On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Will this be the year our devices spend more time on the Internet than we do, with the vast “Internet of things” collecting and transmitting ever more data about us? Will quantum computers learn to think like humans? Will we see technology ease everyday headaches like traffic and parking, while opening us up to more hacking and identity theft? Tech Tuesday looks at how technology is changing our world, and innovations we’re likely to see in the future.
- Patrick Tucker Deputy Editor, The Futurist magazine
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world on "Tech Tuesday." What if your thermostat and your lights and even the locks on your doors were all wired so you could control them using your phone? Or your refrigerator were wired to the internet and could order more milk through your online grocery shopping account whenever you were running low? It all sounds futuristic, but the future may be arriving faster than you think, thanks to the so called internet of things.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIDevices that all talk to one another remotely. Experts say we'll soon be a planet where there are more machines talking with each other than there are people on Earth. Today, we explore predictions for where technology will take us in 2014 and beyond and how it will reshape the way we live. Joining us in studio is Patrick Tucker. He is Deputy Editor of Futurist Magazine. Patrick, good to see you again.
MR. PATRICK TUCKERHey. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIWe'd also like you to join the conversation. Make a phone call. 800-433-8850. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Shoot us a tweet at kojoshow. Do your devices spend more time connected to the internet than you do? 800-433-8850. Patrick, let's talk about the so called internet of things, the fact that a growing number of devices are connected to the web, collecting, transmitting data about us. How does this internet of things work?
TUCKERSo, what we today call the internet of things is the outgrowth of the thinking of Mark D. Weiser. He was a researcher at Xerox PARC. And in 1988, in a very critical paper, he outlined his ideas for the future of computer hardware. And he says, it would migrate from desk bound PCs to PEDs and boards and smart systems that made -- that were part of our physical environment. And the term that he used to describe this new environment that was constantly sensing things about its occupants was ubiquitous computing.
TUCKERAnd ubiquitous computing is today basically what we refer to when we refer to an internet of things. So, in terms of the size of this internet of things, there are actually today more inter -- machine to machine connected devices than there are people. There are about 13 billion machine to machine connected devices in 2013. But in the year 2020, the firm CISCO has forecast that there's going to be as many as 50 billion machines to machines, just constantly communicating. And that is what we talk about when we talk about the internet of things.
TUCKERThey actually began to outnumber us in 2008. This is when -- this strange moment -- this was a strange moment in history where the human population was superseded by the population of devices that could actually talk to one another. And when we talk about that, primarily we're talking about smart phones. The smart phones that about 70 percent of the American population carries with them at all times. But, as you point out, that increasingly means, also, sensors, different devices and even household appliances that we used to think of as dumb, that perform a very simple function, but that we today think of, increasingly, as connected to a broader, sort of, cloud based information system.
TUCKERAnd operate in conjunction with bits of data that we create through our actions and through our activities. And it's, what we're creating, essentially, is a environment that is anticipatory of what we do and where we're going. And reacts to information that we create through our activity, as opposed to just like literally programming in the information, which is what we think of as information creation today.
NNAMDIWell, you know, our stuff has always outnumbered us, but now our stuff, with electronic devices, or, our stuff with a digital application are -- is the stuff that will be outnumbering us, and I guess a lot of people fear that their stuff will be, essentially -- not that our stuff doesn't direct our lives right now. That our stuff will be directing our lives even more. Yesterday, Google agreed to buy a company called Nest Labs that's trying to reinvent electronic household devices. Is that purchase significant?
TUCKERYes, absolutely. So, it was a 3.2 billion dollar acquisition. It was probably the most significant tech acquisition to happen so far in 2014, which is not exactly saying much, cause we're only about 14 days into it, but Nest is a smart thermostat system. You can operate your thermostat from your iPhone. But more than that, the thing that sets the Nest thermostat system apart from other, sort of, smart thermostat systems, is that it develops a profile of you based on when you come home. It can read about your schedule.
TUCKERHow you set your temperature. How you even seem to use your house. All of this goes into the Nest learning thermostat's understanding of you. It's a profile that is cloud based. And when you think about the merger of these two companies, what's significant is that, I mean, Google began as a company with a very clear mission. To organize the world's information. You know, the bylaw, do no evil, was not their original mission. It was merely sort of an operational guideline that is, today, not necessarily very important or adhered to, and is certainly vague. But the mission of the place was to organize the world's information.
TUCKERAnd when they started that company, there was a clear sense of what that information was. Whatever could be scanned or typed into a computer that you were sitting at. But now we begin to understand that that information includes how -- what, where we're going. How fast we're going. What we like to set our thermostat at. Just preferences and thoughts and feelings that we thought to be beyond the realm of digital acquisition that we didn't think of as information joins the spectrum of information. And it now falls under what a company like Google can organize and create services with and around, and potentially sell.
