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.

testosterone-pills

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.

100m_recordtimes_wired

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.

jesse-owens_1463574i

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 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 1)

The Rise Of Mobile

I recently rediscovered a chart mapping digital interactivity that I created over a decade ago.  Back then we called it the “Multiple Digital Channel” Map.

I thought it might be interesting to dust it off and re-map it against where we are now, 13 years later. Drawing from a point in the past (1999) to where we are now – and continuing this line into the future – we get a rough idea about where we might be headed in the next 10-15 years.

It gives us three eras in the rise of connected mobility.  I’ve called them: extra-connectivity (without), inter-connectivity (between) and itra-connectivity (within).  Read on and see why.

The Digital Channel Map 1999 : Extra-Connectivity

Multiple Digital Channels

Way back in 1999, along with a few other lucky people, I was part of a mobile research and futurist team at Agency.com. Back then, just before the dot.com crash, it was a world leading interactive design agency.

We’d seen Internet adoption rise incredibly fast in the late 90’s in developed countries. A rapid evolution in the way that we all communicate was clearly underway.  Our task was to advise clients such as British Airways, Orange, General Motors and T-Mobile about what might be coming next.

Client teams in the London office, where we were based, were working on a range of new interactive “channels” including: early interactive TV on Satellite and Cable TV platforms (now the “red” button on UK remotes), and early stage mobile Internet technology, including WAP portals.  We came up with the term “Multiple Digital Channels” to describe the way that we believed the Internet would be accessed via different digital touch-points as  everything became connected.

To provide some context, at the time, the Nokia 7110 was the first consumer WAP phone, with very simple and very slow mobile web browsing.  None-the-less, the sight of pre-launch versions in the hands of Nokia employees at industry conferences was enough to cause gasps of wonder (and stifled envy).

Why the wonder?  We’ll, it was becoming clear that mobile devices would soon be a principle “digital connector”, capable of moving to and between all of the other other digital devices and Internet touch points in our lives;  the deliverer of ubiquitous attachment to the grid; to information, knowledge and each other.

The Map

So, in 1999 I attempted to chart future interactivity between digital devices on a chart (see below).   It maps the state of play, in 1999, for digitally connected devices and what we could now call the “initially connected” people who used them. Back then devices were still “extra-connected” i.e. connected to the web but not to each other (with the exception of the PDA). Almost all access was via a PC.

We expected, in 1999, that the items in grey would become internet connected in the next decade.  The items in black were considered either available, or imminent arrivals as concept models were being demonstrated (not a guarantee of a product launch though, as we’ll see!).   Items at the edge on the diagram were viewed as being static (e.g. a fridge).  Items in the middle, mobile, the ultimate being a “mobile” phone – which we figured would start to interconnect with all the other devices as it was the one device that was personal and could be carried everywhere.

Looking at it now, it still provides a very good framework for where we are now, 13 years later.  However, in terms of forecasting, we did miss a few things.

What we got wrong?

1) NEW DEVICES AND STUFF THAT DIDN’T GET CONNECTED (YET)

Some devices have evolved.  Others simply haven’t become connected for the mass market yet. For example:

  • Tablets such as the iPad didn’t exist (outside of the movies)
  • Fixed Phones evolving to become video enabled internet terminals (an imagined mix of Minitel and the Space Odyssey video phone) simply never took off, while Pay phones continue to disappear.
  • Connected “white goods” have yet to become widely available  (e.g. the “Net Fridge” which is still “coming soon” )
  • Gaming Consoles  (think xBox, PS2 etc) and connected TV’s are now arriving in earnest in 2012.
  • In Car Entertainment is still on-it’s-way (ahem)
  • In-flight WiFi is now finally gaining popularity and I understand that the next generation of In Flight Entertainment (IFE)  is likely to involve WiFi & internet enabled tablets.
  • As for Music players and Cameras? Well, see point 3 below.

2) THE SLOW ARRIVAL OF MOBILE BROADBAND  (OR: “IMAGINING THE FUTURE IS EASY, THE HARD PART IS MAKING IT HAPPEN”)

The second thing that we didn’t foresee (and which is obvious in hindsight) was the slow arrival of  the supporting infrastructure (3G) to enable all of this to happen.   In early 2000 we provided mobile content consultancy to Orange Telecom.  Their Network Engineering team briefed us that  90% of the UK population would have mobile broadband (3G) coverage by the end of 2002 – mid-2003, worst case.  Today in 2012, ten years later, delivery of ubiquitous mobile broadband coverage is still a contentious issue.

All of this is hardly surprising.  Networks cost billions of dollars to purchase and years to roll out.  It’s not a trivial endeavor to bathe billions of people in wireless broadband coverage.  On the plus side we’re now passing the tipping point and approaching mass global population coverage for mobile data. This is a big, big deal and I’ll come back to it in a minute to explain why.

