Where have I been? My new project: citizenme

So, after setting out to post on this blog at least every month I admit that I’ve been a little distracted over the summer. But it’s with good reason.

I’ve spent the last 6 months or so working up plans for my next start up project, citizenme.

cme-facebook-avatar

Ownership of our digital identity – our ‘right to own our self’ is a huge and growing issue as our persona becomes connected, reflected and refracted through our use of mobiles, social networks and, soon, connected sensors and wearable devices. Harvesting, aggregating and selling of our collected identities has quickly become a multi-billion dollar business, all without our visibility, consent or control.

For me, this is the biggest issue that needs fixing for the Internet in the next few years. I’ve been tracking the area with a view to investing since selling my last start-up at the end of 2010 and so far no one has really set out to properly tackle the issue.  I have the skills, knowledge and resources. So it’s now become my next project.

We’re in Alpha development at the moment and if you’d like to be kept up to date with developments please do sign up for email updates at www.citizenme.com and follow us on twitter.

cheers StJ

Decoupling Art From The Artisan

Our era of human digitization (homo-digitalis?) is rapidly changing the way we do many things which we might ordinarily view as being unchanging.  An example is the way that we create tangible “objects of art”.

BlowingSilicon2

For most of our history, Art (Latin for “craft”) has implicitly required a degree of physical skill and dexterity at the end of a creative process. An example of the process might be:

  • Perceiving and interpreting the world around us – as it was, as it is and as it could be
  • Conceiving a “thing” to be created in our minds eye
  • Choosing a medium – oils, watercolours, wood, stone, silver, glass
  • Crafting with hands and tools (chisel, spray-can, paintbrush, toothbrush etc) – i.e. Using learned and gifted artisanal skills to make the conceptual become tangible.

Note: this classification obviously has no academic root, I’ve just created it to illustrate a point. If you have any knowledge of art theory please don’t cringe!

By necessity, early “art” required manual dexterity and was artisan.  Whether creating a painting of a buffalo or pharaoh; or crafting a shell necklace or china vase; or engraving a copper Idol or brass armor.

Photography, started muddling this process. Pin hole cameras enabled sketch portrait artists to better mirror ‘reality” by tracing the outline of a sitting subject.

pinholecamera

Camera obscura Tischapparat 1769 kl

Chemical photography took this further with “fixed” silver replacing oil-on-a-brush to create a facsimile of the projected image. In the process the camera became both a tool for  conceiving as well as a tool to craft the “art” from the medium. The completed work, the permanent image, still required artisan skill to finish it, with hands-on exposing, developing, editing and cropping of the completed image.  Skilled manual manipulation of chemicals and photographic paper being the physical medium of creation.

Self portait darkroom1

Next, with digital photography, images are displayed on a digital screen on the camera as soon as they’re taken. They’re then edited in digital format and can be transported electronically to any digital printer in the world before becoming tangible, if we ever need them to be that is (how many gigabytes of holiday snaps have you already accumulated?).

Perhaps more profound is the impact that these new artistic tools have on our perception of the world – which then feeds and influences our creativity.  We now carry digital camera everywhere we go – giving us a pictorial record of our lives, which would have been unimaginable just ten years ago. In the last few years, Social Media has now brought us everyone else’s lives in pictures (although maybe only the best ones).

None of this is to say that the creative process is diminished, far from it. Simply that our hands-on relationship with the media is now about manipulation of pixels using clicks and touch screens. Perception, conception and creation is now digital and the mucky bit – working with atoms and molecules – is becoming mechanised.  This is a broad theme of the digital era (who hand rivets car bodies anymore?) and it’s an ongoing process.

Beyond photography, 3D printing now lets us “outsource” the artesanal process of creating 3D objects.

123Monster

A couple of days ago my 8 year old daughter asked me to download 123D Sculpt. It’s an iPad app and it, along with a sister app called 123D Creature (above), enable digital “sculpting” and painting of a 3D shape. Once created, the digital shape can be 3D printed and mailed to you (what happened to modeling clay!?).

