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8 February 2015

A tale of two cities – and of two speeds

Filed under: Barcelona, Cambridge, futurist, MWC, Singularity University — Tags: , , , , — David Wood @ 12:30 am

The two cities I have in mind are both Spanish: Barcelona in the north of the country, and Seville in the south. They’re each outstanding cities.

TwoCitiesInSpain

I’ll come back to these two cities in a moment. But first, a word about two speeds – two speeds of futurism – slow-paced futurism and fast-paced futurism.

As someone who’s had the word “Futurist” on my personal business card since early 2009, I’m inspired to see more and more people taking the subject of futurism seriously. There’s a widespread awareness, nowadays, that it’s important to analyse future scenarios. If we spend time thinking about the likely developments of current trends, we’ll be better prepared to try to respond to these trends. Instead of being shocked when disruptive forces burst through from being “under the radar” to having major impacts on lifestyles and society, we’ll have been acting to influence the outcome – pushing hard to increase the likelihood of positive changes, and to decrease the likelihood of negative changes.

But it’s my observation that, in many of the meetings I attend and the discussions I observe, the futurism on display is timid and conservative. Well-meaning speakers contemplate a future, ten or twenty years ahead, that is 95% the same as today, but with, say, 5% changes. In these modestly innovative future scenarios, we might have computers that are faster than today’s, screens that are more ubiquitous than today’s, and some jobs will have been displaced by robots and automation. But human nature will be the same in the future as in the past, and the kinds of thing people spend their time doing will be more-or-less the same as they have been doing for the last ten or twenty years too (except, perhaps, faster).

In contrast, I foresee that, within just a couple of decades, it will be very clear to everyone that momentous changes in human nature and human society are at hand (if they have not already taken place):

  • Robots and other forms of automation will be on the point of displacing perhaps 90% of human employees from the workforce – with “creative” jobs and “managerial” jobs being every bit as much at risk as “muscle” jobs
  • Enhanced suites of medical therapies will be poised to enable decades of healthy life extension, and an associated “longevity dividend” financial bonanza (since costs of healthcare will have plummeted)
  • Systems that exist both inside and outside of the human brain will be ready to dramatically increase multiple dimensions of our intelligence – including emotional and spiritual intelligence as well as rational intelligence
  • Virtual reality and augmented reality will be every bit as vivid and compelling as “natural reality”
  • Artificial general intelligence software will be providing convincing new answers to long-standing unsolved questions of science and philosophy
  • Cryonic suspension of people on the point of death will have become pervasive, since the credibility of the possibility of reanimation by future science will have grown much higher.

So whilst I cautiously welcome the slow-paced futurists, I wish more people would realise the immensity of the transformations ahead, and become fast-paced futurists.

One group of people who do have a strong appreciation of the scale of potential future changes are the faculty of Singularity University. In November, I took part in the Singularity University Summit Europe held at the DeLaMar Theater in Amsterdam.

delamar-outside

I was already familiar with a lot of the material covered by the different presenters, but – wow:

  • The information was synthesised in a way that was compelling, entertaining, highly credible, and thought-provoking
  • The different sessions dovetailed extremely well together
  • The speakers clearly knew their material, and were comfortable providing good answers to the various questions raised by audience members (including offbeat and tangential questions).

People in the audience told me later that their jaws had been on the floor for nearly the entire two days.

My own reaction was: I should find ways of enabling lots more people to attend future similar Summits. The experience would likely transform them from being slow-paced futurists to fast-paced futurists.

Happily, many Singularity University faculty members are returning to Europe, for the next Summit in the series. This will be taking place from 12-14 March in Seville. You can find the details here.

SUSS speakers

Sessions at SU Summit Spain will include:

  • Intro to SU and Exponentials – Rob Nail
  • Artificial Intelligence – Neil Jacobstein
  • Robotics – Rob Nail
  • Networks and Computing: Autonomous Cars – Brad Templeton
  • Breakthrough in Digital Biology – Raymond McCauly
  • Future of Medicine – Daniel Kraft
  • Digital Manufacturing – Scott Summit and Nigel Ackland
  • Energy Breakthroughs – Ramez Naam
  • SU Labs – Sandy Miller
  • Global Grand Challenges – Nick Haan
  • Security – David Roberts
  • Institutional Innovation and Scaling from the edge – Salim Ismail

And did I mention that the event is taking place in the fabulous history-laden city of Seville?

