2014 is underway and I'm six months into my new role and it's a quiet evening on Nutley Lane, so thoughts turn to the future. Earlier today I watched a video about some guys who are rebuilding the OS for the Cray 1 supercomputer, which in the early 90s was the bleeding edge but now is far outmatched by your smartphone. That's a lot of progress in 20 years. Elsewhere though, I've read some people speculating that we have been spoiled by Moore's law and the explosion of computing over the last half-century, from the lab to the desk to the pocket and soon to the body. Maybe that rate of change is not sustainable and we will fall back to a slower pace of innovation. I've been so immersed from childhood in the story of the world progressing faster and better as our knowledge of science and technology grows that I find it hard to even picture what that would be like.
Anyway. In the often over-estimated short-term we should see more development in 3D printing this year. We're in the process of hitting the part of the development where the normal non-technical public gets frustrated with them and finds out (1) They're slow (2) They're expensive (3) They're hard to use (4) They can only print weird random stuff and not cool things, e.g. something ‘simple’ like a toy car with wheels to amuse the kids, at the very least. Headlines will be that 3D printers were just over-hyped marketing buzz with nothing behind it, like 3D televisions. But the potential is there, and the technology will improve over time. The internet likes to distribute things that are localised, and manufacturing is very localised right now. Before we see 'useful' 3D printers in the home (for a definition of useful that allows the fabrication of desirable things, so something most likely customised to the purchaser) we'll probably see large, expensive printers in some collectively-accessible space, like we did with internet cafes. The move from there to the home might actually take a long time - prices will need to drop and printer quality increase so that it becomes easier and cheaper to print something rather than go out and buy it or order it online. We could be talking about decades here, rather than years, before a significant percentage of homes have 3D printers.
Which bring us nicely to: drones. Stories like to hit in the next year: someone killed or seriously injured by a drone falling out of the sky, someone using a drone to spy on their hot neighbour in the shower, someone shooting down a drone they found objectionable, mysterious drones being sighted at particularly objectionable places like a school or a beach, a drone interfering with air traffic control, calls from politicians for drone control. There will actually have to be some sort of regulation - heavy objects being moved through the sky by under-qualified people over roads and cities is not likely to end well. So fly 'em while you can, kids. I recommend the store at 3D Robotics if you haven’t seen it already.
Also in 2014 the death of social media will continue, except that it's not death at all but merely an evolution. Kids don't want to be where their parents are, so the procession of post-Facebook sites will continue. People of all ages are becoming more aware of privacy and identity issues around the internet. The early days of Facebook where people posted actual meaningful revealing things about themselves are going to seem impossibly quaint, they way we look at 1920s horror movies now and wonder if anyone could ever really have been scared by them. On the 2010s internet everyone knows that anything you post can and will be used against you unless you post it with full anonymity. And if you do that, how do your friends know it's you? Tricky. Partly it comes down to a question of risk. How badly do you want to send those naked pictures of yourself? This question though does lead to related issues with Facebook's long-term strategy because they can't continue to acquire ever large pseudo-social-network - Instagram, Snapchat et al - for ever, with Sheryl in the role of Canute trying to show that the tide will come in regardless. Internally they probably figure that people will have one primary public identity and other sub-identities for specific groups and functions, and that as long as they're the home for the primary identity and it's associated purchasing power, all will be well in the advertising future.
Stepping back, though, and looking at the 2014 internet it's tempting to wonder if advertising as a whole is its Achilles heel. I can't see from here how that could be, but if something fundamental happened to the way people buy things that significantly reduced the power of marketing, several very large empires would suddenly find the barbarians at the gates and not enough money to pay the legionaries, to stretch the metaphor into very dubious historical territory. What could disrupt advertising? There could be some grassroots things against marketing manipulation and being taken advantage of by giant corporations, but it's hard to see that getting any traction that would be significant at a global scale. Indeed, any change would need to be large enough to affect the very roots of capitalism and the societies based thereon, and depending on how that worked out internet shopping may be the very least of our worries. But certainly a lot of the online world right now is built on advertising, and history teaches us that even things that look like they will last forever do not actually last forever.
But even in the constant change of the technology world, though, there do seem to be some truths that are universal. The idea of better business through storytelling and reaching people emotionally in a way that resonates with them has taken off over the last few years, and has formed a large part of my role at work over the last few months. We are all natural tellers and receivers of stories from our earliest days, and in that sense they are a much more fundamental way of seeing the world than the scientific method. The people who write advertisements have known this for a long time, but it's appearing elsewhere in business and in the development of people now. If only our friends in Dublin had understood the potential goldmine they were sitting on by asking 'What's the story?' We're moving on from a place where businesspeople can say they are driven by data and rationality alone, an assertion that never stood up to the least analysis, and business will be more honest and hopefully more engaging for it.
Certainly there are interesting times ahead, and we’ve hardly touched on the fact that wearable computing is the first step towards constant-access computing, where at every second I will have access to information, or that we're moving towards a place where the 'right' information is pushed to us rather than us going out and searching for it. (A threat vector for advertising itself? Possibly.) 2014 and the years to come will be interesting, God willing we get to see them. Good things come to those who wait.