3) DEVICE CONVERGENCE (MOBILE MANGE TOUT)

Finally, for me, the biggest thing we missed is the shift from a plethora of separate specialised digital devices to a convergence of functionalities on a single device – the mobile/cell phone.   As well as interacting with other connected devices, the last decade has seen the mobile “phone” gobbling up, adopting and absorbing multiple attributes of other devices.  Through the 2000’s this new mobile device has merged with and mastered:

  • The PDA: replacing the Palm Pilot (launched 1997) and the iPaq (1998)
  • Music Players: The first portable MP3 player, Creative’s DAP launched at the same time as Siemens first mobile with an MP3 player (both in 2001)
  • Cameras: Gradually appeared and improved from Sharp & Kyocera (1997) to Nokia’s first true camera replacement (2002). Meanwhile, cameras are only now starting to become internet connected 0 see Samsung pic below (launched last month).
  • e-mail and messaging: RIM Blackberry 5810 (launched 2002)
  • Gaming devices: Nokia N-Gage (2003)

Through most of the 2000’s the industry slowly bundled all of these attributes together in a wide variety of weird and wonderful form factors through multiple iterations.  The arrival of the iPhone, and crucially the App Store, from Apple in 2007/2008, although not adding anything “new” in terms of functionally, finally brought all this together (device, connectivity, functionality, content ecosystem)  in a user friendly way. One single device designed holistically rather than as separate bolt-on elements. Enter the era of device “Inter-Connectivity”

Tomorrow On Monday I’ll post the map updated for 2012, showing today’s world of  “InterConnectivity”.

 

Beyond Mobile And Multi-Screens: What’s Next?

Right this second, you’re more connected than any other human before you. Thousands of people, facts, thoughts and things become accessible to you as you read each of these words.

Big deal? Well, I guess we’re all aware that we’re living through an era loosely termed as the “Information Age“.

Each day sees a plethora of different articles and posts published which, in equal measures, document and examine, celebrate and angst about the possible cultural, social and political changes that we’re possibly about to experience.

Well, I recently rediscovered a chart that I created back in 1999 with the intention of mapping the rise of our emerging digital interactivity. With a little updating, it helps to break through the clutter and provide us with a rough “you are here” view (I’ll post more about the “Multiple Digital Channel” map in the next couple of days).

Looking at it again now we can also get an idea of where we’ll probably be in another 15 years.  It looks like we’re just about at the “end-of-the-beginning”. And there’s much more to come.

The Three Phases Of Connecting:

There are 3 broad phases in the rise of our ongoing connectedness:

1. Where We’ve Been: Extra-connecting (1990 to early 2000’s). Think:

  • desktop computers & early laptops connect to the internet individually as “extra” add-on functionality via dial-up modems and early broadband
  • computer use is primarily corporate and initially immobile (desktops and servers)
  • 1st & 2nd Generation mobile phones move from being corporate productivity tools to become consumer communication devices
  • emergence of early mobile computers: PDA’s (Personal Data Assistants)
  • e-mail and Instant Messaging becoming pervasive at work and home

2. Where We Are: Inter-connecting (early 2000’s to mid-2010’s). Think:

  • Internet connectivity starts to be viewed as a utility 
  • Inter-connectivity of devices gradually becomes pervasive (multiple screens)
  • personal device (phone) form & functionality goes through rapid evolution, settling on a single large rectangular screen form factor (content is king)
  • smarter devices start to interact – enabling mass social interaction (Social Media)
  • everyone becomes connected: being always-on, connected and available is the expected norm
  • more peripheral electronics (white goods, TV’s) start to become extra and inter-connected

3. Where We’re Going: Intra-connecting (mid-2010’s to 2030 and beyond). Think:

  • persistent ambient connectivity – where we are seamlessly and deeply intra-connected within our environment and with others when we choose to be (we hope)
  • devices become more personal and proliferate:
    • devices become wearable e.g. screens in spectacles evolve into contact lens screens
    • bio-implant devices gradually become acceptable:
      • initially for health monitoring and maintenance (e.g. blood sugar & blood pressure: monitoring, analysis, alerts, preemptive advice)
      • then increasingly to enhance performance (e.g. memory,  well being  analysissituation awareness etc.)
  • the Internet of Things – everything becomes connected, tagged and recognisable:

These three phases are far from finite. They’re a work in progress. They flow into each other organically as people adopt and discard new behaviours, in turn further evolving the underlying technology.

“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed” – William Gibson

Importantly, access to these technologies and new capabilities depends on your culture, context and access to cash. If we truly believe in creating a meritocratic world where everybody has an equal chance to progress, concerns regarding a growing global digital divide will also need to be addressed.

“If you understood everything I said, you’d be me”

― Miles Davis

For many, a greater concern will be the ways in which our sense of self and identity evolve as social pressure grows to be perpetually connected and visible to the “hive“.

Viewed together, the changes will doubtless be profound. Yet as we live through them, what once seemed like science fiction very quickly becomes normal and even unremarkable. How cool is e-mail these days?

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.” 
― William Shakespeare

Knowing as we do, in very broad terms, what’s coming, we might just have a rare and, as a race, unique opportunity to get ahead of ourselves.

I’ll be exploring and expanding on this theme with posts in the next few weeks – and will update this post with cross links as I do so.

If you have any thoughts please feel free to share.

The beginning… a very good place to start

 

 

 

 

So, I have a confession to make. This is my first blog post in 15 years, my last being way back in 1997 on Geocities.

So, why did I stop? Well, I realised that a blog isn’t just about creating a few web pages, but a commitment. It requires regular updates that don’t have a whiff of “chore” about them. After a month or so my last blog  joined the bulging graveyard of neglected blogs. I figured that if I wasn’t going to do it properly, I probably shouldn’t do it at all. And so my blog commitment issues continued…

So, why start one now after 15 years?

Over the past year or so I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with some pretty cool things with some amazing people. A blog is a perfect way for me share what I’ve learnt – and catch a few of the many thought bubbles  before they pop.