As it happens, Summit Spain will be taking place just ten days after another large event that’s also happening in Spain: Mobile World Congress (MWC), held in Barcelona, from 2-5 March. Many readers will know that I’ve been at every MWC since 2002, and I’ve found them to be extremely useful networking events. In my 2014 book Smartphones and beyond, I told the story of my first visit to MWC – which was called “3GSM” at that time, and which was held that year in Cannes, across the border from Spain into France. Unexpected management changes at Symbian, the pioneering smartphone OS company, meant I suddenly had to step into a whole series of press interviews scheduled for that week:

Never having attended 3GSM before, I had a rapid learning curve. Symbian’s PR advisors gave me some impromptu “media training”, to lessen the chance of me fluffing my lines, unwittingly breaching confidentiality restrictions, or otherwise saying something I would subsequently regret. My diary was soon full of appointments to talk to journalists from all over Europe, in the cramped meeting rooms and coffee bars in Cannes. The evenings were bristling with networking events in the yachts which clustered around the dock areas. Happily, when the week was over, there was nothing to regret. Indeed, Symbian’s various PR departments invited me back for numerous interviews at every subsequent 3GSM. In later years, 3GSM changed its name to MWC (Mobile World Congress), and outgrew Cannes, so it relocated instead to Barcelona. I have attended every year since that first sudden immersion in 2002.

But all good things come to an end (so it is said). In recent years, I’ve found MWC to be less compelling. Smartphones, once dramatically different from one year to the next, have slowed down their curve of change. The wellspring of innovation is moving to other industries.

After MWC 2014, I had the privilege to chair a discussion of industry experts in Cambridge, co-hosted by Cambridge Wireless and Accenture, regarding both the highs and lows (the “fiesta” and the “siesta”) of the Barcelona event.

In that panel, the expressions of “siesta” (snooze) were consistently more heartfelt than those of “fiesta” (feast).

When the time came, a few weeks back, for me to decide whether to follow my habit of the last dozen years and book my presence in Barcelona for 2015, I found my heart was no longer inspired by that prospect. I’ve decided not to go.

I’m sure a great deal of important business will happen during these hectic few days at MWC, including some ground-breaking developments in fields such as wearable computing and augmented reality. But that will be slow ground-breaking – whereas it’s my judgement that the world needs, and is headed towards, fast ground-breaking. And Seville, ten days later, is the place to get early warning of these changes. So that’s where I’m headed.

If you’re interested in a preview taster of that early warning – a ninety minute anticipation of these three days – then please consider attending an event happening at Google’s Campus London on the morning of Thursday 12th February. This preview meeting is free to attend, though attendees need to pre-register, here. The preview on Thursday will:

  • Introduce the rich resources of the Singularity University (SU) community
  • Highlight some of the most dramatic of the technological changes that can be expected in the next few years
  • Answer your questions about SU Summit Spain
  • Conduct a lottery among all attendees, with the winner receiving a free admission ticket to SU Summit Spain.

The speakers I’ll be introducing at the preview will be:

  • Russell Buckley: Mentor, angel investor in 40+ startups, Government advisor, fundraising specialist, and Singularitarian
  • Nick Chrissos: Collaboration CTO, Cisco
  • Luis Rey: Director of the Singularity University Summit Spain.

The preview will start at 9am with tea/coffee and light breakfast. Presentations will start at 9.10am.

Note:

Icon combo 3
Footnote: If you’re interested in how the wireless industry can respond to the threat of being bypassed (or even steamrollered) by innovation arising elsewhere, you should consider registering for the 7th Future of Wireless International Conference, being held by CW (Cambridge Wireless) on 23-24 June. That conference has the timely theme “Wireless is dead. Long live wireless!” I’ll be one of the keynote speakers at the event. Here’s the description of what I’ll be talking about there (taken from the event website):

Wireless disrupted.

