Silicon valley, new tech, and how we use it

Last night as I was watching Hulu, an interesting comercial came on that was all about jabbing Silicon Valley and its love for the newest of the new. I think it was for a new Toshiba Tablet. This comercial was really self-aware of the environment in which they sell as well as the types of people they are actually trying to sell their devices to. I think that the commercial also does a great job pointing out that the Internet of Things and 3d Printing both might be part of a hype machine that is out of control. All of these technologies could do great things, but they aren’t preordained to do anything amazing. It’s up to the user to really enable that.

I think that the book I’m reading “Enchanted Objects” does a bit of this as well. I’m torn if I should love these ideas or hate them. The Smart scissors mentioned in that ad would definitely fit under the definition of Enchanted Objects because it’s something ordinary that through sensors, haptic feedback or other do-hickeys has some extra-ordinary capabilities. Many of these things seem gimicky and unlikely to catch on. Others, like the author’s Glow Pill – which is a lid for a pill container to remind people to take their pills – would be really helpful to a lot of people out there.

I also agree with the author’s sentiment that the black screens we peer into day in and day out, are somewhat ugly, unweildy and have never lifted up to their hype. Which means that they likely haven’t made our lives significantly better and mostly just incrementally. I think this is born out through the drop in sales in tablets, the saturation of the smart phone market, and the resurgance of sales in PCs. People have found the tablet ecosystem limited in someway and awkward to use and have opted to refresh their capability with a cheap laptop rather than springing for a new tablet (an exception to this trend could be a Surface 3, but we’ll see how that pans out in the long term). Another concern with all these devices is of course security and safety from prying eyes. I’ve been talking about this for a number of years, but I believe that people will actually start listening after seeing the result of the Ferguson MO police action. Your twitter feed and location is on twitter, the police can find that. What other data are you sharing out there without truly understanding it. How can it be used against you by a militarized local government?

I think much of this goes back to my questions of ethics and technology. At what point does a technology become unethical or, rather, the use of a technology become unethical? Is a smart trashcan ethical because it helps you save the environment and support local business, what happens if that impacts your taxes or gets you on an eco-terror watch list? We don’t understand how our data is being used and to me that is scary.

I think this is played out a great deal with the fact that AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, and similar sites are the biggest booming sites in Silicon Valley. These aren’t truly technological innovations, they are business model innovations, which is why they are so devastating. Sure they are leveraging technology in an appealing way, but they aren’t really technology companies. Their innovation is in the way they engage with their customers, the delivery method is the same in many cases, a room or a car, as their competitors. The competitors haven’t been able to figure out how to combine the nimbleness of the app with a dynamic business model. Based on historical evidence, it’s unlikely that they will be able to catch up and compete. Which is fine, because I’m sure their data usages will be as opaque as the new companies. We don’t know how they are collecting our data or what they are doing with it.

Stupid laws, poor Decisions, and corruption

Uber and Lyft have been all over the news lately. They’ve been getting pushed out of city after city. They have had rulings go against them, like one in PIttsburgh today. The ironic thing is that the Judges were completely sympathetic to the people of Pittsburgh and Uber/Lyft, but had to rule in that way because of the way the law is written. I think it’s fair to say that the judges believe that if the people of Pittsburgh want these services they will have to work with the city council to have the commission responsible for Taxis change the rules so that Uber and Lyft are legal. Uber plans to running through the holiday weekend, in a similar fashion that they are in Austin, Texas where the services are also illegal.

The Supreme Court of the US has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in a case around if a privately held company has to pay for birth control based upon religious exceptions. However, there have been a lot of points indicating that there is hypocrisy in their approach. Through their 401(K) they own stocks in companies that manufacture birth control. They are willing to pay for vasectomies and vVagra, which seem incongruent with their beliefs. To be internally consistent Hobby Lobby should be against paying for vasectomies as well – the only difference between them and the Pill is that it is on the man not the woman. Should the results imply that Hobby Lobby must be internally consistent and be forced to divest those stocks and be prevented from paying for vasectomies? I’m not sure, but I think that there could likely be a lawsuit over that – forcing Hobby Lobby to explain the rationale of refusing to pay for one over the other. Which may have a different unintended consequence of hours getting cut to Wal-Mart levels and no one getting insurance except for salary employees.

Apparently a DOJ antitrust lawyer was invited to a big Comcast shindig for the Olympics. The only reason the person didn’t go was because of the rules put in place to prevent her from going. I think there are two ways to interpret this. First, she’s sincere and wants to go, but is aware that it could look bad for her and Comcast if she went. Second, she’s sincere and is saying that it would be corrupt if she went even though it did look like a lot of fun. I can see both sides, but I think it’s pretty fair when people assume this is part of the general corruption within the US government. Where the government has a revolving door between the regulated and regulators. How can you hope to not have general corruption though being a decent person. You get to know the people you’re working with and you want to help them because that’s what good people do. It’s the most likely type of corruption to happen – corruption through complicity.

All in all, these three stories don’t play well for the US being a shining light on the hill. We’ve seen the MIddle East blow up of late and there’s a lot of discussion as to why. One reason is that we’re trying to push democracy on people that aren’t ready for it, however, are we even ready for it? Each of these stories shows that we have broken laws that could be captured by business or other entities. I think that for a country to export their version of democracy they need to have their house in order and show how well the system can work. I liken it to process improvement. Porsche is one of the best examples around this – they became some of the best Lean consultants in the world through fixing all of their problems first. You need to build credibility and show you can execute, then you partner with a struggling supplier and build the change together. You cannot force it down their throat.

Our system is broken in many places and the past few weeks really highlights that.