NNAMDIBut one has to ask, how time consuming, how physically exhausting is setting one's thermostat? Is that an activity that we really need to have done for us? I don't know. It's like the old electric toothbrush. We're heading for a point where there will be more machines talking to one another than there are people on Earth, as you just mentioned. What will it mean to have an equal system of devices, all collecting and sending data about how we live?
NNAMDIWhich you've described, in part, already.
TUCKERRight. Right. So, this is something that we at the Futures Magazine spend a lot of time talking about. And it's part of our top ten forecasts. These are the forecasts that we published over the course of the year in the Futures Magazine. We take 10 of them and we really like them, and the first one that is on our list this year is that thanks to big data, the environment around you will begin to anticipate your every move. So, the forecast is that computerized sensing and broadcasting abilities are being incorporated into physical environment and the internet of things.
TUCKERAnd data flowing from sensor networks, from RFID tags, from surveillance cameras, unmanned aerial vehicles. That's part of the internet of things, too. Geo tagged social media posts telegraph where we've been and where we're going in the future. So, these data streams will be integrated into services and platforms and programs that will provide a window into the lives and the futures of billions of people. So, what it looks like is very much like what our world looks like a little bit today. If you carry around a smart phone, there's a good chance that you use a service that allows you, a social networking service, that allows you to create information about what you're doing right now.
TUCKERAnd share that with the public. This is what your geo-tagged Twitter posts are. Your geo-tagged Facebook posts are. And that information creates a picture of you at this moment, in terms of where you are and where you're going. And that information, in connection with other information that people create, just simply creates an area of transparency into the future that was previously impossible.
NNAMDII'm glad you started talking about the social implication of it, as opposed to simply what's good for our personal conveniences. Because having devices talking to one another could help make all of our lives a little easier. Reduce some of the everyday stresses like traffic congestion or weather related malfunctions. Talk about how they would do that.
TUCKERRight. So, what's really important to me is that what you're just describing, where more sensing capability, more computational capability being built into our environment, actually creates an environment that feels less computerized, more intuitive. That's very much a part of the original vision for ubiquitous computing that Mark Weiser wanted to put out there. Mark Weiser was not this person that was eager to roboticize the entire world. He was actually this really outgoing, in love with life, passionate, sensual human being. He was in a rock band that had, you know, really loved outdoor activity.
TUCKERAnd what he envisioned with ubiquitous computing was a world sort of like one where you arrive home and without having to explicitly program your thermostat to receive you, it just knows. Without having to explicitly, you know, type in a reminder into your phone to pick up more milk, you walk into the store and you simply pick up milk that's already been purchased for you, or it arrives by a delivery truck. Or, perhaps even by a drone. And so it is a world, as you say, where we're able to access services much more conveniently and focus on more of what we really want. This is the sort of optimistic hope for what this looks like. In the meantime, we're also, like I said, creating more and more data. That data moves over networks, that those networks are owned by people that own copper and fiber optics.
TUCKERThos networks are owned by your long distance carrier, your phone carrier, and that information is information that they use for commercial purposes as well. So, that's sort of the down side of this. And these two forces interact with one another in a way that sometimes works best for consumers, sometimes we feel a little bit exploited by it. But that's the friction that we're gonna be experiencing more and more, is a constant sense of unease about how much information are we giving away to our devices? Is it really coming back to us in the form of a service that I want? Or is the information that I'm creating, that's being collected around me, being used for some interest or some purpose that's not in line with my best interests?
TUCKERAnd we'll be asking that question like all the time.
NNAMDIOur guest is Patrick Tucker. He is Deputy Editor of Futures Magazine. We're talking about tech prediction for this year and beyond. I'm taking your calls. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you worry about what your devices are telling the world about you? Let's see what Ben in Berryville, Virginia has to see. Ben, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BENThank you for taking my call. Well, I mean, remember, Google, first and foremost, above anything, is an advertising company, and they love selling very specific, very targeted ads. And if my fridge knows that I need milk and eggs and bread and trash bags, and Safeway has three of those items on sale, well, then, they're gonna sell an ad from Safeway to me saying, hey, you should stop at the Safeway on your way to or from work because you'll save the most coming to us. That is where Google's headed, is how do we find out what you need? How do we get the app, the people who sell what you need to buy ads from us because we're in your home?
NNAMDIWell, there's another side to that coin, Patrick Tucker. It's my understanding that that could mean that you would be seeing less advertising than you're seeing now, because the advertising would be more specifically targeted to you.