Of course, this doesn’t replace existing artistic media, at least not immediately, but it’s a fantastic example of how our lives are changing in steady, almost unnoticeable, increments.  As we become increasingly entangled with our digital devices, our current reliance on keyboards and mice to manually manipulate pixels to “create” may soon seem quaintly artesanal (don’t be surprised to see a brief hipster revival of “keyboard creative” cool in 20 years or so).

Finally, removing the “artisan” element also makes it far easier for most of us to make the leap from the conception of an idea to creating a tangible “thing” that can be shared, perceived and hopefully understood by others. Purists might see this as a dumbing down of art but it can also be argued that these advances actually make the creative process far more accessible and egalitarian.  As the rest of the world becomes connected this decade, making ideas easier to share must surely be a good thing?

 

Photo credits: flikrhivemind.net, photographyincontextblog.com, dipity.com, http://www.sodahead.com, edrybczynskiphotos.com

Cracks In The Mirror : Does Klout Make You Mad?

8_Belluci_cracked_mirror

Much has been written about our mental health in the digital era, from Internet Digital Addiction to Mobile Phone Social Media obsessions and the negative causes and consequences of cyber bullying (for both the victims and the protagonists).

Like most media, the internet transmits an image of our collective selves and, as it does so, it distorts the image in it’s own peculiar way, influenced by the way that we interact with it and it’s component parts.

Advertising is a component part. It’s the billion-dollar lifeblood that pays for almost everything we use and consume on the Internet.   As we all make the shift to doing most of our digital “stuff” socially and on the mobile, advertising dollars are following our eyeballs.

With a smartphone in hand, a selection of our friends, acquaintances, favorite content and favoured brands are always with us, randomly waiting to be interacted with (or simply browsed), whenever and wherever we choose.  Be it at workon the train or on the loo, mobile/social connectivity increasingly fills the gaps in all our lives.  More and more of our real-life lives are being spent, reflected, stored and displayed virtually.

When our activity is reflected online, it becomes measurable. For brands who truly “get it”, this new environment gets us all a step closer to the marketing promised land, where advertising disappears and grows-up to become perfectly targeted and timely information: non-intrusive, real-time, interactive, context aware, relevant and personal.

But we’re not quite there yet.

Scores 

For now, attempts by the marketing community to understand us by tapping into this deep new well of social data are focused on fairly crude and simplistic metrics.

One popular activity is identification of influencers – people identified as best able to persuade their friends and followers to buy a product or service. Think TV’s Oprah Effect (product endorsements) measured at social internet scale, across the billions of people participating on social networks.

Mirror_photo

Over the last decade, Google has become the world’s default search engine by carefully ranking websites. Now, influence score sites such as KloutKred and peerindex are vying to become the default service for ranking of people. They rate our individual “influence” on our friends by aggregating metrics (followers, connections, frequency of activity, responses etc) from a variety of Social media sites sites (facebook, twitter, LinkedIn etc) and then give each of us a “score”.

Their hope is that these public scores will then be used by marketers to better target likely advocates of whatever it is that they are hoping to sell.

As with any early stage technology, the Influence score business is changing rapidly and has some methodological growing pains such as buying of fake friends & followers  to enhance perceived social standing and “influence”.

HowMuchForA10 cartoonstock

There’s also an issue with attempts to manipulate influence scores prompted by the secrecy surrounding the scoring methodologies used (e.g. the number of Pinterest followers you have may not count but tweeting a restaurant tip from FourSquare may count double). All this leads to a flurry of guessing and second guessing worthy of a Monty Python sketch:

Now please don’t misunderstand me, Influence scores are very useful in the right context (i.e. for social media and media professionals) and I admire any start-up that’s exploring what’s possible at the edges of a rapidly evolving medium.  Fixes for some of the marketing issues are evolving rapidly. More enlightened Internet marketeers are weighing in with common sense commentary and Social Media tools are emerging which shine light on fakes and forgeries.

There’s a broader concern though.

