Look No Hands! 

One story that caught my eye today was the Tesla that managed to predict a car crash ahead and react before a human could have responded. 

The Autopilot technology, rolled out overnight to all Tesla cars by way of an software update, includes a radar processing capability – in effect, the ability for your car to see ahead of the car directly in front of you. 

There have been a few stories about the value of this newfound driving superpower kicking around but today’s story comes with a video of the incident which demonstrates precisely how powerful this technology could be in helping to avoid accidents

I drove a fair distance today, the last hour or so of which was in the worst fog I’ve seen for many years. Whilst nothing’s going to be perfect,  I would 100% have preferred to have been driving a Tesla (obviously…). But what’s really interesting here is the potential for so-called ‘fleet learning‘ – each car uploading data from its daily experiences to a central database, with this improved collective knowledge then being recycled for ongoing use by the same vehicles. 

A Safety Skynet anyone? 

Sometimes Progress Needs A Little Shove

During a number of recent conversations about technology and the rate of progress (general thrust: technologists underestimate – and the general public overestimate – how long adoption will take), I’ve been thinking about tipping points. In most cases, these appear obvious only in retrospect after a little time has passed to firmly place events in some kind of perspective.

However some events clearly have more impact than others. I read a great article today about Kathrine Switzer who ran the Boston Marathon in 1967. So far, so unremarkable you might think. Nothing unusual there –  unless you realise that women were banned from running marathons 50 years ago.

It gets better though. Not only did Switzer run in and complete the race (in a very creditable 4 hours 20), one of the organisers was so affronted when he spied the interloper, he took it upon himself to physically launch himself at her in an attempt to shove her off the road, before a male running companion removed him.

The drama was caught by a photographer whose three pictures were shared far and wide in the press, starting that same evening. As the article says, “her run, and the photos, changed the lives of all female runners”.

Only 6 years later, Switzer’s would-be assailant, Jock Semple, opened up the Boston Marathon to women (Switzer came third) and the 1984 Olympics saw the introduction of the woman’s Marathon for the first time. And today, almost half of all entrants in marathons around the world are female.

I guess sometimes rules have to be broken in order to allow widescale progress to take place. Rules that, by definition, have after all been designed for the purpose of protecting the status quo. And ironically it’s often the very people who are most opposed to progress that inadvertently lay the foundations for it to take place.

Emojis Matter

Emojis and emoticons seem to have become increasingly widespread over the last few years. I have to admit – I’m not a huge fan myself. But I can 100% see why they’ve become so popular. After all, who within Bitcoin doesn’t like ToTheMoonGuy?

With access to technologies becoming increasingly commonplace (SMS, tweets, Facebook interactions), we’re communicating more frequently but using far fewer words in each exchange. And within these reduced mediums, one well-placed emoticon can easily convert a vicious personal attack into nothing more than comical banter between friends.

It’s interesting to watch how society is starting to deal with this evolution in language. Ignoring the cost implications of the technologies that have in some cases been misunderstood (a woman in Scotland racked up an extra £1,000 bill as a result of her emoticon addiction when she failed to realise that each emoticon message was being charged as a picture message by her mobile provider), they are now assuming more formal significance.

There are reports of juries being directed to focus on the use of emoticons in written evidence led in court. We saw it happen in the recent Silk Road trial of Ross W. Ulbricht for example. But the difficulty here is that there is no standardised usage yet for the symbols. Usage of emoji can vary between two individuals or within certain communities so it remains a challenge for outsiders to interpret at this stage.

I don’t really have any firm conclusions on this one way or the other to be honest. But I’m interested to see whether we will ever reach a stage where the meaning behind emoticons (or their descendents) become genuinely standardised. Or will the development follow that of the written word or currency, where to date the world has shown itself to contain enough niches to support entirely separate versions. My instinct is that we are a long way off a common language using symbols.


The Cake Is A Lie

The Cake Is A Lie

If you haven’t come across “the cake is a lie” meme, try reading the quick post on Medium by Tobias van Schneider, Design Lead at Spotify (aside: anyone else notice just how good Medium is now becoming as a platform for both content creation and discovery?). In essence, the statement means “your promised reward is merely a fictitious motivator”. In other words, you’re striving for something that you’ll never get.