TUCKERYes. That's exactly right. Both of these things exist at the same time. This is part of -- this has been Google's vision for what to do with its ads for a very long time. I think that 2011, there was a conference where Neil Moynihan, one of the V.P.s at Google forecast an enormous reduction in the number of ads that they showed an enormous increase in the efficiency of those ads. But yeah, it's basically advertisements watching you. And what the caller describes in something that's already in play in a number of different places. It's called geo-specific advertising. It's very much out of "Minority Report."
TUCKERThe movie of "Minority Report," where William Jay Mitchell, from the MIT media labs, serves as a consultant. It's often considered one of the most realistic depictions of the future. There's a scene where Tom Cruise walks into a Gap. He has his iris read and the advertisement in the Gap says, oh, hey, welcome back. Last time you were here, you bought some Chinos. How did they work out for you? It seems like you've grown a size. And this is what we're going to begin to experience more and more in exactly the way the user describes.
TUCKERI mean, we'll be walking by a store and we might be tagged with a coupon to come on in, because we really happen to enjoy tuna fish. And they're having a special on tuna fish right now. And this is the price point that it has been calculated to be most appealing us. And is that a good ad or is that a bad ad? Well, it depends on if we ignore it. If we take it up, then the data that we create by accepting that ad shows that it was okay. If we ignore it, then we're going to be seeing less of that type of ad.
NNAMDITo which you say what, Ben?
BENWell, I think the question is, ultimately is, is the four dollars I save because of this ad worth my privacy? And I guess my basic, at the end of the day, I want it to be my choice whether I want to give that information in exchange for the deal, or whether I want to keep my data to myself. And I think that's the biggest concern, that people want to have the choice to opt in or opt out.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. What do you say to that, Patrick Tucker? It seems to me that just about every individual will make a different decision, depending on what his or her preferences are, both in terms of shopping -- both in terms of convenience and in terms of privacy.
TUCKERRight. Right. Exactly. We definitely all want the opportunity to opt in or to opt out of that sort of thing, but the opt in or the opt out is sort of a flimsy shield from that sort of data collection and that sort of data use. I mean, the number of agreements that we sign, you know, usage agreements, service agreements that we click through and sign, all of the time -- we've already created enormous profiles of ourselves that exist on the services of like marketing companies like Axiom. And those go out to -- at which they use to do exactly what the user describes, in a slightly more anonymous way that's legal. Which is just group targeting. Cohort targeting.
TUCKERSo, there is -- the user brings up a really important point. The caller brings up -- sometimes, I interact with all human beings as though they are on the other side of a screen from me.
TUCKERAnd that's sometimes problems in my social life. But the caller brings up a point that is really key. We don't feel like we have any control over this data that we create, and that's unfortunate because it actually is ours, by definition. We are the point of origin, so we should feel like we have more control over it. And I think you're going to see more services looking to partner with users to help them understand the data that they create and how that data can be used for good. But I hope you're going to see more users -- more people like the caller saying, I understand what you're offering me.
TUCKERBut you're not being forthcoming about the cost, in terms of my privacy. You're not being forthcoming about what you're really doing with my data, and I must insist on a higher level of transparency, from you, about what you're doing with this. And the place to start is not actually with Google, although I think Google is an excellent candidate for that sort of questioning. Because they market a phone, but it's also your telephone operator. It's also AT&T and Verizon. The amount of information that they have on you, where you go, how you use devices, is really enormous.
TUCKERIt's information that they do anonymize and sell. It's information that you should feel like you can ask about. You should feel like you should be able to use. And the first step is to do exactly what the caller just did, which is to ask the question, where is this information? How come I can't see it? I would like my privacy to be valued more by this company than they're currently valuing it. That's the first step.
NNAMDIBen, thank you very much for your call. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Patrick Tucker. He is Deputy Editor of Futurist Magazine, about tech predictions for this year and beyond. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. You can call us at 800-433-8850. What technology do you think will finally become a reality in 2014? You can also send email to email@example.com or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question, make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's "Tech Tuesday." We're talking about tech predictions for this year and beyond with Patrick Tucker, Deputy Editor of Futurist Magazine. We got a tweet from Erin at kojoshow who writes, Amen. Changing the thermostat is not a big task. There's a fine line between lazy and helpful with anticipatory computing. We also got an email from Jonathan in Bedford, who said, what's the projected increase in energy consumption from all of these connected devices?
TUCKERThat's a very good question. The spread of computation -- I don't have any hard figures on how exactly interconnected devices will increase energy demand on a global level in the coming decade, but global energy demand, in general, as electrification hits parts of sub Saharan Africa and other places, is projected to double, at least, by the year 2050. And energy is, of course, a really big concern. Every year, we learn about, you know, a new iPhone, a new Android release that has better battery life and that charges faster.
