The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]


Moore’s Law Won’t Be Law For Much Longer …

Moore’s law – created by Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel – states that computer power will double every two years at the same cost.

Since he said this in the later 60’s, he’s been proven right, but having listened to a professor of computer engineering on the radio last night, it appears it’s coming to an end.

The reason I am saying this is because to prove his point, the Professor said 3 things that have blown my mind.

1. The iPhone has 4 billion transistors in it. FOUR BILLION.

2. There are now more transistors in the World than their are leaves on all the trees across the entire planet.

3. Some transistors are so small – separated by a distance of just 14 nanometres (nm) – that they are invisible. And when I say invisible, I mean it because they are smaller than the wavelengths of light human eyes and microscopes use.

What I loved about the talk the Professor gave wasn’t just his ability to articulate the incredible journey of innovation that the tech industry has been on for almost 50 years … nor was it his view that this rate of innovation was going to be impossible to maintain given the micro scale the industry is already operating at … it was that he felt this obsession with precision was stopping craftsmanship to flourish.

Now I must admit, my initial view was getting 4 billion transistors into an iPhone would be the ultimate demonstration of craftsmanship, but no … this Professor was saying that in our quest to automate our lives, we are doing it at the expense of celebrating and expanding human skills.

For him, craftsmanship is when a human manufactures a product by hand … they use dedicated human reasoning to work out the kinks during production to make a high-quality, functioning piece.

These pieces attract and inspire those around them, attracting more people to both value the products and want to create the products, helping humanity both evolve and appreciate what we are capable of creating and becoming.

Now of course we could say computers have done a similar thing, but this Professor was saying ‘perfect precision’ was overshadowing ‘human precision’ and while there will always be a need for technology to do heavy lifting for us, humanity is at its best when it is can satisfy and appreciate what we as a species can do and right now, we are outsourcing that to technology.

It’s an interesting argument – especially when you think of what so much of this new era of tech is being used to do from a human interaction perspective – but ultimately I believe the argument is that if we don’t get back to teaching tech what to value, then tech will start teaching us.

It already is.

In their quest to get AI accepted in households, many companies are building applications to cater for the lowest common denominator of needs. The low hanging fruit, as it were. Now that would be fine if they then evolved their offering, but as this is a fierce, commercial race, I am pretty sure most companies will end up focusing on trying to automate as many simple tasks as possible in a bid to show their ‘usefulness’ which means over time, they are educating us to value speed over quality, convenience over experiences, virtual over reality and information over understanding.

Some might think that is OK, but as Andy said in a comment a few weeks ago, the implication are frightening …

“The fucked thing about all this tech assistance isnt that its making us lazy, its that its making us selfish and dismissing anyone or anything that doesnt do what we want immediately. The arts are going to be fucked over by this shit till people work it out and by then it will be too late or they just wont care.”

Don’t get me wrong, I love tech.

I love what it does and I love what it has allowed us to do.

And it goes without saying I love that it has helped me satisfy my love of gadgetry.

But if this is all at the cost of humanities appreciation of humanity, that’s quite a price to pay which is why if the end of Moore’s law means we get to teach values to tech rather than have tech teach us our values, then I for one am all for it.

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Microsoft Are Microgood …

Microsoft used to be the joke of technology.

Or maybe the ‘beige of technology’ is a better description.

Creating products for mainstream mediocrity.

To be fair, that perception was driven more because of their marketing than their technology … but it’s fair to say they were certainly lacking that slick sheen that turned other tech companies into Rock Stars.

But a change has been happening in Seattle over the past few years.

OK, less on the marketing side and more on the tech … but a change all the same.

Where other companies are trying to hype up small degrees of change, Microsoft have been trying to push a genuine innovation agenda. But not innovation just for the sake of innovation, but stuff that has a real purpose as demonstrated by their new controller for X-Box.

Now you may argue making a controller that helps those suffering from physical difficulties is a small market, but on a global scale I would imagine it adds up – especially when there is no real viable alternative out there. [Or one that I know of]

But that’s not the point here … it’s that they did it.

Even more than that, they did it with real understanding of the audience they’re catering to.

They spent time and money on producing a product that offers a genuine solution to people often ignored.

[You can see how this affected their process by going here]

For all the talk tech companies give about wanting to ‘help humanity move forward’, few do.

Or should I say, few do if it requires doing something that has a more ‘niche’ appeal.

Yes, I know some are doing stuff that we don’t know about, but to make a physical product specifically for this audience is a big deal … especially in this commercially obsessed World.

So well done Microsoft, this is brilliant.

Brilliant for millions of people who want to play but have been ignored.

Brilliant for showing the power of design to solve problems … again.

Brilliant at showing you use technology to evolve humans rather than devolve them.

Brilliant at being more innovative than your competitors.

Brilliant at making me feel more towards you than I have in years.

As I’ve said for years, products have done more to grow brand value than advertising.

Don’t get me wrong, advertising is hugely powerful and important, but it all starts from doing something good, not something average.

That used to be obvious. Sadly, I don’t think it is anymore.



How Technology Can Help Protect Humans …

So this is linked to yesterdays post about AI/VR.

A friend of mine recently put up this poster of an idea he’s trying to get Amazon to do with their Alexa virtual assistant.

Basically he wants Amazon to allow people suffering from domestic abuse, to be able to set up a ‘safe word’ in Alexa.

If the word is ever heard, Alexa will automatically start recording all ambient noise and send it directly to the Police.

While I appreciate there are a mass of legal implications, it’s a simple, brilliant idea … designed to empower humanity rather than laziness.

The fact is was created by a planner, in an agency, makes me extra-happy.