Schneider puts the idea in the context of risk aversion, pointing out that as we get older, we devote more of our time to trying to avoid losing the many things that we’ve accumulated (income, personal image, gadgets) than we do to pursuing growth. Hence the struggle that banks and other established businesses have to actively pursue innovation at any meaningful level. Research has proved the loss aversion theory which tells us that people tend to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains.

On a corporate level, you could argue that’s no bad thing. If that wasn’t the case, we simply wouldn’t have a business environment in which a startup with “nothing to lose” can seek to disrupt an established industry. However on an individual level, the warning should be considered more deeply. Schneider suggests that every time you face a big decision, ask yourself whether your dilemma about whether or not to proceed is simply down to the fact that you’re looking to protect that cake. If so, be very wary.

You don’t get happy by putting all your energies into protecting a cake that you never actually eat.

Today’s my 100th successive blog post. I’ve been blogging (on this website and elsewhere) for a few years now but never with this level of consistency. So what changed?

As most people are aware, I’m a fan of Seth Godin’s work. And as he says, “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship”. The perfect is the enemy of the good. If I was worried about perfect grammar, ground-breaking commentary and creating a comprehensive database of knowledge on the subjects that interest me, I would never have got started. Posts would take days rather than hours and we all know that real life has a habit of getting in the way whenever it can.

If we’ve never met in person, you might not know that I enjoy acting. And if there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from my entirely undistinguished but thoroughly enjoyable time on stage to date, it’s that the very best actors are invariably the ones who aren’t acting. Or – more accurately – they’re living in the moment and responding naturally to everything that takes place in front of them. Undoubtedly, there’s talent involved. But, even more importantly, I believe that it’s also a habit. Crucially, they’ve managed to construct an environment in which they’re free to take the risk of getting things wrong. The best are never afraid of falling flat on their faces because that’s what gives them the chance to develop their ideas. It’s all about eating the cake, not protecting it.

I guess that’s what this blog represents to me. An attempt to build and maintain a place where I can do the same. For those who are reading it, thanks! For those who aren’t – well, I intend to keep on going. Because to quote Godin once more, “The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing”.


PS. Here’s a list of the posts that were some of the most enjoyable to write (see it’s not all about Bitcoin, honest…)

  1. Why The Internet Of Things Needs The Blockchain
  2. Satoshi’s Songs: Can Bitcoin Save The Music Industry?
  3. Why Science Fiction Shapes The Future
  4. How Do People Get New Ideas?
  5. AI And Summoning The Demon
  6. Startups, Maslow, Happiness, Unemployment
  7. The Six Walls of Surveillance
  8. Farm2050 Collective & The Coming Global Food Shortage
  9. The Genius ISM’s
  10. Collaborative Consumption
  11. Why Art Is Just As Important As Science
  12. The Stark Reality: Surveillance or Security
  13. The Social Challenges Of Peer To Peer Markets
  14. Bitcoin, Accounting And The Blockchain
  15. Coffee and Bitcoin: The Last Few Months








Tasks: Do More. Faster. Easier

Most people face productivity challenges in their daily lives. There’s increasingly more to do but less time to do it in. That could be down to any number of factors – the fact that multi-tasking is actually impossible (we can only switch between distinct tasks), that we’re simply wasting more time on the internet or simply the fact that technology has enabled us to create a life that’s just, well, harder.

So if you’re looking to be more productive with every minute, Seth Godin has some advice. And like all good advice, it’s blindingly obvious when you see it written down. It’s all about understanding the existing model so that you can move up the levels that are common to all tasks:-

  1. Get better and more skilful at your current tasks.
  2. Delegate: find cheaper people to do your tasks.
  3. Invest in technology that increases your team’s output.
  4. Invent new technology that pushes that further still.
  5. Pick better things to work on (don’t simply react to others’ demands).

Try running that framework with all the work that’s on your plate. The only thing that’s certain is that you can improve your productivity. The question is whether you’re willing to try.

