I’m a sucker for year-end lists and predictions. So here’s 5 for 2015 that I’ll scorecard next December.
I’ve always liked year-end lists and predictions. They help highlight where we’ve been, and where we might be going. That said, I consider tech predictions as fundamentally problematic, and not to be taken too seriously. In that spirit, I’m grading my predictions from last year.
This week CVS and Rite-Aid turned off Apple’s mobile phone payment system in their stores. Apparently this was because of contractual obligations to support a yet to be released mobile payments competitor called CurrentC, created by a consortium led by Walmart. The reaction to CurrentC from tech blogs and twitter has been brutal.
Update: Stephen Ballot pointed out on twitter this post should refer to “user input method” rather than “user interface”. Great point. With this clarification I’ll leave the rest of the post as originally published. Thanks for reading.
If you analyze computing eras by circuit type you might get: vacuum tubes, transistors, ICs, microprocessors. By architecture: mainframes, minicomputers, microcomputers. By networking: ethernet, TCP/IP. That’s all great. But there’s a lot to be said for analyzing tech eras by user interface. As in the list below, taken from this post.
Identification using fingerprints dates to the 1890’s. But automated commercial biometric identification is much more recent. Some dates: automated fingerprint recognition (1969), hand geometry (1974), iris (1995), face (2000), vascular (2000). That last one is vein pattern recognition, typically done using IR sensors on the back of the hand. Continuing the trend, IBM put a fingerprint reader in a laptop in 2004, and India’s biometric identity program dates to 2009. With that said, I’d argue mainstream consumer adoption of biometric identity only happened in 2013 with the release of the fingerprint reader in the iPhone 5s. These things take time. And because they take time, they arrive gradually and unappreciated. Touch ID is more than just how to unlock your phone. Biometric identity is here. Attention must be paid.
Celebrity nude photos pilfered from iPhone accounts. Ferguson. Body cameras. Deemed the surveillance society or the transparent society, the rise of camera surveillance seems unstoppable. The parallel I’d like to draw is to the rise of equality, as observed by Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1835 classic Democracy in America. From Tocqueville’s introduction:
Amazon’s hard fought battle with book publisher Hachette has been widely covered, as Amazon brutally squeezes their supplier for lower ebook prices. More here. Despite all the coverage, I think the much less discussed Kindle Unlimited announcement is more important. With Kindle Unlimited, Amazon is charging $10/month for all you can read ebooks. Though the terms differ, it’s similar to other ebook subscription services such as Entitle, Scribd, and Oyster. Om Malik says he’s uninterested, since “These services’ book selection is long of total numbers of books, but is short on the books I really wanted to read. Much like Netflix in the early days, you have a lot of indie-content and old catalog content with some new stuff.” I think the Netflix in the early days comparison is exactly right. Not there yet, but a sign of things to come.
Everyone loves a sure thing. And for Wall Street a sure thing is a monopoly. I’ve written about this before, e.g., The stock market blindly lusts after exploitative monopolies. But the siren call of monopoly is an evergreen topic. Especially as software eats the world, and natural monopolies become more common. So it’s worth a quick revisit.
The past few decades have seen a lot of excellent research into figuring out why partisan cultural battles never seem to get to agreement. Of course David Hume was on to this centuries ago, famously claiming that “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” What’s great is this newer research is scientifically investigating exactly how and why reason is so often the slave to the passions. Dan Kahan (pictured above) is doing research into cultural cognition. He posits that cultural values drive perceptions of risk. And this makes information conflicting with cultural values appear risky, so it’s easily dismissed.
One angle of attack on Clayton Christensen’s disruption theory is that it’s often stretched beyond it’s range of applicability, to the point of becoming unfalsifiable. For example, Benedict Evans tweeted: “‘Disruption’ Christensen reminds me a little of Marxist historians. Over-enamoured of the One True Theory, tempted to make the facts fit it.” And more recently: “Popper’s notes on predictive theories in social science (always seemed to me to fit Disruption very well).” Then he quotes from Karl Popper’s famous paper Science as Falsification: