Manufacturers Association, here. (Would have embedded the vid, but the youtube code is buggy.) (cont.)

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Teleportals Go Social, Expect Them to "Expand"

May 30 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: The Web   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

A social exhibit called the telectroscope allows crowds in London and New York to interact with one another through a video “tunnel”, aka a giant webcam.

Conceived by installation artist Paul St. George, the device is named after the first word used to describe the possibility of a 2-way television back in 1878 and is stylized to look like an invention by H.G. Wells.

Despite its relative simplicity, the exhibit is drawing considerable attention in both real life and through the blogosphere, indicating that it has struck a chord with the popular imagination.

As LED and OLED interfaces get cheaper and web connections get faster, we can expect such tele-portals to expand in size and resolution and to proliferate. Just imagine how fascinating the next generation of huge interactive windows to different cities, concerts, real-time news events, etc, will turn out to be, and what sorts of new behavior they will make possible. (cont.)

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Rising Oil Prices Fueling Broad Economic Disruption

May 29 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 8 Hot

With crude oil hovering at an all-time high of $130/gallon people all over the globe are feeling the pain and starting to react in different ways.

Some are finally choosing to drive less frequently. CNN reports that “compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less—that’s 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT’s Federal Highway Administration said Monday, calling it ‘the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history.’”

Others are increasingly making the switch to higher-mileage and hybrid vehicles.

In Europe, where environmental taxes roughly double the cost of gas, groups of French and British workers are demanding public assistance by staging protests .

A few particularly pinched and pro-active folks in rural regions are shifting around their work week and travel schedule. According to the Wall Street Journal “a handful of small towns and community colleges are switching to four-day workweeks in an effort to help employees cope with the rising gasoline prices, and could soon be joined by some larger local governments.”

And of course there are the enterprising individuals who’ve decided that enough is enough and that it’s time to take drilling for oil into their own hands.

This is just the beginning. (cont.)

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Another Small Step For Google, A Giant Leap for Earth

May 29 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: The Web   Year: 2008   Rating: 7 Hot

Google Earth is the ultimate palette for myriad developers whose products require geo-spatial context, but its utility and reach has been capped by the fact that it’s a stand-alone API that exists outside the standard browsing experience. As of today that’s no longer the case. With the release of the new Earth Browser Plug-in Google’s little Hulk), the future hub and entry point for many of the company’s offerings, has escaped its cage and is now free to roam the halls of the worldwide web and look for new friends… millions of them.

In the immediate to short-term, this allows those who have installed the plugin to embed frames of Google Earth directly into their web pages and to manipulate and mash objects and places.

“Driven by an extensive JavaScript API, you can control the camera; create lines, markers, and polygons; import 3D models from the web and overlay them anywhere on the planet,” writes Paul Rademacher, Technical Lead of the Earth Browser Plug-in project, “In fact, you can even overlay your content over different planets, stars, and galaxies by toggling Sky mode, letting you build 3D Google Sky mashups. You can also enable 3D buildings with a single line of JavaScript, attach JavaScript callbacks to mouse events, fetch KML data from the web, and more.” (cont.)

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When Will You Lose Your Job to Robotics?

May 27 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Technology   Year: Beyond   Rating: 6 Hot

Futurist and professor Paul Saffo thinks that just as Japan will transition to a robotic society, so too will the United States and the rest of the world. He predicts the transition over here will be “more messy” and that a booming robotic manufacturing industry could potentially devastate the economy.

“New technology may destroy old jobs, but it also creates more jobs than it destroys,” explains Saffo in a recent Fora interview (see below), but “that may not be the case with the world of ubiquitous manufacturing robots.”

He points out that rapidly advancing robotics are replacing large manufacturing chunks one industry at a time. “What you see are industries calving off like icebergs, just a whole industry drops away, suddenly the human operators disappear,” he says. (cont.)

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Future iPhones Will Be Solar-Powered

May 27 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Energy   Year: 2008   Rating: 8 Hot

I’m already big on the future of the iPhone, particularly its potential for underdeveloped regions like the African continent, so Apple’s latest patent filing for a solar-powered iPhone only serves to further my belief that the device will not only go big, but also spread very broadly.

According to Mac Rumours who first discovered the patent application:

The most interesting technique described by Apple … is the integration of the solar panels behind the actual LCD screen of a portable device. The solar panel would absorb ambient light that passes through the LCD screen of the device. ... If successfully implemented, Apple’s iPhone, iPod and laptops, could require no outward changes in design to add solar power.

As the price of both iPhone components and photovoltaic (PV) cells comes down steadily, this will add to the appeal of the increasingly coveted device, especially in resource-strapped areas as rising oil prices gradually push up the cost of manufacturing, transportation and electricity.

Adding solar cells beneath LCD screens is such an elegant no-brainer that it’s difficult to imagine a period in the near future when all mobile phones/computers aren’t forced to integrate solar. The main plausible alternative I can see is the prevalence of small plug-in PV power stations (either based at home, mounted on the car or worn) that can directly or indirectly charge mobile devices. But even then, just knowing that your device can charge autonomously still seems quite desirable.

In what year will a solar-powered iPhone hit the market?