Are You Advising Or Simply Restating Facts?

Part of the reason that I blog regularly is so that I have a place to record some of the many gems of wisdom that I stumble across randomly during the course of each day’s online travels.

Today it’s the turn of Brad Feld’s post ‘Mentors 9/18: Clearly Separate Opinion From Fact‘ which is taken from his upcoming new book, ‘Startup Opportunities: Know When To Quit Your Day Job‘.

He points out that many people who advise others fail to fully appreciate the difference between facts, data and opinions. Whilst Brad is tackling the mentor/mentee relationship in his post, it’s clear that the same warning applies to anyone who advises others (the role of lawyers immediately sprang to mind here to me).

In short, advisors will often justify (unconsciously perhaps) their role in the relationship by stating that something is a fact when the statement is in reality simply their opinion. Of course, a statement might be based on data (truth) which you used to subsequently form your opinion. But an opinion is necessarily an extension of the facts. Your opinion is not factual in and of itself. But the person who listens to it has no way of knowing that they’re listening to an opinion rather than a fact.

The point is simply to be clear about the advice that you’re offering to the person that you’re helping – is it fact or is it opinion?

Both are valuable but conflating the latter with the former can have negative consequences for the person who is eagerly waiting to use what you say to help them make a decision. And the more transparent you are during this process, the more valuable your help is likely to be.

Easy Access: Mail Order Keys

A late night tonight after returning from speaking at another Creative Currencies Chiasma warm-up event, this time in Glasgow but just time for a quick post.

More than a few folk have had issues with keys in the Bitcoin world. But such concerns are nothing new. I suspect that even Charles Chubb and Linus Yale, Sr. might have been somewhat concerned if a business such as KeyMe had been knocking around in their respective days.

KeyMe has an iPhone app that lets you upload a photograph of your keys and upload them to the company’s servers. After that, you can get a new set 3D printed and sent out to you immediately – or even have them cut in one of their vending machine in New York while you wait. Of course, it raises all manner of questions about security (how hard can it really be to simply steal someone’s keys briefly to photograph them for nefarious purposes)? For users there must surely also be an echo of that slightly uncomfortable feeling that anyone who uses a password manager synced via the cloud must also feel periodically.

Wired had a good article on the business a few months ago. The convenience of being able to immediately rescue yourself from a lock-out situation is obvious. But I couldn’t help but think of the parallel with handing someone your private keys to act as a custodian of your Bitcoin funds. The only difference is, in this case, you don’t just risk the money. Because of course, someone might just use the service to relocate other valuable items of yours to which you’re likely to have a far greater emotional attachment than boring old, fungible money.

This brings me perilously close to the 3D printed gun/Defense Distributed debate. But it’s already way too late so maybe another time.

I’ll leave you with this quote from the Wired article that sums up the power of the technology:-

“If you lose sight of your keys for the better part of 20 seconds, you should consider them lost,” says Jos Weyers, a Dutch lockpicking guru and security consultant. “If you find them later, consider them a souvenir.”

Out of Context in Evernote

I’m a huge fan of Evernote. After Google, I probably rely on the company more than any other throughout the course of my daily digital life. And like increasing numbers around the world, I trust them heavily to back up my brain. But I’m just not a huge fan of their Context product.

If you don’t use Evernote, let me explain. I usually write directly into Evernote – meeting notes, blog posts, whatever – in addition to saving articles that I need to return to at a later date. Using the service is a no-brainer when you can rely on it to sync perfectly across platforms (well, usually; it has had the usual challenges that face any tech company growing at rapid speed). However the company recently decided to ‘reward’ premium users by surfacing a number of (hopefully) relevant articles in the space below your writing space.

Now, I’m not entirely sure but I *think* that previously they’d surface other notes that you’d made and saved yourself. Presumably they used some form of fairly simple word recognition algorithm that just scanned your collected content. And of course that could be useful – on occasion. It was rare that I actually click to open the suggestions but occasionally it was interesting to realise that I’d written/saved an article months earlier on a similar topic. No big deal. Little benefit for me in practice but, with minimal interruption, no complaints from me.