TUCKERSo, you know, it's this constant sort of tug of war, in terms of the hardware. How efficient can it get and how many more people are going to buy it and use it? I can tell you, though, one of the -- so, the aspect of the internet of things that is -- one that's sort of most prevalent is the geo-location quality of our phone. We walk around with the devices constantly telling different entities, sort of, where we are. We are accessing the global positioning system, and even though we don't send any data to the satellites, we do send data to our phone carrier. And telling the phone carrier that we're requesting information from the global positioning system right now.
TUCKERAnd if you want to preserve your battery life, or you just care in a really global way about energy use, keep your GPS off as much as possible. And that's something else, too. So, when we do finally get projections on how much geo-location is going to increase global energy demand, I think that one thing to think about is that when we can turn off the geo-location based capability of these devices as much as possible, that we'll have a positive effect. Yeah. Cause that's really -- it sucks a lot of energy to have a little device that's constantly talking to space. And we don't spend a lot of time thinking about how much that could actually be.
NNAMDIWell, because we have this little device that's constantly talking to space, there are people who are concerned about hacking. Here is Stan in Fredrick, Maryland. Stan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STANHi. How you doing, Kojo? I love your show. I listen to it quite often.
STANI'm a federal agent. We'll leave it at that amorphously. But I find the acquisition, Google's acquisition of this thermostat technology quite fascinating from two different standpoints that a lot of your listeners probably might not have even thought of. And that's from the perspective of the government, and we refer to as the good guys and the bad guys. As a good guy, you know, if we're chasing somebody who is bad, we want to collect as much data on them as possible. And there's been a big debate on how much data we should have access to, and what we should have access to for the purposes of doing this.
STANI know that if I was to be looking at a bad guy that I wanted to arrest or follow, having access to his thermostat data tells me whether the person's home or not. If the thermostat's set at 60 degrees on a Saturday, I know not to go to that guy's house to follow him, because he's not there. If it's at 73 degrees every Tuesday afternoon, that's probably when I want to be at his house. So, the government can actually use that information for great good if necessary.
STANBut on the flip side, too, with Google or other platforms, gaining this information, you know, the bigger the platform or the more cross platforming there is with this information, the more chance of it being hacked. I know if I'm a bad guy and I want to break into your house, and your house is set at 60 degrees, and it's been that way for five days, you're not home.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Patrick Tucker, because it can be even more personal than that. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who already has a Bluetooth enabled pacemaker. You know, there's this merger of people and technology implanted in humans to help monitor and improve our health. But Cheney was worried about it being hacked.
TUCKERYes, well, Cheney -- so, Cheney, I think, is on the record as being the first person to have a Bluetooth enable pacemaker, but didn't keep it on, precisely for worries of being hacked. So, the record of the first person to have a Bluetooth enabled person -- pacemaker, and actually use the Bluetooth capability, her name is Carol Kazinsky, and she had a Bluetooth enabled pacemaker installed in 2009 and it actually worked. It helped her doctor, you know, constantly monitor, telemetrically, her cardiac activity.
TUCKERAnd she'll say, I'm really glad I had it. And Dick Cheney will say, I'm really glad I kept the thing off. So, your level of comfort is gonna depend on a lot of different things, your circumstance...
NNAMDIWho you are.
TUCKERRight. Exactly. Who you are, what you're doing, and why. So, importantly, as we build out this smart grid, and I'm not just talking about a consumer device like the next thermostat. I mean, when your local utility comes to you and says, we would like to -- we're gonna give you a little bit of money off on your electricity bill in order to...
TUCKERYeah, to install this smart meter. They're realizing unto themselves the exact capability that the caller just described. And this is why your utility, if you do have a smart meter, also knows exactly when you are home and when you are not. Because they can see your energy usage, and your energy usage speaks directly to what you're doing. So, this is something that -- now, the question is, is Google's acquisition of Nest -- that's another sort of hack-able moment in our life, but we give money to utilities.
TUCKERWe sometimes allow smart meters in our homes. And these are also hack-able entities.
NNAMDISo aren't we opening ourselves to the potential for hackers to cause major public havoc?
TUCKERI'm afraid the short answer is sort of yes. And so this is also part of the tradeoff that we're going to realize. It's not, and it's not just an individual's home, like you can imagine a scenario where some hacker, not just is monitoring your electricity, your heat based on what your Nest thermostat is sending to Google, but also alters your heat so that your house becomes like a thousand degrees, or some ridiculous thing like this. And then you're dealing with a science fiction scenario. But in a non-science fiction scenario, this is a really big concern.
