Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week.

The top thing would be catching up with old friends. ‘Old is gold’ as they say. I got to go to the Bicester Village outlet centre (as guide rather than shopper) and the contrast between the restaurants just outside the village was an eye-opener to my foreign guests. My key take away on their reaction: China isn’t going to be jumping up and down to invest in a post-Brexit UK. Bicester Village’s owner has already hedged its bets; it has twin outlet villages in Barcelona, Dublin, Madrid, Milan, Paris Shuzhou and Shanghai – all competing for global luxury buyer spending. They are either in nicer climes or more convenient for East Asian shoppers. They’ve been changing the way Chinese consumers buy luxury and Bicester may not reap the full rewards now.

This documentary on genre defying Chinese group Re-Tros and their first European tour in support of Depeche Mode. People often use the descriptor post-punk. They’re style definitely has a jazz or progressive rock-style improvisation feel to it. The 1980s descriptor ‘electronic body music’ applied to the likes of Front 242 seems to be as good a descriptor as any.

In what has become an internet tradition, Mary Meeker presents her annual trends presentation

And here are the slides

 

If Mary Meeker hadn’t convinced you about the robust state of innovation in the Chinese technology eco-system then this presentation by George S Yip may do the trick.

I started using the Usenet for the first time in years for a research project. I wanted to go back and understand longer term trends. The Usenet archives were a handy primer. The Usenet served a similar purpose to the likes of Reddit. I wanted a native application and this was the best Usenet client that I found. NZBVortex | Simply the best Usenet client for Mac. Many old favourites were no longer in development or supported by the latest version of macOS.

Five for Friday | 五日(星期五) | 금요일에 다섯 가지

Things that made my day this week:

It kicked off with a strong Chinese theme.

1980 Video of Tian Jinqin, “Originator of Chinese Electronic Music” | RADII China – China was slower on the uptake electronic music because of the cultural revolution. Tian Jinqin developed some interesting instruments based on traditional Chinese instruments as well as keyboards.

River Elegy (河殇) is a six-part documentary broadcast on China’s largest TV station CCTV1, in 1988. It is a landmark documentary, a more innocent naive Chinese viewpoint that emerged as the country opened up. China had started to open up to the world after the cultural revolution and intellectuals started to learn about how different the west was. The documentary compares the old ways and Chinese gains in civilisation over thousands of years, with the modern world. In retrospect the attacks on traditional culture and Confucianism mirror the rejection of tradition in the cultural revolution. The series spurred debate and was seen to also criticise what the creators perceived to be a slow-moving communist party.

At the time, intellectuals in China were avidly reading the works of western thinkers like John Naisbitt and Alvin Toffler who provided a vision of a rollercoaster centrist techno-utopian future. I get the attraction to young intellectuals. In the 1980s, the future looked bright and technocratic.

The thing that I find most interesting about it is the use of music, imagery and editing is almost psychedelic in its effect. It must have been mind blowing for the audience who tuned into it.

A couple of people involved in the production of River Elegy whore about how it was created in Deathsong of the River – which is a great read. It is interesting to reflect how far this series is from the China of today. It overs an interesting contrast to Xi Thought in both content and presentation style.

From a retro futuristic vision of China in River Elegy to the current day: China and the World: Recalibration and Realignment – YouTube. I put this on the background, its almost three hours long but very informative.

NeXT logo presentation, by Paul Rand, for Steve Jobs | Logo Design Love – Steve Jobs on Paul Rand. The interesting thing for me is how Jobs talks through the brief in an interview. It was the model for client agency relationships with a high level of trust.

Maestro – BOILER ROOM – great documentary about DJ/producer Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage. Levan is one of the people who shaped the modern dance sound. The film does a really good job of setting up the context from disco to house and goes on about other New York clubs like The Loft and The Gallery. It has a great soundtrack and some of the interviewees are fierce.

Jargon watch: Eroom’s Law

Eroom’s Law is a metaphor that compares other business processes to the virtuous circle of Moore’s Law. It is literally Moore’s Law in reverse. Industries have developed processes that are getting ever more expensive.  Once could consider that is inversely proportional to the way semiconductor manufacture  reduced the relative cost of computing power over time.

Some see this as a potential opportunity for the use of computing in a sector to reduce costs. As with most circumstances, what seems like a great idea inside an Excel spreadsheet doesn’t work out in the real world. But that doesn’t stop the management consultants, investment bankers or venture capitalists from trying.

Eroom’s Law and the pharmaceutical industry

The poster child for Eroom’s Law cited would be the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry developing new drugs.

Here’s how Nature Reviews Drug Discovery put it:

Eroom’s Law indicates that powerful forces have outweighed scientific, technical and managerial improvements over the past 60 years, and/or that some of the improvements have been less ‘improving’ than commonly thought. The more positive anyone is about the past several decades of progress, the more negative they should be about the strength of countervailing forces. If someone is optimistic about the prospects for R&D today, they presumably believe the countervailing forces — whatever they are — are starting to abate, or that there has been a sudden and unprecedented acceleration in scientific, technological or managerial progress that will soon become visible in new drug approvals.

You could argue that the defence industry would also fall into this, despite the benefits of technology. (The origins of the semiconductor industry lie in the development of missiles during the cold war. Integrated circuit technology is more robust and lighter than discrete transistors or vacuum tube based systems).

More information

Diagnosing the decline in pharmaceutical R&D efficiency | Nature Reviews Drug Discovery (paywall)
Eroom’s Law | In the Pipeline | Science magazine
EROOM’s Law of Pharma R & D | buildingpharmabrands
More posts on the pharmaceutical industry on this blog.

Things I’d like to see in 2018

There are a number of people who have done great trends / predictions for 2018. I thought that I would focus on what I would like to see.