However, at the start of October, Evernote introduced Context. The company now surfaces relevant ‘high quality’ content from selected media partners, such as LinkedIn and The Wall Street Journal, within that space.

There’s a couple of immediate problems here. Suddenly noticing external content pop up within your own personal safety deposit box immediately creates dissonance. Whether it’s relevant is neither here nor there. And in the same way as there was uproar when Google finally admitted that it was scanning all your emails to serve you advertising within Gmail, there are inevitable questions about privacy. How much of your data are they sharing with third parties to provide this content?

For customers with sensitive personal information (despite the warnings, people still use cloud services like Evernote and Dropbox to store this sort of data), the real concern is that this information is being shared without permission. Evernote have now clarified that this is not the case but there’s no doubt that the public are becoming both more wary and more vocal about such issues.

Evernote position is that they are providing additional content because it is valuable context that will help you work more efficiently. But to a premium customer who is already supporting the service by paying a subscription, these suggestions at first glance look, to all intents and purposes, to be advertising. And don’t we usually pay to remove adverts?

It’s not all bad though. If you can get over the privacy concerns and get comfortable with the use of data, they’re bringing something that could be hugely valuable to workforces using the Evernote Business service. If you start working on something that a co-worker has already tackled and the product surfaces the relevant notes, you can see how many wheels will avoid being reinvented. Get it right – and Evernote have a real chance here given the quality of the search technology that they’ve built within their platform – and they could be onto a big winner.

But first, they need to allay those concerns. I don’t go to Evernote to find new knowledge. I go to Evernote to find the things that I’ve already filtered out as being valuable for me to store. Third party curation is something that necessarily should be happening outside my personal ecosystem.

I’ll not be going anywhere. Evernote remains a truly valuable resource and immensely powerful if used correctly. But whether it’s down to an issue of design, communication or a young algorithm, Context still has a long way to go.


Collaborative Consumption

The Sharing Economy has really been gaining steam over the past few years. With Airbnb increasingly building mainstream awareness beyond purely tech circles and Uber’s rapid march towards a multi-billion dollar valuation in the short time since its inception in 2009 (despite being beset by recent scandals), it’s clear there’s a substantial societal shift taking place towards new business models.

I read an interesting article today by Rachel Botsman, author of “What’s Mine Is Yours” and thought leader in the field of Collaborative Consumption, in which she challenges a few of the myths surrounding the area.

I’ve always had an interest in watching the exodus from centralised organisations to technology-driven distributed networks of individuals (which partly explains Bitcoin’s appeal for me) and the ‘sharing economy’ clearly personifies one aspect of this. However, it was also interesting to read the argument that the terminology that we all use has, she believes, been twisted out of recognition. We all talk of the Sharing Economy – but the reality is that participants are not actually sharing at all (in the conventional sense of the word).

When we let people borrow our unused bedrooms, all that’s taking place is simply a rental transaction. This new raft of businesses is being built that use technology to connect supply and demand that would otherwise remain unfulfilled. But at its core, this activity is entirely different to the concept of ’sharing’, she argues. That word by itself comes with its own ideology and implied altruism. However, when we ‘share’ a room, we fully expect to get something in return.

Whilst she’s unsurprisingly critical of the values and culture at Uber, she also points out that pretenders with big plans to disintermediate an industry by simply providing an ‘on-demand’ service do not fall automatically within the classification of the collaborative economy. In other words, it’s not just removing the middle man – it’s more accurately about unlocking idle capacity.

In Botsman’s recent work, she’s identified five key areas with assets that are ripe for disruption together with the solutions for each area (here in brackets):

  • waste (efficiency)
  • complex experiences (simplicity)
  • redundant intermediaries (direct exchange)
  • limited access (shared access)
  • broken trust (transparency)

The explosive growth of the collaborative economy comes partly from the fact that it is replacing traditional asset-heavy business models with ones that are asset-light. The classic example from her talk mentions the fact that it took Hilton Hotels 93 years to get 610,000 rooms in 88 countries. Meanwhile, it’s taken Airbnb just 4 years to amass 650,000 rooms in 192 countries.