The aim of the influence score is to go beyond what Google does when ranking inanimate web pages. Whether we opt-in or not, selected social interactions are crystallized into a condensate of our digital personality and presented as a single public influence score for every socially active entity: brands, governments – and everyday people. You. Me. Everyone.

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So, how will the process of creating a secretly calculated but public score for everyone effect our collective mental health?

Measuring Our Social Well-being 

“The attentions of others matter to us because we are afflicted by a congenital uncertainty as to our own value, as a result of which affliction we tend to allow others’ appraisals to play a determining role in how we see ourselves. Our sense of identity is held captive by the judgements of those we live among.”
― Alain de BottonStatus Anxiety

In the 1950’s Social Psychologist, Marie Jahoda, was interested in how periods of unemployment effected mental health.

marie_jahoda

She identified five factors that influence our day-to-day social well-being:  

From these she identified measures of “Ideal Mental Health”, listed below. Try reading through this list while thinking about your own use of Facebook, or that of a friend, it should be an interesting exercise!

  • Do you have a realistic perception of who you are – your true selves?
  • Do have a general feeling of acceptance?
  • Do you have voluntary control over your own behaviour (or at least feel that you do)?
  • Do you have a true and realistic perception of the world(s) we live in?
  • Can you attain deep relationships and share affection with others?
  • How productive are you within the social groups that you engage in?

Social Media has the power to both impede and greatly uplift our social health in all of these areas.  Moreover, as a distorting mirror, it amplifies these effects across entire communities of inter-connected people (there are some wonderful examples of both in Tan Siok Siok‘s crowd-sourced documentary Twittamentary).

Influence scores like Klout, Kred and PeerIndex add additional layers of commentary, abstraction and then, by ranking, imply competition. So whilst they seek to provide clarity, they also add yet more distortion to the socialmedia reflection of ourselves.  Creating a publicly visible score of everyone’s social “worth”, naturally has an influence on behaviour and creates feedback loops, further changing the score. For some individuals scoring has the potential to endlessly change behaviour based on arbitrary rules to stay “winning” – not always a very healthy place to be!  Remember the deranged and drug addled Charlie Sheen “winning” meme last year?

Winning_charliesheen_winnerbook

A central theme in Jahoda’s work concerns the ongoing tension between our ability to balance constancy (i.e. our ability to be grounded and true to who we are) and change (i.e. being adaptable and open to the views and perspectives of others).

As the internet matures and becomes seamlessly intertwined with everything that we do, it should ideally have the structure to assist and reinforce our ability to attain and maintain this balance.

So, will Klout and similar services make you mad? No, not on their own. The danger is in the direction in which they might take us. It’s people that form the fabric of the internet. Collectively, we enable it to be an amazing medium, which many believe is accelerating human development.  A good and obvious guiding principle when designing any new service should be to ensure that the social mental well-being of users, like you,  is sacrosanct.

Next up: Cracks In The Mirror : BigData and Harvesting Your Identity

N.B. Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andys_camera/1004408512/

Armstrong Vs The Real Winners In Performance Enhancement : Us

An Australian public library has just announced (tongue in cheek) that it is about to move all works about Lance Armstrong to their fiction section.

ARMSTRONG

The Armstrong scandal is, of course, a very sorry tale of an immensely talented and determined athlete who chose to forget that winning isn’t winning if you break the rules. Rules set an equal and fair (if arbitrary) baseline for competition. Taking a  performance enhancing drug to create an unfair advantage is cheating.

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However, rules help illustrate a much bigger story of performance enhancement.  Over time  rules – and the athletic performances they enable – provide an interesting measure of how our species is steadily being physically enhanced. Evolving itself.

A straight forward measure for any sport is world records.  In every sport, each new generation of athletes achieves world records and betters the generation before.

