Affective Computing and the Future of Marketing

My new article “How Your Computer Will Read You Like A Book – And Then Sell You Stuff” is up at Fast Company’s Futurist Forum. In it, I talk about ‘affective computing‘ – systems that read, interpret and even simulate human emotion. This is going to change our relationship with technology in ways you’ve probably never imagined. To my mind, one of its more interesting applications will be in the field of marketing. As human beings, we communicate volumes of information to each other via nonverbal cues – facial expressions, posture, gestures, gait. Yet for the most part, these have been inaccessible to computers. Until now. Imagine what will happen to marketing when your response
can be instantly, accurately interpreted, allowing ads to be altered on the fly, targeting you as never before? Get ready for a Brave New Shopping Experience.

The Naked Future (Review)

“The Naked Future: What Happens in a World That Anticipates Your Every Move?” by futurist and science writer, Patrick Tucker, comes out this week and I highly recommend it. As long-time deputy editor of The Futurist magazine and director of communications for the World Future Society, Tucker has many great insights about the world Big Data is rapidly creating around us. In my recent review of ‘Naked Future’, I’ve tried to convey the depth and breadth covered in this very readable book. Read it today so you can know more about the world tomorrow.

The Futurist Best of 2013

I’m pleased to see my recent cover story, “Connecting with Our Connected World” has been included in THE FUTURIST Magazine’s Best Stories of 2013. There are lots of great articles in this year’s issues and I highly recommend reading all of them if you’re at all interested in the future. Better still, consider becoming a member of the World Future Society so you can read about tomorrow’s world all year around.


The Internet of Things at Ada’s Technical Books

I recently had the opportunity to speak about our connected world and the Internet of Things at Ada’s Technical Books in Seattle. Ada’s has just moved into a terrific new location on Capitol Hill and I got to be their inaugural speaker. I want to thank Danielle, Alex and all the wonderful people at the store, as well as everyone who came out to listen, for making it a great success.


Connect to the Future

“Connecting with Our Connected World” is my latest article and explores the coming era of the Internet of Things. It’s also the lead article for The Futurist magazine – my third cover story for them, which obviously I’m pleased about. While much has been written about IoT – or the Internet of Things – in recent years, this article takes a somewhat different tack.

We’re creating a world in which evermore aspects of our natural and man-made environments are becoming interconnected, capable of communicating with human operators as well as with each other. This will allow objects to keep us appraised of everything from their precise location to handling their own restocking and servicing and so much more.

However, there is a darker side to all this. For instance, issues of personal privacy and self-determism, not to mention some less well-behaved aspects of the technology:

“Once a system reaches a particular threshold of complexity, we can no longer be certain about specific cause-and-effect relationships; rather, we must think in terms of probabilities. Instead of being 100% certain that A will lead to B, we might assign a likelihood of, say, 99.98%.

For some events, this probabilistic approach works fine, but for others it could be disastrous: Power plants, automated weapons systems, and freeways full of self-driving cars all could experience catastrophes if operating on erroneous information. So these and other systems will need to be designed with greater safeguards and redundancies than they have today.”

My point is we’re at a stage in our relationship with our technology when we’ll need to start thinking in more and more nondeterministic ways. But in many respects, isn’t this how a great deal of our world has always been? So fortunately, we have lots of practice.

Who Will Watch the Watches?

I love technology.

Good. Now that that’s out of the way, allow me to clarify. I love good technology. Jetpacks. Flying cars. Meal-in-a-pill. Not good. These won’t fly (some of them literally) because they don’t meet all of the criteria of good technology.

Consider that in order to move all the way from concept to prototype to marketable product, every idea has to pass through a succession of filters. Is the idea possible within the laws of physics as they’re currently understood? Then forget retro-causality (time machines), perpetual motion, faster than light travel/communication, etc. Do our existing, or soon to be existing, engineering capabilities, materials, tolerances, etc., allow us to realize the idea or will it remain on the drawing board for centuries, as did Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines or Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine? Can a need be established? That is, can consumers, corporations, or the military be convinced this is something they must have? Because without a perceived need, it will surely go the way of the Edsel.

And what of other institutions? Regulatory bodies, insurers, political organizations and others must be persuaded to support or at least tolerate and accept the new tech. And ultimately is this an idea that is right for its time? An invention must fit within the established mores, accepted behaviors and realities of user understanding and functionality. Without all of these, the idea will die stillborn. Given all this, it may seem a miracle any new tech ever comes to life and gets the opportunity to walk the earth, even if only for a few years.

So all this said, I’m going to forecast that the revisited concept of a wrist-worn computer in the form of a smartwatch, be it an iWatch, a Pebble, or what have you, will be very short-lived. Don’t get me wrong. These are going to be pushed into the market because so many corporations have jumped on the bandwagon and they all smell profit. But really, most of this Dick Tracy, two-way radio concept was technologically feasible over a decade ago. That’s when these companies should’ve been pushing it. Not now, just when all manner of head mounted displays (HMDs), such as Google Glass are just coming to market.

Think about it: Why would anyone want to obviously look down at their wrist instead of surreptitiously glancing at an eye level monitor? Why obliterate your view and call attention to yourself when snapping a picture, when you could do it by subtly turning your head and issuing an eye-tracked command or vocal instruction – and soon a subvocal one? Why pass up the ability to have virtual images and data superimposed over the real world as augmented reality comes online? And WHY would you want to squint at an image so small it can fit on your wrist (or else be encumbered by an oversized wearable), when considerably better, larger display interfaces will be available? Short of projecting an image (creating all kinds of stabilization challenges), watches will remain limited in their usable display size, because of our eyes’ typical minimum focusing distance. In the meantime, HMDs, retinal displays, and in the next decade, active contact lenses, will provide ever-larger, more immersive display experiences.

Of course, HMDs will have their own challenges. We can’t ignore that for a time, there will be some resistance to the new headware. There are always those who reject the new because they feel threatened by it’s arrival. It’s natural and at times it may even be appropriate. But this isn’t one of those times. Turning to inferior technologies and interfaces is rarely a winning strategy. Ignoring the future never is.

This is cross-posted to my blog at the World Future Society.
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