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Apple's Looking Glass

May 23 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Technology   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

In a paper released yesterday, AJ.P. Gownder and James L. McQuivey at Forrester predict that by 2013 Apple will become the hub of the digital home. They support this contention by imagining eight future Apple products including “wall-mountable digital picture frames with small high-definition screens and speakers that wirelessly play media”, “an Apple ‘clock radio’ that pipes in music and other media across a home network”, and “an ‘AppleSound’ universal remote control, also with a touch-sensitive screen, that lets users browse their music collections and change the songs playing through their stereo as they stroll around the house.”

I tend to concur with the rest of the blogosphere in that this is quite the tame list and that we’ll probably see significantly more advanced products from the likes of Apple circa 2013. With dropping component costs (hi-rez screens, processors, graphics cards, etc.), rising data transfer speeds (Internet2, a possible re-allocation of analog TV spectrum) new competition from proliferating design & interface companies, and the fact that most of these concepts already in prototype, I believe such products are more likely to hit mass-markets inside of 3 years rather than 5 long years away.

In particular I find the “wall-mountable digital picture frames” prediction a bit weak. If former Xerox PARC Director John Seely Brown is accurate in his estimation that Apple CEO Steve Jobs “is positioning himself to take over completely the living room,” then by 2013 I see the company developing radically cooler products such as a slick telepresence interface that future blogger Dick Pelletier expects by 2015 or before .

Being that such devices, albeit clunky and expensive versions, are already being sold by the likes of Cisco and VisBox, and that holographic and projection technologies could eliminate the expensive screen altogether, it’s unlikely that Steve Jobs and his crack team of agile researchers and designers haven’t yet realized the trumping value of rich multi-purpose, telepresence-enabling interfaces. (cont.)

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Uncle Ballmer Wants Your Eyeballs! - Microsoft to Offer Search Rebates

May 22 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Business & Work   Year: 2008   Rating: 4 Hot

Google lost nearly 5% of its market value yesterday when Microsoft announced that it will begin offering rebates to consumers who use its Live Search to discover and purchase products. The action marks the beginning of a new phase in the online battle for our attention which will gradually return more and more value to the user.

It is significant and a bit surprising that Microsoft, a company known for squeezing every last bit of value out of its dominant position in operating systems, and not Google (which is using a very similar tactic vs. Wikipedia by creating a competitor, Knol, that returns ad revenue to contributors)is leading the charge to return capital to its users. Though I’m sure Google has similar options readily available (having so much familiarity with revenue splitting via its AdSense program and development of Knol) this goes to show the company is confident in its ongoing development of search and content to react to Microsoft’s moves and let the market do the talking.

The Main Takeaway: As the value of human attention allocation continues to rise and more competition essentially commoditizes current web applications, we can expect that companies will be forced to either 1) return value directly through revenue share, 2) return value through a superior product and/or network,or 3) a combination of 1 and 2. We should expect these trends to transform our web experience over the coming years as search companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Fledglings), Semantic Web Companies (Twine, Adaptive Blue), social media (Digg, Reddit, Stumble Upon), social networks (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn), prediction markets (Predictify, InTrade, ZiiTrend), social web browsers (Medium, Flock), etc. all try to garner human participation.

Microsoft being forced into the value-added game is a strong indication that the rise in value of attention allocation is quite real.

Update: Some thorough and spot-on analysis of the situation by Michael Arrington here.

The Future of Ideas: Embracing Redundancy, Maximizing Social Progress

May 21 2008 / by Alvis Brigis
Category: Government   Year: General   Rating: 11 Hot

Mike Masnick at Tech Dirt has a great piece up about the concept of idea redundancy in which he responds to a conflicted Malcom Gladwell article that praises Nathan Mhyrvold idea-tank company Intellectual Ventures, which makes money by conceiving and patenting hundreds of ideas, while at the same time noting that ideas are likely to pop up simultaneously in different brains.

Whereas Gladwell writes that, “Good ideas are out there for anyone with the wit and the will to find them, which is how a group of people can sit down to dinner, put their minds to it, and end up with eight single-spaced pages of ideas,” Masnick critiques that “if these ideas are the natural progression, almost guaranteed to be discovered by someone sooner or later, why do we give a monopoly on these ideas to a single discoverer?”

Being a bit of an idea junkie myself, I have often contemplated the notions of idea formation, attribution, ownership and profitability, both from an individual and social context. Fundamentally, I agree with Masnick’s argument that “in giving monopoly rights to Myhrvold and his friends [in addition to gigantic corporate actors, universities and other patent trolls], we make it much more difficult for others (even those who discovered the same things totally independently) to help actually make them useful.” That being said, I also realize that the patent system that we currently have was and is needed to protect the rights of inventors and encourages many people to invest time into the innovation of concepts.

From a broader systems context, it seems to me we should be striving to find the “sweet spot” for social progress. This entails using the most cost-effective means to most accurately attribute ideas to their rightful creators (whether those be multiple individuals, social groups, long historical chains thinkers, or even biological systems themselves), while ensuring that they benefit us in the short-term and long-term through 1) their execution and diffusion, and 2) by profiting the creators appropriately to raise their standard of living and encourage additional innovation directly at the source. (cont.)

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