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This progress isn’t simply because athletes now train harder or are more talented. It’s a symptom of innate and rapid improvements in our collective physical well being. A reflection of mass human enhancement. In the past century we’ve experienced vast improvements in:

  • Nutrition – the availability of nutritious and balanced diets throughout the year
  • Shelter and sanitation – reducing disease and enhancing psychological well being
  • Improved research and education – not simply better physical sports facilities for kids but also advances in our understanding of – and attitudes about – what makes us all physiologically and psychologically better.
  • Most importantly, Healthcare – advances such as the availability of antibiotics (since 1932) and vaccines have had an immense impact on health and well being over the last four or five generations, exemplified by global life expectancy stats.

world_life_expectancy_evolution

Couch potatoes aside, all of these factors have led to a fitter and generally healthier population which has had a positive knock on effect on athletic endeavours.

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In 1935, Jesse Owens broke 4 world records in a single 45 minute period. He smoked 30 cigarettes a day, it was the era before antibiotics.  How much could he have beaten his own world records by if he was born today, in 2013, rather than 1913?

The process is ongoing.  China is lifting a billion people out of poverty in just a couple of generations. Other countries such as Indonesia and India (another couple of billion people by 2050) are slowly following. As people escape poverty the first items purchased tend to be better family nutrition and hygiene & healthcare products (followed by communications in the form of a mobile phone – increasingly likely to be internet connected).

What’s perhaps more intriguing: very recent advances in our understanding of epigenetics (the way DNA is controlled by our environment) suggest that these enhancements to our collective physical well being can be inherited by future generations.

Oscar_Pistorius_Nigel_Levine

Sporting rules will also change over time as was highlighted in last summers London Olympics. Oscar “blade runner” Pistorius, is a double amputee who runs on carbon fiber blades and has spent the past the last 6 years fighting to be allowed to run in “able bodied” races as well as the Paralympic events. This culminated in his appearance for the South African team at the 2012 Olympics.

As prosthetic limbs improve and other physical enhancements arrive, rules will continue to change for many sports to accommodate advances and ensure that they are legally and equally accessible by all competitors. These advances and rule changes may accelerate the breaking of previous sporting records.

So, of course it’s shocking and disappointing that Armstrong used performance enhancers to steal titles from his rivals. But, rogue competitors aside, the unmistakable winner in the performance enhancement story – is humanity.

The Ethics Of Human Enhancement

The British Academy have just released a report on Human Enhancement and The Future of Work headlined by the BBC as “Concern over ‘Souped up’ human race”.

A race of humans who can work without tiring and recall every conversation they’ve ever had may sound like science fiction, but experts say the research field of human enhancement is moving so fast that such concepts are a tangible reality that we must prepare for.

The reason for the concern?  The combined academic panel (from the Academy of Medical Science, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society) are focusing on cognition-enhancing drugs as an immediate and pressing issue for us all. Whilst the report talks about the workplace, performance enhancers are already becoming common place on university campuses.

Obviously, Humans have been using chemical stimulants to enhance performance for thousands of years. Like millions of others I need a good jolt of decent tasting caffeine to get me going in the morning. However, the recent rise in the non-prescribed use of substances like Ritalin as a study aid up’s the ante considerably – and it’s just the start.

In many ways, popping a pill is more insidious than the more scifi-esque possibilities of mechanical human augmentation (such as bio-implanted screens) as the effects are internal and hard to immediately detect. However they do show up very clearly on an MRI scan. Caffeine accentuates activity in specific areas of the brain. However, drugs like Ritalin not only turn up certain brain activity, they also turn off brain activity elsewhere.

Consumption creates the ability to focus, non-stop and without distraction, for roughly four hours per pill – and therefore do better by, for example, gaining a better grade. Naturally, if an equally capable fellow student is suddenly attaining better grades through taking a performance enhancer, it becomes mightily tempting for classmates to follow them.

 A Cambridge University Professor of Psychology reported this week that 10% of students now admit to taking cognitive enhancing drugs (implying the actual number is higher) and has called for Universities to discourage use by screening students.

This draws comparison with another professional activity.  Sports people are routinely screened for use of performance enhancing substances. As has been highlighted by the latest Lance Armstrong revelations, and this summers Pistorius Para-Olympic controversy, sports governing bodies perceive performance enhancing technology as creating an unfair advantage i.e. cheating. Abusers are banned from the sport, often for life.