TUCKERNot just because of consumer devices, like I said, but because of the internet of things being used in an infrastructure way in ways that we can't see. So, one of the biggest -- this is something that a writer named James Pelton wrote for our magazine, in our November/December issue. It's a great piece, and he talks about one of the biggest vulnerabilities to our urban infrastructure, coming from the very many supervisory control and data acquisition, or scata-systems that play an increasingly critical role in infrastructure functioning around the world.
TUCKERSo these are systems that control pipeline flows to command power substations and electrical power flows. And this is also part of the internet of things. And local governments realize great efficiency in using these systems. They allow lots of different key players to, you know, manage a lot of important infrastructure activity from a lot of different places. But these are absolutely vulnerable. And their vulnerability has been revealed in pretty alarming way based on some things that were actually recently disclosed in the whole Edward Snowden disclosure.
TUCKERSo many scata-systems today, actually operate with their original security codes, unchanged from those that were created by the manufacturer. This is something to be very alarmed about. So, in terms of the future of cyber warfare, as a result of the internet of things, as we continue to build these computational capabilities into our physical environment, what that means. What the outcome of that is is that cyber war begins to look much more like real war, having actual real physical consequences.
TUCKERYeah, I would say that in a rush to experience the convenience of the internet of things, do question, and also question your elected representatives and folks in your, that are operating on your behalf in local government, about security. Because I think that a lot of people that do -- are anxious to have more people on their scata-system. I don't think that they're interested in realizing efficiency gains and doing more at less cost. And security, especially security by design, is so often a secondary concern. And it has to be a first concern, and that concern has to come from participants, from citizens.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Jane who says, below 60 degrees and not home? The government, and I'm saying by implication, anyone who's involved in hacking, does not know my husband. He likes the cold. Here's Kevin in Rockville, Maryland. Kevin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEVINHi. Thank you for having me on. I have a question about ads. I've always guessed that ads were not nearly as effective as advertisers thought that they were. And I've always wondered, as we get more and more personal data about how effective any individualized ad is on a particular user, if companies and advertisers will start to realize that advertising isn't as effective as they always thought. Do you think that's a possibility? Or do you think that this is going to only make ads more effective, and thus more intrusive?
TUCKERYes. Absolutely. No, that's exactly the point. So, right now, on Madison Avenue, there's a rapid evolution that is taking place. You've got firms, little boutique firms that are expertise -- are developing deep expertise in geo-location based interactive advertisement. And you've got legacy firms that, you know, exist on Madison Avenue, and their bread and butter was creative. You know, that sort of "Mad Men" model, where you bring in Jennifer Aniston, you bring in a Louis Vuitton bag, you have a beautiful photo session, you slap it in a magazine, and advertisement created fantastic.
TUCKERAnd, frankly, that sort of works. But the degree to which it does work or doesn't work is gonna become more transparent to all of us. That's absolutely something that is going to happen and is happening right now. And the money that's going towards advertising is going entirely towards metric based interactive campaigns where -- sort of A,B test campaigns, if you will. Where the person that's -- the advertiser, the person that's footing the bill for the advertisement can see immediately, constantly, in real time, how well one ad is working against another. What time ads are really great.
TUCKERI mean, there's this whole sort of sub economy of banner buying that we never see, that we never think of as advertisement, that's actually really robust and diverse. And this is just people sitting at desks figuring out the perfect time to slap the perfect ad in front of the perfect computer. And that's where -- we think of these banner ads as being really dumb, but that's actually, they auction those opportunities off. And that's the future of advertising. We're living it, increasingly, like right now.
NNAMDISo, the sequel to "Mad Men" will be "Mad Algorithms." You can call us at 800-433-8850 if you'd like to join the conversation. What tech innovation are you holding out for this year? We're talking with Patrick Tucker. He is Deputy Editor of Futurist Magazine. You know, one technology we hear a lot about, cannot end this conversation without discussing it, self driving cars. Will they become a reality anytime soon? And how would they fit into the new ecosystem of devices that talk to each other and aim to improve life for humans?
TUCKERWell yeah, so, self driving cars. The proof of concept is actually now, about 10 years old. It was the 2005 Darpa Grand Challenge where Sebastian Thrun and his team at Stanford, their car, the Stanley, completed -- it was, I believe, well, I shouldn't just be liberal with numbers, but it was 160 mile race in under six hours. And the Carnegie Mellon team right behind them also did extremely well, and probably would have won if not for a very small error in programming that Sebastian Thrun is really open about. And that's it. We've had self driven cars since then.