I love the example of Goodgym. It’s a platform that connects people who are seeking the motivation to go running with old people who would benefit from regular visits (albeit from lycra-clad sweaty visitors). It’s also fascinating to see that she has identified Financial Services as being an areas where so many of the drivers behind the collaborative economy are present. I couldn’t agree more. As an example, here’s a list of some of the areas that are developing fast, together with a few company names for context:

Botsman’s last point is, I think, key here. Whilst the inroads made by the collaborative economy are scary to many incumbents (statistics abound of the taxi industry losing two-thirds of its revenue to Uber and other upstarts in a period of less than three years for example), don’t forget the way that innovation inevitably plays out.

In the early days of Napster, the music industry tied itself in knots trying to restrict the competition by legal assault. By focusing on where the ball was, rather than where it was travelling to, they completely missed the fact that a new wave of demand has arisen from consumers who wanted to share and buy songs electronically. iTunes would never have had a chance of success if the incumbents hadn’t been asleep at the wheel.

I intend to write far more about the sharing, sorry, collaborative economy moving forwards. In the meantime, treat this as an early collection of ideas and go and watch Botsman’s talk.


LinkedIn “Not Good For Bad Employees” Shocker

I was reading today that LinkedIn are facing a lawsuit from a few individuals who claim that the site has done the opposite of what is was created to do – namely hampered their job prospects.

The proposed class-action lawsuit has been brought by four individuals who claim that the site’s ‘Reference Search’ facility – an option open to paid users which lets them identify individuals who might have worked with someone at a business during a certain time – had resulted in them being turned down for jobs. The implication is that there was some less-than-complimentary feedback about the individuals that was uncovered as part of the research.

Their case is based on a old piece of US legislation from 1970 known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This basically says that if you give information about individuals to third parties so that they can carry out pre-employment checks, you have a legal obligation to ensure that the information is accurate – plus the third party has to inform the individual is being denied a job because of such information.

Now, in the absence of a DeLorean, I don’t think anyone’s claiming that the legislators could have reasonably foreseen the internet, let alone the growth of social media platforms when they drafted the Act. But even ignoring that, it seems to me that the plaintiffs’ premise is flawed on a number of fronts – not least, because all of the information about their old work colleagues is freely available on LinkedIn already. All that the ‘Reference Search’ facility does is simplify the search process, by matching up companies and dates of employment with others, as a perk of subscription.

As I understand it, anyone with the same motivation could, if they chose, just sit down and dig into the data to find individuals who were potentially ex-colleagues of job applicants before then making direct approaches with InMail to seek unsolicited references.

Reputation’s an interesting area – and one’s that continues to evolve with the growth of our digital world. Each of us subconsciously reveals a slightly different side to ourselves according to the environment that we find ourselves in during different parts of the same day. But when you gift all of your professional information (and more) somewhere like LinkedIn, surely you should be taking the rough with the smooth. It makes it infinitely much easier for others to find you (and, by extension, to employ you) – but at the same time, the importance of leaving a high-quality trail of experiences in your wake increases also. There’s not many cupboards left for those skeletons to hide in these days.

Part of the issue here I suspect is that people start to believe that as the so-called ‘professional’ platform, LinkedIn is just a virtual land within which you have complete control of the publicity that surrounds your working life. And most of the time, of course, it is exactly that, with its unbalanced  endorsement mechanisms for example. But the reality is that the technology itself is neutral. If you’ve left a wake of bad work experiences in your wake, then you’re probably not in the best position to start complaining.

But what about the malicious ex-colleague who you never got on with? Well, that’s where things do start to get more complicated admittedly. But whether LinkedIn is the method by which someone finds these people or not, it’s hardly the company’s fault that they exist.

Whilst I’m on the topic of identity and reputation, if you’re interested in the topic at all, I recommend you take a listen to great episode of the LetsTalkBitcoin podcast earlier this week. Titled ‘The Philosophy of Identity’, it’s another great discussion on topic on the back of Chris Ellis’ latest project, the ‘World Citizenship Passport’.