As a society this creates a contradiction.  Should physical performance enhancing drugs be banned for professional athletes but cognitive performance enhancers for our “cerebral muscle” be OK for trainee and qualified professionals? Is it OK for doctors, judges, bankers and teachers to use them?  How about the police or air traffic control? 

As with professional athletes there’s also a danger that, for those who can obtain them, establishing early habitual and often addictive use of performance enhancing drugs may become a learned and entrenched behavior across a career: “Have a big report due in the morning? Take a legal amphetamine”.  

Unlike unprofessional athletes, there are likely to be unknown long-term effects of cognitive enhancers which also need to be considered. The FDA drug approval mechanism measures benefits and side-effects over years, not decades. We have no way of knowing what happens to our long term brain chemistry if psychotropic drugs have been taken habitually for extended periods of time, starting when the brain is still developing. It might be OK, it might not. We simply don’t know.

Cognitive enhancement research will grow rapidly in the coming decade as pharmaceutical companies follow the money by developing more sophisticated and specifically targeted drugs. It’s also something that will eventually impact all of us.

A simple example: what should I do in a few years time when my kids demand Ritalin (or something similar) to help them keep up with their classmates at school?  What would you do?

The report, Human Enhancement and the Future of Work, can be downloaded here.

The Rise of Mobility : and the Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 3)

Why the Mobile Phone will disappear.

We’re currently seeing inter-connected devices proliferating around us.  Our personal device(s) are interacting in real time with more and more connected “things” around us giving rise to the – the Internet of things
Simultaneously, the next phase of connectivity is commencing where we’ll start to adopt connected devices worn on us – and within us all interconnected with other devices around us.  The era of intra-connectivity.
Whilst in our inter-connected era, functionality has become concentrated into one device, in the intra-connected era new and some existing functionality will be again become a diffuse array of digital elements forming an intra-connected, self organising network.
In terms of the number of personal devices we carry around, we may currently be at the neck of the hour glass.
As minaturisation progresses devices will become increasingly unobtrusive and specialised in areas such as:
  • Visual interface – Screen(s)
  • Audio – interactive voice
  • Touch – typed input and screen interaction
  • Sensors – getting to know you (intimately)
  • Memory – who remembers phone numbers anymore?
  • Computer Power – faster, better stronger (& much smaller)
  • Juice – batteries and ambient charging
  • Connectivity – Wifi, bluetooth, 4G and beyond.
Over time, as advances are made in all of these areas, we’ll progress towards persistent ambient connectivity where (if we can afford the technology) we’ll become seamlessly and deeply intra-connected with things and people in our physical and virtual environments.
But first things first.  Why will the mobile phone as we know it will disappear?  If we take a look at just one of these items – the screen – you’ll start to get a more complete idea of where all of this is heading:

1. Flexible Screens

The primary design consideration, for today’s Smart Phone is the screen.  The phone has evolved from being a voice only “dumb phone” to become a personal audio-visual connectivity device designed around a  flat, thin, rectangular screen with everything else (GPS, Audio, connectivity, CPU, power, sensors etc) packed around and behind it.  This is about to change. 
Samsung and LG have recently set up production lines for flexible OLED screen technology which will enable foldable mobile devices and digital paper.
Once mass produced screens become rollable and foldable, the phone will no longer be constrained to the standard rectangular “biggest-sized-screen-that-you-can-fit-in-your-hand” form factor, which the industry has settled on for the moment.
With new screen technology it’s likely that the device industry will again experiment with new form factors for hand held connected screens.

