Is this just fantasy, caught in a landslide trying to escape from reality
Technology has changed out lives immeasurably. We all live and breathe this stuff each and every day, it has been a source of many kinds of inspiration – tech and peoples love affair with it was what led to the creation of this business, but are we so intoxicated, so addicted to the chase that we’re missing something, the biggest and most awe inspiring thing?
We recently attended an event called the ‘Hyperconnected human’. Whether you like the term or not, there’s no denying we are living this way, living in what is now often referred to as the ‘metaverse’ – a dystopian vision of human life, created over 30 years ago in a science fiction novel. Something (because no one can actually define what the metaverse is) that we now wear like a badge of honour, only it’s not a badge it’s an IoT super connected device, some kind of gizmo that is forever evolving.
There were some amazing achievements shared, here are just a few of our highlights and takeaways...
The hype – Remote operations and virtual consultations can be delivered from anywhere to anyone. It really is a beautiful vision and 5G appears to be central to this vision.
The reality – This presentation was given in an area of the UK where there is no 5G coverage. The talk of crossing boarders feels at odds with the reality on the ground. How can this be the future when it is not yet possible to deliver this service across a small, wealthy island with a lot of infrastructure?
How can we possibly achieve the delivery of this in southern Africa and the thousands of other places around the globe? It feels like there is a bigger question that should be answered, there's greater good to be achieved before we jump into delivering this.
The reality - Cyber attacks on IoT devices are on the increase. There has been massive growth in the frequency and sophistication of these attacks.
The hype – as Andy Young from Keysight Tech pointed out, producers continue to focus on the speed of production, chasing bigger volumes of product (and profit) rather than safer product that has been thoroughly tested.
The hype – Biometrics are safe, protecting your identity.
The reality – For once there was an alignment, though there are some noticeable discrepancies. Currently most systems use 4 geo-location points verify your identity, but there are 12 unique reference points in your fingerprint.
So why are we using facial recognition? David Pollington from Bloc Ventures, pointed out that identity is all about ‘trust’, where reputation is everything. Faces and facial features can be faked, until such a time as governments create globally recognised schemes of digital identity it will be fraught with security issues.
Online privacy tech
The hype – 2-step authentication keeps us safe
The reality – What we need is ‘continuous authentication’ where algorithms are trained on the physiological and behavioural biometrics that can be continuously assessed as we work and use an interface. This has to feel seamless, user experience and knowledge of the customer traits will be key as we cannot constantly interrupt the experience to authenticate the user.
Living in the metaverse
The hype – A complete digital world with avatars doing many of the tasks we feel are too time consuming. These spaces will also foster great digital relationships, experiences and communities.
The reality – We are told that we are already living in the metaverse and I am sure the early adopters have been there, tried it out and got the NFT t-shirt to prove it. The reality is for most of us, the technology simply isn’t able to deliver these immersive experiences yet.
Every publication is talking this up, here's a recent video produced by the Economist, it's about 22 minutes long. It shows some really interesting things but ignores the massive challenges as well - energy and mental health.
Logistics and transportation
The hype – Smart devices and electric vehicles are streamlining the movement of goods.
The reality – It’s everyone for themselves. Companies are only just starting to explore the benefits of collaboration, where by working together they can make significant reductions in the impact of their work on the planet.
The hype - smart motorways and road systems will reduce congestion
The reality – demand on the UK road infrastructure is too high, the system cannot accommodate the current volume of vehicles using it. The hope is that IoT enabled signage will communicate with vehicles in real-time to smooth the journey.
Given that this tech relies on the ubiquitous delivery of 5G, we have the same problem that the healthcare specialists are facing. Talk is cheap, we need to develop the infrastructure that supports these ideas, until that is available to ALL we risk creating a two-tier society – the have’s and the have not’s.
Data is the new oil
The hype – data is what will make us smarter, more profitable and the best at what we do. We need to collect as much as possible and learn everything that we can from it. Ring fencing our data is key to achieving these goals.
The reality – David Birch gave a highly entertaining and thought-provoking presentation about this. Data is really important, we can learn and improve a lot of what we do from captured data. But, as David went to comical lengths to point out, the real power of data is in sharing it. Creating an open platform that has access for all, a platform that protects every individuals privacy and helps businesses and organisations learn what people need from them. In short, we need digital sovereignty delivered through an open source platform.
Like I said at the beginning, it is an impressive event, the tech is doing amazing things and the people developing it are hungry… hungry for more. More of what no one is exactly sure. They talk of faster, more powerful, further reaching and so on. And the audience absorbs these gestures, taking serotonin hit after hit until they really are buzzing, it’s easy to see why they are impressed and don’t get me wrong, these are laudable achievements, but I can’t help but wonder, are we chasing the wrong goals?
Shit got real
2022 has been a year unlike any other. We’ve seen war break out, the entire globe has had it’s first taste of the impact of global warming, in the UK the government has proved itself to be utterly incompetent and we are all facing the fact that we’ve got less options and the outlook is not as bright as we had been told.
During the course of the tracks, the speakers and the plenaries I felt that there was an element that was missing, a genuine elephant in the room. I’ve got to be honest, there were a couple of speakers who referenced it, but it was very much marginalised as people wanted to talk about the shiny and new, ‘cause that’s the exciting stuff, right?
