Dunne & Raby, Technological Dream Series no. 1: Robot

Branding, the embodiment of values and expectations in a market is as important now as it ever has been.

We are entering a stage where the technological phenomena will be downgraded, in comparison to the frame in which it is set, and the merit of the entire system.

Data is already incredibly cheap. We have more sensors than data we can compute. A trajectory that will surely keep scaling up, especially when we stop siloing our data for each product (more in Gated Products)

Machine learning, and other specialist AI techniques are already enabling deployment of highly complex algorithms using nothing more than graphic interfaces.

Back–office tool enabling Facebook employees write an ML algorithm
Airbnb's dynamic pricing for hosts

In a previous post I explained my argument, and a bias towards the controller in a monetized system:

  • we capture data faster than the speed it takes it to move up to a remote server

  • interfaces are no longer contained to proprietary interface points

  • Therefor MVC, and its inherit structures, biases and processes are not suitable for the future

Realizing this suggests the promotion of controllers to the kernel of your business, offering, function and purpose. Everything you do, the reason you do it, your advantage, and the echo it has on your users is crystalized and encapsulated in your controllers.

Let’s run through an example to unpack that.

I wake up tomorrow with the best idea anyone has ever had about linking physical activity to mental well–being.

Scenario A:

The first version of this narrative (which we’ll say happened last week) will involve me setting up a database, designing and building an app – and only then could get to the task of making my kernel shine, my idea.

I might come up with a plan that listens to runs, and wellbeing meters (using heart rate variability for example).

I will have to hold the data, and all of its copies, and will hope for repeating users, who are engaged with my system.

If the user won’t use the app, or if I didn’t reach a meaningful data threshold I won’t be able to communicate the promise, and idea I woke up with all those mornings ago.

There is going to be some limited branding that will go into this, but really I am selling the promise of tech, the system as a whole, and the novelty within it (new way of tracking runs, unique interface etc)

Scenario B:

The second version of this narrative happens 2 years from now. My shoes have sensor that feed data to me (not the shoes company), my watch holds data on my vitals, and my pillow has a sensor in it.

Software development has also been altered. Building tools no longer requires writing code. We have machines that do for us. Most programming is done by wiring of graphic interfaces, and there is industrial grade AI we can plug into our systems. It is available through companies like Amazon, and Google in a minuscule cost. I am able to realize my idea in 4 hours.

Now I need to bring it to market.

In this scenario – what I am selling the kernel, in its true form.

If everyone can see their runs, how much they slept, how relaxed and mentally refreshed they are – why would they use my system? I need deliver on a promise to render value. Value, is what a non–authoritarian system will be judged on.

Authority, as oppose to emergence in a reality in today’s system based on a simple choice, and the mechanics of the market.

If you need your runs measured, you would choose an app – let’s say Nike. At this point Nike has authority on your runs. Your runs live on a Nike server, and are not controlled by you.

This is not a privacy provocation, as it is a thought on the forces of building tools. I recommend Alex Pentland’s group in the Media Lab for further thinking down the same thread (his Edge video is a good start).

When you finish a run, today – you hold the data on your phone. How long your run was, how far you went and more. Your device is x number of nano–bits heavier because of holding that data.

On your phone that data is useless. It is useless until it moves up to a server to do some computation, and come back “down”.

An authoritarian system is driven by fencing data.

Our future system however will be driven by its kernel. And it is that kernel that will create an affiliation with the system’s users, their ambitions, value system and aspiration.

Sounds familiar?

In a world where data is cheap, and tools make themselves, it will be the question – the crystalized kernel, the dense idea – that will have us associate with one tool over another. The fact that we will own the data will necessitate these apps to ask permission to be installed. The paradigm of using such a product is still to be figured out, but it most definitely not be installing a package on your smartphone (like we do today).

How do you install an app that connects to your pillow, shoes and gym locker?

This abundance of tools, and the collapse of data silos will force companies to articulate the what and the why of their system.

For example - can you answer what is Facebook’s mission?

Let’s say that it is let you stay in touch with your friends and family.

The future version of Facebook, or a similar system will most definitely take a different model than attention economy, and ads. Simply because products will not rely on convening, but on purpose and function.

It might use a device in your living room to remind you of birthdays, or that your friend is close by. It might be able to compose a personalized video message and send it to your friend’s TV.

But why would you use one incarnation of the Facebook product over another?

Probably the same reason you buy one pair of jeans over another: branding, and brand equity.

It is the purpose, and the function of these tools that will make the future of consumer–facing system, and the people that convene around them.