2. Wearable Screens

Concurrent with the development of hand held screens, wearable screens are also on the way. This is a nascent field, however some early examples are available today:
Epson recently released their Moverio Wearable Display (below).  It’s an early stage device that has a wired remote control and, for now at least, is only extra-connected – i.e. it connects directly to the internet via WiFi but doesn’t inter-connect with a users existing smartphone or apps. So no access to – or interaction with:
  • personal connectivity – voice calls, SMS, IM, Skype, twitter etc.
  • owned content – audio, video (paid for or otherwise)
  • personal content ecosystems – spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play etc.
Last month, Google showed off their Google Glass project which houses a mini screen in a spectacle frame just above eye level…
Now, I should mention here that interface devices have a patchy history.  For example Bluetooth headsets provide hands free voice communication and yet they haven’t hit mass market adoption for a number of reasons. Firstly, as voice communication is interactive, they can confuse people in the vicinity, or irritate them with half a conversation.  Secondly, as with anything new that stands out and looks different,  they can quickly become either cool, or not cool.
Because watching a video or viewing an AR overlay is generally a passive activity, some of this shouldn’t be such a problem for digital glasses.  Although I can imagine that talking to someone who’s staring distractedly up at their Google Glass screen will quickly become quite tiresome.

3. Integrated Wearable Screens

There are some concept-stage projects which will quickly push this tech forward.  A UK company, TPP, have developed glasses (below) which project augmented reality heads-up images onto clear glass, blending virtual information into the real life images around us – and unbeknownst to the people we are talking with in real life. This may be less obtrusive and therefore more immediately acceptable, however, this depth of integration also poses deeper questions about personal interaction which’ll need a whole other blog post.
Further out, research is underway to place this heads up video display into contact lenses to be worn on the eye.
This technology is still at the research stage and is being led by university labs such as the University of Washington.
This diagram below (courtesy of  ECN Mag) provides an idea of some of the component parts that are being squeezed onto a lens.
Models currently being tested typically number just tens of pixels, however even at this early stage, this technology promises huge advances for the blind and partially sighted. 
In a related development digital contact lenses are also showing promise as health sensors for chronic diseases such as Diabetes and Glaucoma. Many other medical sensor implants are in early stage development heralding still more intra-connectivity in the making. (I’ll cover more on bio-implant sensors separately).
It’s worth noting that a lead researcher at Washington University, Babak Parviz, recently joined the Google Glass project, providing an indication of how seriously digital contact lens technology is being taken and where the google project may be headed.

Bio-Implanted Screens

Finally, as a race, we humans strive for convenience.  For example, for the short or long sighted, contact lenses and spectacles are an inconvenience that can be done away with by undergoing LASIK laser eye surgery. Despite considerable controversy, concerns and an ongoing USA FDA reappraisal of the risks, LASIK laser eye surgery continues to gain popularity, with millions worldwide having had the operation.
As crazy as it may sound now, once millions of us are using digital glasses and digital contact lenses – it won’t be a huge leap to move from the idea of corrective eye surgery to a desire for digital implant eye surgery – once, of course, the technology is perfected. My guess would be that it’ll be at least generation or two from today.

Why does this herald the end of the phone as we know it?

Well, as I mentioned, the shape and design of the smartphone in your pocket is defined by the limits of current technology, especially the flat rectangular screen.  Once we’re wearing screens either as glasses or contact lenses (or possibly even implants), the utility of having a second large screened “phone” always with us will gradually become less and less essential over time.
When the screen becomes decoupled – but intra-connected – to everything else that we currently carry with us in a phone (data connectivity, audio interface, touch interface, Sensors, CPU, power etc.), the phone form factor will be freed up.  With nano-minaturisation, many of these other functions are themselves undergoing radical changes which will enable them to become distributed as separate wearable – or even bio-implanted – devices.  And all intra-connected.
Trying to forecast the when and the how of digital interaction is like forecasting where a wave breaking on a beach will carry individual grains of sand. We know know that the sand will shift, just not quite where to. 
The emergence of this next era of intra-connectivity will create epic opportunities for advancement for human kind. These will doubtless be accompanied by uncomfortable cultural adjustmentslegislative concerns and some serious ethical dilemmas.
On the plus side, it’ll take us a while to see most of this happen, so luckily we have some time to get ourselves prepared.