Wireless has spent two decades disrupting numerous other industries. But the boot is now on the other foot. This talk anticipates the powerful forthcoming trends that threaten to steamroller the wireless industry, with the well-spring of innovation moving beyond its grasp. These trends include technologies, such as artificial intelligence, next generation robotics, implantable computing, and cyber-security; they also include dramatic social transformations. The talk ends by suggesting some steps to enable a judo-like response to these threats.

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23 February 2013

Health improvements via mobile phones: achieving scale

Filed under: Accenture, Barcelona, Cambridge, healthcare, mHealth, MWC, partners — David Wood @ 10:27 pm

How can mobile reach its potential to improve both the outcomes and the economics of global health?

MWC13_logoThat’s the headline question for the panel I’m chairing on Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) event in Barcelona.

MWC is an annual conference that celebrates progress with mobile technology. Last year, there were over 67,000 attendees, including:

  • More than 12,000 mobile app developers
  • 3,300+ press members representing 1,500 media outlets from 92 countries
  • CEOs from more than 3,500 companies.

This year, a larger venue is being used, and the attendee numbers are expected to be even larger. Keynote speakers include the CEOs or Presidents from Vodafone, Telefonica, China Mobile, AT&T, Telecom Italia, NTT DoCoMo, Korea Telecom, Deutsch Telekom, Qualcomm, Nokia, General Motors, CNN Digital, American Heart Foundation, Bharti Enterprises, Qtel, Ericsson, Viber Media, Juniper Networks, Dropbox, Foursquare, Deezer, Mozilla, Ubuntu, Tizen, Jolla, and countless more.

And in the midst of all that, there’s a panel entitled Health: Achieving Scale through Partnerships – which, in my role as Technology Planning Lead for Accenture Mobility, I’ve been asked to chair.

MWC as a whole generates a lot of excitement about mobile technology – and about relative shifts in the competitive positions of key companies in the industry. However, it strikes me that the subject under discussion in my panel is more profound. Simply put, what we’re discussing is a matter of life and death.

Done well, mobile technology has the potential to enable the delivery of timely healthcare to people who would otherwise be at risk of death. Prompt diagnosis and prompt treatment can spell the difference between a bitterly unpleasant experience and something that is much more manageable.

But more than that: mobile technology has the potential to address very significant financial problems in the delivery of healthcare. Runaway medical bills impact individuals around the planet. According to a 2010 report by the World Health Organisation (PDF):

When people use healthcare services, they often incur high, sometimes catastrophic costs in paying for their care.

In some countries, up to 11% of the population suffers this type of  severe financial hardship each year, and up to 5% is forced into poverty. Globally, about 150  million people suffer financial catastrophe annually while 100 million are pushed below the poverty line.

It’s not just individuals who are facing ruinous costs from healthcare. A 2011 study by the World Economic Forum and Harvard University anticipates that productivity losses and medical treatment for diabetes, heart disease and other non-contagious chronic diseases will cost economies $47 trillion by 2030. In the UK, the growing cost of treating diabetes alone is said to be likely to “bankrupt the NHS in 20 years”. In countries around the world, surging costs of healthcare treatment are exceeding the growth rates of the national economies.

In principle, mobile technology has the potential to reduce these trends in a number of ways:

  • By enabling more cost-effective treatments, that are less time-consuming and less personally intrusive
  • By enabling earlier detection of medical issues: prevention can be much cheaper than cure!
  • By monitoring compliance with treatment regimes
  • By improving real-time communications within busy, geographically separated teams of clinicians
  • By reducing barriers for people to access information relevant to their health and well-being.

The Creative Destruction of MedicineHere, the key phrase is “in principle”. The potential of mobile technology to beneficially transform healthcare has long been recognised. Success stories can indeed be found. This recent NBC news video featuring physician Eric Topol contains some excellent examples of the use of smartphones in medical practice; for my review of Dr Topol’s award-winning book “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” see my previous blogpost Smartphone technology, super-convergence, and the great inflection of medicine. Nevertheless, the mobile industry is full of people who remain unsure about how quickly this potential can turn into a reality.