TUCKERAnd these get exponentially better, precisely as they enter this ecosystem where they can communicate with one another, where they communicate with the environment. So, right now, all of the really hard work in making these things safer and safer is being done because they can only perceive -- they can only communicate with satellites with maps and are looking around their environment using laser range finders and stuff like that. But when they can communicate with one another, coordinate where they're going to go, what traffic is like everywhere all at once, then we're going to realize tremendous improvement in stuff like congestion.
TUCKERThis is one of the reasons why Nissan has said that they are going to start marketing self driving cars in the United States by the year 2020. And Audi has said something similar. Elon Musk at Tesla has said that they're going to -- he hasn't given a date for when they're gonna start selling them, but he has said that this is an area that they're going to be putting a lot more money into, and he wants to create a self driving car program at Tesla. Now, here's the thing about this.
TUCKERIs that in a future where our cars communicate with one another, communicate with our environment, communicate with us and drive themselves wherever they need to be, we need a lot fewer cars, right? So, this is an interesting point. Any car company that's going to embrace that is making a really bold move, because they're embracing a future market where their core product has a lot fewer customers.
TUCKERBecause we need ten times fewer cars, because we can share them.
NNAMDIUm-hum. I got you.
TUCKERThat's the whole thing. I mean, no one -- we think of these cars today -- they're marketed to us as like, you know, sort of status symbols and it's stuff that everybody needs. But the truth of the matter is we need transportation and we need mobility. We don't actually need a 2013, you know, BMW. No one actually needs that. It's headache more than it is anything. It's a headache that sits around -- sitting idle 90 percent of the time.
TUCKERAnd so one of the things that this self-driving car ecosystem creates, on top of an environment where you create a profile of who you are with everything that you do, is a system where you can rent your car to whomever you want to rent it to. That car can then drive to where that person is, allow that person to drive the car or the car drives them around, and the car can be back in front of your place when you need it again later that day. And, according to experts, that results in a market for cars that diminished by a factor of ten. We need ten times fewer cars.
NNAMDIDoes that mean you can like send cars to pick up our groceries for us and bring them back to the house.
TUCKERYeah. You can send cars to pick up people -- people that you know only through the Internet that have a high rating as a user or as a potential car renter -- send the car to go pick them up, drive them around. And then, after it drops them off wherever it needs to be, pick up your groceries and come back to your house. And you'll make a little bit of money to offset the cost of your groceries.
NNAMDIBut yelling and gesturing of other drivers is a religious tradition, isn't it? I mean, you won't be able to do that anymore. Profound cultural shock can take place if no more road rage is allowed. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Patrick Tucker, Deputy Editor of The Futurist magazine. If you have thoughts about tech predictions for 2014 and beyond, give us a call at 800-433-8850. How do you feel about having more technology implanted in the human body? Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or a tweet at kojoshow.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Patrick Tucker. He's deputy editor of Futurist magazine here to talk about tech predictions for this year and beyond. And to engage you in the conversation, if you'd like to call, 800-433-8850. Patrick, you have said that the next battle in the Internet of things will be hardware versus software, senses versus apps, taking it up a notch. How would that play out, for example, in developing a refrigerator that can tell you when it's time to buy more milk?
TUCKEROkay. Well, so, this is a -- this vision of the Internet of things, where we have devices around us that have a lot more intelligence about us, is as old as 1988. And it's what Mark Weiser had in mind, it's what the MIT media lab had in mind, when they began create -- and it's what William J. Mitchell had in mind when he talked about the future and consulted for the firm Minority Report.
TUCKERAnd so, what's sort of odd is that this vision of the future is actually sort of quaint compared to what we're dealing with right now, where we're putting more and more information in our phones and a little bit less computational information in the world around us. So they -- this is the weird friction in the Internet of things that's actually happening right now. This is the question. Do we want a refrigerator that's much smarter, or do we want a refrigerator that has a little bit of sensing capability, but that's actually sending more information to a cloud service that you're accessing off your phone.
TUCKERSo is the Internet of things going to be really a smart environment that we don't have to interact with as much? Or is it going to be something that we access primarily through a consumer device that not everybody owns? And this is a really key question. And it doesn't have a single answer. But I would hope for more developers, more programmers, more engineers, more entrepreneurs to err on the side of developing devices, products with more intelligence imbedded directly into them and not rely on singular companies like Apple or Android as the ultimate user interface for the Internet of things.
TUCKERBut, it's much easier to program an app for a platform that a lot of people own than to go about and create an entirely new product class.
NNAMDIBecause there's a television commercial that shows a guy on vacation using his cell phone to turn off all the lights, lock the doors back home. Is that something we'll all be doing soon, maybe? Using our phones to turn things on and off remotely?