The Rise of Mobility : And The Disappearing Mobile Phone (Part 2)

The Era Of Inter-Connectivity Arrives

(This post follows on from The Rise Of Mobility – Part 1)

In 2012 we’re firmly in the era of Digital Inter-Connectivity. With devices now interconnecting with each other, either locally (e.g. bluetooth speakers streaming spotify from a phone or apple TV interacting with an iPad) or synchronised through the cloud (e.g. the wordpress apps that I use for this blog synchronising in real-time across two mobiles, an iPad and my desktop).

In addition, much digital functionality that was previously purchased stand-alone, in separate devices, is converging in a single mobile device (note: at least for now, see my next post). Where many people would once carry around a plethora of devices (a phone, a camera, a Satellite Navigation system,  a Walkman music player, a portable games console, a PDA etc) most of us now carry just one.  Our Smartphone.

The original 1999 chart is below and blogged about here:

An updated chart for 2012, including the rise of the mobile device, now looks something like this ( the original 1999 powerpoint updated):

Compared to the 1999 map,connected functionality in 2012 has gravitated towards the (mobile) center.

This convergence and inter-connectivity, has roughly coincided with the rise of web 2.0 and social media. As connectivity has become always on and always with us, so our digital personas have become always available and always present, turbo charging the social aspects of the web. I’m looking forward to covering this more in future posts.

As I’ve noted previouslyconnectivity is generally proliferating. Going forward, yet more devices will become internet connected as our lives continue the shift to the digitally connected. For example, the latest pocket cameras incorporate mobile Operating Systems and WiFi connectivity. Games consoles are becoming internet connected content terminals.

As miniturisation continues, more diverse functions will become mobile connected. For example, in what was once a highly specialist sector, the healthcare industry is seeing functionality such as medical scanning and monitoring become internet connected and enabled for the masses. Many of these functions are starting to become mHealth attributes of consumer mobile devices encouraging a cultural trend toward “DIY health”. Not surprisingly, companies focusing on solutions with the “m” prefix, such as mHealth, mGovernment, mCommerce and mEducation are in hot technology start-up areas – especially given the huge numbers of people worldwide who are about to be connected for the first time – which leads us to the next item.

Next? Smart Mobility for the Global Masses

This phase of inter-connectivity will finally bring ubiquitous availability of affordable internet enabled mobile devices to pretty much everyone.  By the end of this decade, 80%-90% of the worlds adult population will become connected to the internet via mobile devices.

In 2008 & 2009 the first Google Android OS handsets appeared, hailing the start of the mass global adoption of these converged mobile devices. The Android OS has been specifically developed to drive mass adoption. As it’s an Open Source and free-license Operating System, manufacturers can drive down prices to deliver truly affordable Smart Mobile Devices for US$20 or less.

Update: The chart below from Business Intelligence shows how rapidly smartphone adoption is accelerating between 2011 and 2012 alone. Look at Brazil and China, both going from almost zero smart Phones in 2011 to 14% and 33% respectively in 2012.

With “dumb” Mobile Phones already in the hands of six Billion people (as at the end of 2011) – and with cheap smart phones on the way – it’s easy to see that by the end of this decade the vast majority of the worlds population will become mobile internet connected.

Unlike the people who first became connected back in the 1990’s, the “newly connected” will start their digital lives mobile (in the center of the map). Mobile connectivity will then be augmented by additional connectivity as they gradually acquire and/or interact with other connected devices.

This the polar opposite of the PC centric adoption pattern for the “initially connected” in more developed countries – and is likely to exacerbate misconceptions that many internet companies have regarding the rise of mobile.

For me, an issue of our time is that this global digital connection of the masses can have a profoundly positive impact on our development as individuals and as a global society.  Hopefully we can realise this potential.  

Global access to knowledge will certainly radically change access to opportunities for billions of people.  There are also many challenges, not least the fact that there are innate incentives for elements of the internet to start to commoditise and commercialise the identities of all of its users (that includes you and me). This is a concept that governments, internet governance bodies and human rights groups are only now starting to grapple with.  

I’ll cover some of these issues in more detail in upcoming posts.

Next up: intra-connectivity and the coming disappearance of the mobile phone (yes seriously!).