Indeed, I regularly encounter people in the mobile industry who have been assigned responsibility in their companies for aspects of “mHealth programmes”, or similar. The recurring refrain that I hear is as follows:

  • The technology seems to work
  • Small-scale pilot trials demonstrate encouraging results
  • But it’s hard to see how these trials can be scaled up into self-sustaining activities – activities which no longer rely on any strategic subsidies
  • Specifically, people wonder how their programmes will ever deliver meaningful commercial revenues to their companies – since, after all, these companies are driven by commercial imperatives.

In this sense, the question of scaling up mobile health programmes is a matter of commercial life-or-death for many managers within the mobile industry. Without credible plans for commercially significant revenues, these programmes may be cut back, and managers risk losing their jobs.

For all these reasons, I see the panel on Wednesday as being highly relevant. Here’s how the MWC organisers describe the panel on the event website:

There are hundreds of live and pilot mHealth deployments currently underway across many and diverse territories, but many of these projects, both commercial and pilot, will remain short term or small scale and will fold once initial funding is exhausted.

To reach scale, mHealth systems must in many cases be designed to integrate with existing health systems. This is not something the mobile industry can achieve alone, despite operators’ expertise and experience in delivering end-to-end services to their customers, and will require strong working partnerships between mobile network operators, health applications and health IT providers.

Speakers in this session will draw upon their own experience to showcase examples of mHealth projects that have gone beyond the small scale and pilot stages.

They will seek to identify best practice in making mHealth sustainable, and will discuss the progress and challenges in partnering for mHealth.

The panellists bring a wealth of different experience to these questions:

Faces

  • Pamela Goldberg is CEO of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), an economic development engine charged with charged with catalyzing technology innovation throughout the Massachusetts Commonwealth. She has an extensive background in entrepreneurship, innovation and finance, and is the first woman to lead the agency in its nearly 30 year history. MassTech is currently advancing technology‐based solutions that improve the health care system, expand high‐speed Internet access, and strengthen the growth and development of the state’s technology sector.
  • Kirsten Gagnaire is the Global Partnership Director for the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), where she manages a cross-sector partnership between USAID, Johnson & Johnson, the UN Foundation, the mHealth Alliance and BabyCenter. MAMA is focused on engaging an innovative global community to deliver vital health information to new and expectant mothers through mobile phones. She recently co-lead the Ashoka Global Accelerator, focused on getting mid-stage social entrepreneurs in developing countries the support & resources they need to scale their work across multiple countries and continents. These organizations are focused on using innovation and technology to address global health issues. She recently spent a year living in Ghana, where she was the Country Director for the Grameen Foundation and managed a large-scale mobile health project focused on maternal and child health across Ghana.
  • Chris Mulley is a Principal Business Consultant within the Operator Solutions department of ZTE Corporation. He is responsible for the analysis of market and business drivers that feed into the development of cost-effective end-to-end solutions, targeted at major global telecom operators, based on ZTE’s portfolio of fixed-line and wireless infrastructure equipment and ICT platforms. A key part of this role involves informing ZTE Corporation’s strategic approach to the provision of solutions that meet the objectives of the European Commission Digital Agenda for Europe policy initiative for the wide scale adoption of ICT in the provision of e-Health, e-Transport and e-Government across Europe. Chris was instrumental in the establishment of an e-Health collaboration between ZTE Corporation, the Centro Internazionale Radio Medico and Beijing People’s Hospital.
  • Tong En is Deputy General Manager of the Data Service department and Director of the R&D center at China Mobile Communications Corporation (CMCC), JiangSu Company. He has long been engaged in the research of mobile communication and IoT related technologies, and has chaired or participated more than 10 CMCC research projects. He is a multiple winner of CMCC innovation awards, and has published nearly 20 academic papers.
  • Oscar Gómez is Director of eHealth Product Marketing in Telefónica Digital, where he leads the creation and implementation of a Connected Healthcare proposition to help transform Health and Social Care systems in the light of the challenges they are facing. Oscar has global responsibility over Telefonica’s portfolio of products and solutions in the eHealth and mHealth space. Oscar holds an Executive MBA from Instituto de Empresa, a M.Sc. degree in Telecommunication Engineering from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and a Diploma in Economics from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He graduated in Healthcare Management from IESE in 2012.

In case you’re interested in the topic but you’re not able to attend the event in person, you can follow the live tweet stream for this panel, by tracking the hashtag #mwc13hlt1.