TUCKERWell, I mean, if you are a subscriber of a, like, a smart e-reading system, and you have electronic door locks, and the two are integrated in any way, somebody else, somewhere, can do that for you right now. The question is, does that capability migrate to the consumer in the form of an app on the phone. And I think, absolutely. And we'll be really thankful for it. And the security concerns that we have, I think, on the one hand, we should continue to have them. We shouldn't push them aside. But we have to look at them in context.
TUCKERWhy is a quick-key lock system more secure than an Internet-enabled door lock? I'm not sure one is more secure than the other. It's a case-by-case basis. But I recently locked myself out of my house. And I called a guy to come and help me. And it took him ten minutes and cost me 400 bucks. And I don't have a smart system at all, clearly.
NNAMDIYes. You would rather do that with your iPhone at little or no cost. Here is David in Reston, Virginia. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDHi. So we've been talking about Google's acquisition of Nest. And I'll talk about Nest primarily because of the thermostats that they make. But last year, Nest came out with a video. I don't know if it's actually a product yet. But it is a smart smoke detector -- a carbon-monoxide detector as well. And the first, when I first saw that video, the first thing I said was, "Wow, I want that." And then next thing I thought of while -- was, if Apple doesn't buy them, Google will, because it's obvious from the video that, while it's a smoke detector, it's also an excellent portal into this Internet of things.
DAVIDAnd that, it's something that ubiquitous, it's in every room, it responds to voice commands. If you haven't seen that video, I'd recommend that people seek that out. It -- in this, you know, with this topic in mind, that becomes quite a compelling appliance.
TUCKERYeah. So with -- yes, this is a totally compelling appliance. And it's a great example of how the Internet of things is going to make our life better. But I would offer -- so a corollary device that I'm pretty hot on that I think is really awesome, and it's engineered, not by a company like Nest, but by a sort of hacker collective, and it performs sort of the same function, and it's called the Air-Quality Egg. And the Air-Quality Egg is an egg, it's a little egg-shaped device you set on your desk and it reads air quality. It doesn't just recover monoxide, but it's sort of supposed to help asthmatics.
TUCKERAnd it's engineered from parts that anybody can buy off the shelf. It's -- it uploads data to the Cosine Network, which was a, you know, it's public. You can -- there's a subscription fee for it, but it's basically open. And, as we create -- as more people get these eggs, put them on their desk, and start uploading data, then everybody can participate in the creation of information about air quality. And that's something that you can use to change local conversations about, you know, where to mitigate or legislate for exhaust or smog or things like that.
TUCKERAnd that's -- so, unlike the Nest smoke/carbon-monoxide detector that you have to buy from them, this is something that, like, a group of people have made that you can use right now. And that's another aspect of the Internet of things that I'm really excited about, is the fact that it's actually really open to participation from hackers, from designers, from just folks working out of garages that are interested in creating something that reads from their environment, that creates data that can go online and that we can all share.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Joseph in Bethesda who says, "Most of what is being discussed here is still 75 percent fiction. It's all interesting, but still pie-in-the-sky. Most of us do not live in very modern dwellings. The poor, for example, definitely do not live in such dwellings. In fact, I would wager that the vast majority of Americans are living with very old-fashioned thermostats that are running 30-year-old heating and air-conditioning units. Good luck monitoring that stuff." It's not a scientific study, it's just Joseph's opinion.
TUCKERYep. Well, you know, this is an excellent point. And it's that -- it reminded me of that great quote by William Gibson, which is that the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed. And it's going to be not tremendously worthwhile to retrofit certain types of structures with lots and lots of embedded sensors and stuff like this, which is one of the -- long been one of the barriers to creating a more active sensor environment.
TUCKERBut this, at the same time, particularly in poorer communities, this type of -- these types of services can do, like, the most good as we reach a threshold where it becomes cheap enough to actually begin to create information collection devices and stuff in areas where there hasn't been any monitoring for a long time -- particularly like classrooms and stuff like this.
TUCKERSo I -- while I completely agree that there hasn't been sort of a democratic or even remotely democratic dispersal of technology, and it's been the same with the Internet, it's the same with computational devices, it's going to be the same with Internet of things devices. There's no reason not to be hopeful and not to push for greater integration of just computational assets into our lives, particularly in places where we know they can actually do good.
NNAMDIWhy do you think we'll see some more liberal experimentation with some new technologies in countries like China, India, maybe South Korea, than we'll see here in the United States?
TUCKERRight. So this -- we have, in the United States, lots and lots of laws and guidelines and legal precedent for suing one another, which can have an effect on innovation in a way that is good and bad. Consumer protections are something that we all rely on all of the time. And laws governing consumer protections are different in other countries, where -- and China and Japan are among them. And this is one of the reasons why some experts have forecast that China's going to begin to realize the benefits of like a self-driving car system much sooner than the United States.