We all know this elephant, it is a large, magnificent animal, standing three, sometimes four metres tall. It’s a creature that’s pretty hard to ignore, yet there it was, in fact there was a whole herd of them. They were all around us and should have been a part of each and every conversation, but they were being ignored.
The elephants are our planet. The place that we call home, the place that has sustained us for millennia. The place that we have raped and pillaged in our personal quests. Quests that have marginalised entire countries as one group seeks to exploit another, country against country, person against person.
Have we learnt anything?
Where is the energy for all of this new hyperconnected human activity going to come from?
PwC were waxing lyrical about the amount of time teens spend in the online space, the huge volumes of video content that they produce and share every day. This is just one example, where tech is framed as the game changer, the innovator but the reality, stepping away from the hype, it’s creating more problems and doing more damage. Where does the energy come from for all of this activity? All these devices greedily consuming power hour after hour. And then there's the impacts on mental health, what are we doing to ourselves?
You don’t need me to tell you what the greatest challenge of our time is, it’s clear to see and has been that way for a long time, yet we continue to ignore it, we are literally living and breathing the ‘Don’t look up’ principle.
Yes the climate is complicated and nuanced and just not sexy enough for a lot of people. They quite literally have their 'Google Glass' goggles on, fixated on a digital world where they can achieve miraculous things whilst the real world, the world that actually sustains them and has provided resources for all of these activities falls apart.
The highlander complex
I’ve been to many inspirational tech events and in recent years the really good ones have opened the door to discussing these problems. Acknowledging that the shiny object in the room is also toxic.
When I came to writing this blog I was genuinely torn about what to say. There is a lot of good coming from these innovations, but the cost - the price that we will all pay above and beyond the subscription, the product purchase and all that comes with it, will it be worth it?
We are not immortal, no matter what we tell ourselves, what kind of future are we actually creating? You know the real world, actual physical space one.
I can’t decide whether we do this because we are...
Stupid is as stupid does
I’m yet to meet anyone who accepts that they are ageing. We live in almost total denial, back to my highlander reference, until we arrive at the point where we cannot do things anymore. For some this comes much earlier than others, and these early onset restrictions are often of our own making, and that’s stupid. We know this stuff is bad for us, but we can’t stop ourselves, it’s become an addiction.
So maybe we are overwhelmed?
Certainly when I talk to people about climate it polarises the conversation, it’s a big challenge and something that we have taken for granted for too long. Those who share the concern are genuinely worried, often to the point of anxiety – which is not good. Those who deny or have different perspectives are living in the hope that someone else will fix this stuff because it feels simply too big for them to deal with.
Call tech support
Are we literally crossing our fingers and hoping that this is on the agenda of someone who’s really smart, who will find the answer? The planets tech support guru’s, the people who just make this stuff work.
It’s no single persons problem, it’s a global community problem. Something that we need to all be working on, taking a responsibility for our activities and showing genuine respect to the people and places around us.
Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
Fact, our planet will outlast us, it took us tens of 1000’s of years to evolve from microscopic cells to where we are today. There’s already been some serious bumps in the road - what happened to the Egyptians, Myans et al, how did they go from technical greatness to next to nothing? These just a couple of examples, there are many more.
We think, using our immortal highlander brain, with our ‘smart’ devices that we can tame nature, make it do our bidding. But the uncomfortable reality is that nature is a tour de force, a vicious and unrelenting beast – and thank god that it is! Let’s be honest if it weren’t so powerful we wouldn’t have made it this far.
Nobel prises for noble achievements
Don’t get me wrong, I too have been intoxicated by tech, I can see many of the amazing things that we have achieved and feel that there are even greater things to come, but I worry about which goal we are chasing, new tech is pointless if we kill our planet in our relentless pursuit of it.
Humans have created many noble enterprises and achieved great endeavours , these are quite rightly celebrated by the Nobel Institute - but we’ve also created many things that have brought immense misery to this planet and the people who live here.
The tools of war, the exploitation of people and resources, humans are stuck in a race of our own making, a race to be superior, choosing self-centred desires and motivations at the expense of those outside our bubble.
The history books
Will we look back and cringe at the toxicity of the hyperconnected human? Thankful that some people saw the light, realised the damage that this race is doing to our planet. The damage to our health, both mental and physical. Will we remember the people who were brave, the real innovators and genuine futurists who walked a different path, the people who understood the need for change at a grass roots level?
We are our own worst enemy
We continue to chase goals, unable to accept that growth is not never ending, assuming that technology will save our souls, but if we don’t wake up from our tech induced debauchery the future looks bleak and that’s hard to accept, ‘cause we’re smart, educated and hyperconnected right?
What are we creating? What will be the price of this way of life? Is that morally acceptable? These are big questions, it’s a massive topic and suddenly we’re back to the point of overwhelm again, we are choosing to look the other way (or not look up).
But maybe there is a different future, something that challenges this assumed path we are currently treading? What if we’re not meant to be heading this way, maybe we have peaked and unless we change our ways, act to protect our life source - our planet, it really could be ‘game over’. I’d like to know your thoughts.