Postscript

Although I passionately believe in the significance of this particular topic, I realise there will be many other announcements, debates, and analyses of deep interest happening at MWC. I’ll be keeping my own notes on what I see as the greatest “hits” and “misses” of the show. These notes will guide me as I chair a “Fiesta or Siesta” debrief session in Cambridge in several weeks time. Jointly hosted by Cambridge Wireless and Accenture, on the 12th of March, this event will take place in the Møller Centre at Churchill College, Cambridge. As the event website explains,

Whether you attended Mobile World Congress (MWC), or you didn’t, you will have formed an opinion (or read someone else’s) on the key announcements and themes of this year’s show. “MWC – Fiesta or Siesta?!” will re-create the emotion of Barcelona as we discuss the hits and misses of the 2013 Mobile World Congress, Cambridge Wireless style…

Registration for this “Fiesta or Siesta” event is now open. Knowing many of the panellists personally, I am confident in predicting that sparks will fly in this discussion, and we’ll end up collectively wiser.

16 April 2010

Mobile Developer TV: riffs on the future of technology

Filed under: Barcelona, futurist, Humanity Plus, YouTube — David Wood @ 3:03 pm

On the last day of  the Mobile World Congress (MWC) industry tradeshow in Barcelona a few weeks ago, Ewan MacLeod of Mobile Industry Review and Rafe Blandford of AllAboutSymbian caught up with me.  They explained:

We’re asking people what they see as the highlights of Mobile World Congress.  Would you mind saying a few words to camera?

I have lots of respect for both Ewan and Rafe, so I was happy to respond.  I expressed a few top-of-mind thoughts about Microsoft Windows Phone 7, the networking opportunities at the event itself, and about the growing interest in embedded connectivity (also known as “machine to machine” communications).  The result is here, as Episode 148 of MobileDeveloperTV.com: “David Wood’s take on MWC“:

As you can see, I had the opportunity to say a few words at the end of the clip about the Humanity+ UK2010 event I’ve been organising.  Once the filming stopped, the three of us continued chatting informally about this topic – which is (of course) a big and fascinating topic.  Never someone to miss an opportunity, Ewan started filming again. The first question this time was “What films about the future do you like?”  One answer led on to “just one more question” and then to “a final question” and even “a really final question”…

This became episode 149 of  MobileDeveloperTV.com: “David Wood speculates on the future of (mobile) technology“.  Ewan explains:

I grabbed the opportunity to ask David what his top 3 sci-fi movies were. What follows is an absolutely fascinating ‘real-time’ riff from David on where he sees the future going — in terms of technology augmentation — and what to do about the human race becoming far too reliant on technology that may well turn against us. Or that we simply couldn’t do without.

Many thanks to Ewan and Rafe for taking the time to edit and publish this second video, even though it’s some way outside their normal field of coverage!

9 February 2010

Improving mobile phone usability

Filed under: Barcelona, usability — David Wood @ 9:42 am

One fundamental step to unlocking the full transformational potential of smart mobile technology is to significantly improve the usability of multi-function devices.  As additional features have been added into mobile phones, there’s been a natural tendency for each new feature to detract from the overall ease of use of the device:

  • It’s harder for users to locate the exact function that they wish to use at any given time;
  • It’s harder for users to understand the full set of functions that are available for them to use.

This has led to feelings of frustration and disenchantment.  Devices are full of powerful functionality that is under-used and under-appreciated.

Recognising this problem, companies throughout the mobile industry are exploring approaches to improving the usability of multi-function devices.

One common idea is to try to arrange all the functionality into a clear logical hierarchy.  But as the number of available functions grows and grows, the result is something that is harder and harder to use, no matter how thoughtfully the functions are arranged.

A second common idea is to allow users to select the applications that they personally use the most often, and to put shortcuts to these applications onto the homescreen (start screen) of the phone.  That’s a step forwards, but there are drawbacks with this as well:

  1. The functionality that users want to access is more fine-grained than simply picking an application.  Instead, a user will often have a specific task in mind, such as “phone Mum” or “email Susie” or “check what movies are showing this evening”;
  2. The functionality that users want to access the most often varies depending on the context the user is in – for example, the time of day, or the user’s location;
  3. The UI to creating these shortcuts can be time-consuming or intimidating.