TUCKERThey don't have the same -- they're building out infrastructure much more rapidly, so they don't have as many legacy infrastructure elements as we do. And also, they understand consumer protections very differently. I'm very grateful that we have the consumer protections that we do in the United States. But we do pay some sacrifice in terms of innovation for that. And those -- I think that China and Japan are particularly great examples of places that may begin to experiment with self-driving cars before we do.
TUCKERIn the same way, entrepreneurs in Japan are now experimenting with drone delivery in a way that actually is science fiction in the United States. So we had, a couple weeks ago, Jeff Bezos go on "60 Minutes" and sort of, almost, not quite, but maybe announced that they're going to -- that Amazon is going to start delivering stuff by a drone in the not-too-crazily-distant future, because he had a prototype drone that could, you know, pick up an object and send it where it wanted to be. There are entrepreneurs in China that already do that. They don't do it legally all the time.
TUCKERBut the drone delivery for goods and services, legal or not, does exist in China already, because they have sort of different guidelines and different enforcement measures for that sort of thing. But the technology's already there. And enforcement, you know, consumer protections, all of these things are lagging behind the way we use technology.
NNAMDIQuantum computing is another innovation that's getting a lot of attention. What is a Quantum computer and how does it attempt to mimic human learning and decision making?
TUCKERRight. So in The Futurist magazine's top-ten forecasts that we published last year, number six was quantum computing could lead the way to true artificial intelligence. And it comes from Geordie Rose. He is the creator of the world's first commercial quantum computer. It's called the D-Wave One. And so quantum computers use quantum mechanics to see multiple different outcomes to any given problem, and combine information in new ways to formulate solutions. This is a contrast to the way conventional computers function, which is much more like in -- through logic gates.
TUCKERSo we think of computers as being really fantastic. They think really fast. But actually what they're thinking -- they're thinking far faster than we realize, but their only thinking really in yes or no. This is binary code. I mean, this is the logic gate architecture behind modern silicon-based computing. And what a quantum computer does is it relies on the laws of quantum mechanics, which suggests that something can be in -- a quantum bit can be basically two things at once -- there's quantum -- can utilize quantum indeterminacy.
TUCKERAnd this allows -- if we can harness this power that exists on the cubit level and turn it into a truly, like, robust system that can perform and execute on command, the way our conventional computers do now, then we'll create a computational system that can entertain lots of different alternatives at once. It's doing true parallel processing. And Geordie Rose predicts that we're going to have this in about 10 to 15 years, assuming, sort of, funding remains where it is right now. Having said that, and to err on the side of the skeptic, right now, we're not exactly sure what quantum computers are capable of.
TUCKERWe have them. But side-by-side performance measures with conventional computers -- these are sort of lacking. Understanding how cubits are interacting with one another, with information and with the universe, this is a sort of really murky business. It's very early days for this. But the potential is there to create, through quantum mechanics, a machine that thinks much more like a human does.
NNAMDIMachines that can be programmed to create three-dimensional objects, so-called 3D printers, have the potential to change the value we place on physical objects, making the design specs more important than the object itself. How could 3D printers eventually affect our buying habits?
TUCKERRight. So this is number five on our list of top-ten forecasts that we published, and it is buying and owning things will go out of style. It's from a guy named Hugo Garcia. And he says that the markets for housing, for automobiles, for music and books and many other products show a common trend: Younger consumers opting to rent or subscribe to pay-per-use arrangements instead of buying and owning the physical products; shared facilities overtaking established offices renting. And part of that is also the trend in 3D printing. So...
NNAMDIPart of it is the trend in the economy, where about 50 percent of college graduates are either un- or underemployed.
TUCKERThat's right. And the average college grad owes $27,000 per -- so that's, if you're a young person, that really puts a crimp in your buying stuff style. But -- and yet, at the same time, we've noticed that people don't actually need as much stuff as we used to think. So imagine a future where, instead of trucking yourself down to buy something at the store because you have a little bit of disposable income, you're only paying for the raw materials. And you're paying for the design through Amazon, and making it yourself. And, right now, that's not cost-efficient with 3D printers as we imagined them.
TUCKERBut when we get to the point where we're able to 3D print electronics, then, just, I mean, it's just sort of supply and demand. The value of any individual item that can be replicated at that scale descends to basically nothing.
NNAMDIPatrick Tucker, he is deputy editor of Futurist magazine. We've been talking about tech predictions not only for 2014, but beyond. Patrick, thank you so much for joining us.
TUCKERHey, thank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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