Smartphones are stuck in a period of innovation stuckness. It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify upgrades to your handset. This has had knock-on effects to mobile networks. In markets where subsidised handsets are the norm like the UK we’re seeing that SIM-only contracts are becoming the norm.

Apple is trying to innovate its way out of this problem with its work on augmented reality interaction. Consumer media consumption will take a good while to catch up.

Smartphone cameras are as good as consumers need (at the moment). Displays are now good enough that improvements look indistinguishable. They are also large enough for you to watch Amazon Prime or Netflix during a commute. Mobile wallets are merely a back-up in case one leaves your wallet at home.

Whilst the app names have changed, much of the smartphone usage now is for the same things I used a Nokia or Palm smartphone ten years ago:

  • Alarm clock
  • Web surfing
  • Entertainment
  • Media playback
  • Communications

I hope that we start to see smartphones going back to the future and looking at different form factors. My iPhone would be much more useful as a productive device if it was available in a similar form factor to the old Nokia communicator. Different form factors of devices for different users. Gamers would benefit from better controls a la the Nokia nGage.

Interfaces can make better use of haptic feedback, and be designed to take advantage of more hardware-optimised devices.

Innovation isn’t only the responsibility of app developers and phone makers. What about a modern 4G version of ‘Enhanced Full Rate’ on GSM (GSM-EFR) ‘hi-fi voice calls’. UK operator One2One launched GSM-EFR on 2G networks in the late 1990s as part of their Precept tariffs, but I haven’t seen any other carrier try to do a similar thing since. Why not? I suspect part of the problem is that ‘innovation’ in your average mobile network provider now is testing vendor products in a lab to ensure they work properly on their network.

The web has developed a digital equivalent of clogged arteries. Part of this is down to buffer bloat and a lack of lean web design approach. Unfortunately the mobile web has not brought a clean slate approach but hacked together adaptations. A bigger issue is the layers of advertising technology trackers, analytics and assorted chunks of Javascript. Ad tech hammers page load time and responsiveness.

Share of time spent viewing video content in selected countries using ad blockers

We’ve seen Apple and Mozilla try to redesign their browser technology to slow down or stimmy ad technology. Consumers are adopting ad blockers to try and improve their own web experience.

There needs to be a collective reset button. I am not sure if we see a resurgence of the paid web or a kinder lighter footprint in advertising technology. Otherwise we have an unending conflict between the media industry and the rest of us.

The debate around machine learning in 2017 highlighted a Black Mirroresque dystopia awaiting us. The good news is that we tend to overestimate technology’s impact in the short term. In the long term the impact tends to meet our expectations all be in a more banal way.

Part of the current problem around machine learning is that Silicon Valley seems to only consider technology rather than the consequences of potential use cases. This needs to change, unfortunately the people in charge of technology companies are the least capable people to achieve it. We need a kinder more holistic roadmap. Legislation and regulation will be far too late to the party. We won’t be able to stop technological progress, but we can influence the way its used.

Lying in bed ill over the Christmas period, I read that crypto currency mining currently required as much energy as Bahrain. By the end of 2018, it will require as much energy as Italy. That is insane.

Apart from speculation and buying products on the dark web what is the killer app for crypto currencies? Why is worth the energy overhead? Steve Jobs focused on computing power per watt as part of his vision for laptops and moving the Mac range to Intel. Part of the move to the cloud was about making computing more efficient for businesses and providing computing power over the network for consumers on ‘low power’ mobile devices. Yet almost a decade and a half later, the hottest thing in technology is a grossly energy inefficient process.

We are starting to see regulators in Korea and China step in to regulate the market and energy supply to miners, but western economies need to look at this. And I haven’t even got on to the ICO (intial coin offering) as Ponzi scheme…

If you substitute the words ‘fax machine’ or ‘call centre’ for app would Uber, Deliveroo etc be considered as technology companies? I suspect that the answer is no.  A company may use a lot of technology – it happens a lot these days. But that doesn’t make Capita, Mastercard or Goldman Sachs a technology company, lets  apply a bit of critical thinking. I wouldn’t mind, but this same mistake was made in the late 1990s during the dot com boom.

Many companies including Enron were ‘repackaged’ by management, venture capitalists, investment banks and consultancies (cough, cough McKinsey) as asset-light technology driven businesses aka ‘an internet company’. It didn’t work out well last time. It won’t this time either.

More information
Enhanced full rate (GSM) – Wikipedia
Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index | Digiconomist
Setback for Uber as European court advised to treat it as transport firm | Reuters
Other trends reports
Fjord: 2018 Fjord Trends
iProspect: Future Focus 2018: The New Machine Rules
Isobar: Augmented Humanity: Isobar Trends Report 2018
J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group: The Future 100
Ogilvy & Mather: Key Digital Trends for 2018 – Whatley and Manson are doing webinar presentations this week if you want to catch them
Campaign Asia did a nice precise of them all
Past prediction stuff that I’ve done
2016: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2016: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
2015: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2015: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
2014: crystal ball gazing, how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2014: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara 
Crystal ball-gazing: 2013 how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2013: just where is it all going? | renaissance chambara
Crystal ball-gazing: 2012 how did I do? | renaissance chambara
2012: just where is digital going? | renaissance chambara
Things I’d like to see in 2012 | renaissance chambara
Crystal ball-gazing: 2011 how did I do?
2010: How did I do? | renaissance chambara
2010: just where is digital going? | renaissance chambara
Predictions for 2009 | renaissance chambara

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Charlie Stross at the Chaos Computer Club conference

Interesting lens on history, predictions and futurology by science fiction writer Charlie Stross. Culture has a role (and attendant responsibility) in shaping the direction of technology. Stross’ talk is an essay on unintended consequences, design, regulation and economics.