In this context, I’ve recently been looking at some technology developed by the startup company Intuitive User Interfaces.  The founders of Intuitive previously held key roles with the company ART (Advanced Recognition Technologies) which was subsequently acquired by Nuance Communications.

Intuitive highlight the following vision:

Imagine a phone that knows what you need, when you need it, one touch away.

Briefly, the technology works as follows:

  1. An underlying engine observes which tasks the user performs frequently, and in which circumstances;
  2. These tasks are made available to the user via a simple top-level one-touch selection screen;
  3. The set of tasks in this screen vary depending on user context.

Intuitive will be showing their system, running on an Android phone, at the Mobile World Congress at Barcelona next week.  Ports to other platforms are in the works.

Of course, software that tries to anticipate a user’s actions has sometimes proved annoying rather than helpful.  Microsoft’s “paperclip” Office Assistant became particularly notorious:

  • It was included in versions of Microsoft Office from 1997 to 2003 – with the intention of providing advice to users when it deduced that they were trying to carry out a particular task;
  • It was widely criticised for being intrusive and unhelpful;
  • It was excluded from later versions;
  • Smithsonian magazine in 2007 called this paperclip agent “one of the worst software design blunders in the annals of computing“.

It’s down to the quality of the underlying engine whether the context-dependent suggestions provided to the user are seen as helpful or annoying.  Intuitive describe the engine in their product as “using sophisticated machine learning algorithms” in order to create “a statistically driven model”.  Users’ reactions to suggestions also depend on the UI of the suggestion system.

Personally, I’m sufficiently interested in this technology to have joined Intuitive’s Advisory Board.  If anyone would like to explore this technology further, in meetings at Barcelona, please get in touch!

For other news about Intuitive User Interfaces, please see their website.

21 January 2010

Selecting the most exciting mobile startups

Filed under: Barcelona, innovation, Mobile Monday, startups — David Wood @ 3:32 pm
  • Study the online details of each of 50 attractive mobile startup companies;
  • Identify, from this list, the 10 that are “the best of the best”.

That was the challenge posed to me earlier this week by Rudy de Waele, the Simon Cowell of the mobile industy.

As in previous years, the Monday of Mobile World Congress week – when the mobile industry congregates in Barcelona – will feature an Mobile Premier Awards event.  This event will feature a number of quickfire pitches by companies selected by Mobile Monday chapters worldwide.  These companies are competing for a number of awards, including the Mobile Premier Award in Innovation.

By this stage in the contest, there are 50 candidates.  Each has been selected as the result of a process in one of the Mobile Monday chapters.  We’re now at the stage of reducing this list to 20, to avoid the event in Barcelona stretching on too long in time.  Responsibility for this reduction falls to a group of people described as “an online jury of industry experts”.

I was honoured to be asked to take part in this jury, but at the same time I was apprehensive.  It’s a considerable responsibility to look at the information about each of 50 companies, and to find the most deserving 10 from that list.  (Each jury member picks 10.  The organisers aggregate the votes from all 25 jury members, and the top-scoring 20 companies are invited to make a pitch at the event in Barcelona.)

The guidelines to jury members asked that we evaluate each candidate based on:

  • originality, creativity and innovation;
  • technical and operational feasibility;
  • economic and financial viability.

I created a spreadsheet for my own use and started following links Rudy provided me to entries for each of the companies on dotopen.com.  In turn these entries pointed to other info, such as the companies’ own websites.

As I anticipated, the selection process was far from easy!  I quickly found 10 companies that I thought definitely deserved to attend Barcelona – and I had only searched about one third of the way through the list of nominees…

Occasionally I thought that a particular entry looked comparatively uninteresting (for example, that it was a “Me too” offering).  But when I clicked onto the company’s own website and started looking in more detail at what they had done, I would I think to myself “Mmm… this startup has a strong proposition after all”.

However, by close of play yesterday I had made my selection.  It’s inappropriate for me to publicly mention any companies at this time.  But I will say that I expect the event in Barcelona will give strong evidence of some companies executing well on some very interesting business ideas.

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