I’ve written a lot about my frustration that too many agencies believe creativity only exists if you sit in the creative department – and while what they do is an amazing thing that can take ideas to even more magical places – they do not have the monopoly on creative thinking and this is additional proof of that. Better yet, my mate is not doing it for an award or some scam shit, he’s doing it because he gives a shit about humanity and has created an idea that could make a real difference to someone’s life.

Something we are all supposed to be doing but often end up just communicating.

If anyone out there knows someone of influence at Amazon, please can you show them this.




It’s Called Artificial For A Reason …

So this is sort-of following on from yesterdays post.

Specifically the last line of yesterday’s post.

The bit about AI/VR.

You see a few weeks ago, I was invited to speak on a panel about the future by Frog Design.

No, I don’t know why they asked me either.

Anyway, it was a great panel and I learnt a lot of stuff but where things got a bit sticky was when the subject of AI came up.

OK, I was the reason it all got a bit sticky, but that’s because I feel companies are approaching AI with the sole goal of enabling the lazy.

Yes, it’s still early days but automating the most common/basic of tasks feels such a waste of potential.

I get they have to get people used to things before they can push them to new things, but to focus on such mundane tasks doesn’t naturally push the industry to explore the bigger possibilities of it.

My suggestion was that I’d like to see it being used to take people to new places.

New opinions … thoughts … possibilities … experiences.

More inspirational intelligence than artificial.

When you ask for news headlines, it reads you how different news sources see the same story.

When you ask for a countdown, it plays you music you haven’t heard before until the timer is up.

When you ask for the weather, it tells you some places you can go to, to take advantage of the climate.

In other words, make you benefit from the AI beyond the fact it’s performing a function that saves you approx 0.3 seconds doing. Kind-of like the premise behind user-unfriendly tech I wrote about a while back.

Of course to do this means that they have to do more than just follow the data.

It means they have to add something to it.

Context. Insight. Humanity. Creativity.

Things that companies are seemingly valuing less rather than more.

To be fair, Amazon are trying to do this with some of the more quirky aspects of Alexa … but I still would like to see more being done, because not only does this add real value to the tech, it means brands have a chance to build additional value with their audience rather than sit back and watch their engagement get less and less.



Is Innovation The Fast Track To Corporate Fucking Stupidity?

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about how so many of the great ideas I’ve seen have come from the minds of designers rather than adfolk.

Where so many in my industry look to create eye-candy, designers are approaching their task in terms of solving the clients fundamental problem in the best and most visually interesting way.

There’s a lesson for many of us to learn in that.

However it’s not all great for designers.

Like that Pepsi bullshit from years back, there’s still examples where designers are taking the piss more than a catheter.

For the latest example, may I present to you Vodafone.

Whether we like them or not, our lives are very dependent on the telecommunications industry.

Sure, we might not use their service to make phonecalls anymore, but our smartphone addiction means we need their data so we can instragram our food at every possible moment.

Now obviously the telco industry doesn’t like being seen as just a ‘service provider’.

Part of that might be because of corporate ego, but the main reason is likely to be that for them to grow, they need to be regarded as an innovation company … someone who creates the future as much as serves it.

Whether you think that’s bollocks or not is up to you, but the reason I’m saying it is because that’s kind of the explanation Vodafone used for creating their new logo.

“What new logo?” I hear you cry.

This one …

“No Rob …” you reply, “… you’ve made a mistake, that’s the old logo”.

Oh no it isn’t folks, that’s the new one.

No seriously.

I swear to God.

Oh hang on, I don’t believe in God … OK, I swear on my heart.

Still don’t believe me?

OK, if you want absolute proof, here’s the old logo for comparison.

“But … but isn’t that basically the old logo just with the colours inverted?”, you stutter.

Well, I would agree with that assessment however we would both be wrong because apparently it is a new logo and, when you hear how the people at Vodafone describe it, it represents a new dawn for the company and it’s role and goal in society.

Here’s Ben Macintosh, Vodafone Australia’s customer business director …

“The changes represent the company’s ability to ‘innovate for the future ‘and supply choice for customers. The wants and needs of our customers have changed, and with that we’ve changed too. We challenge the status quo and push the boundaries to give people something that they won’t find anywhere else.”

I swear to god this is not an April Fool.

This really is their new logo and Ben Macintosh really did say that.

Look, I get Apple generated billions in extra revenue by simply adding a small ‘s’ to their otherwise near-identical product but this is a whole different scale of idiocy.

For me, there’s only 2 possible scenarios …

Either the branding company [which, let’s be honest, is not a design company] are fucking delusional or Vodafone is.

Whatever the truth, if I was a shareholder in the former I’d be buying more shares in them for their ability to charge millions for taking 10 minutes to literally invert the colours of their clients existing logos and if the latter, I’d be selling my shares as fast as I could possibly get rid of the worthless bastards.

On the bright side, I’m about to make a fortune as a branding consultant and my 1997 copy of Microsoft Paint.



Does Adland Know What Innovation Actually Is?

A long time ago, when I first moved to Shanghai, I wrote a post about how I felt China practiced what I called practical creativity.

Now while their has been significant improvement in the attitude towards innovation over the past 7 years – especially in terms of using technology to make life more convenient – the ‘functional’ element of creativity still exists.

Recently I saw another example of this.

Except it’s older than the stuff I used in my original post.

And it’s not true … more a story that grew into legend.

But that aside, it reinforces my point that there seems to be a major difference between the attitude of commercial creativity in the West and the commercial creativity in the East and both could do with taking a bit from each other.

Funny eh?

And while the true story behind the development of the ‘space pen’ is quite different to what is stated in this article [it was more a product of marketing than conquering the universe] the issue it raises is what adland seems to value in creativity.

Would ‘using a pencil’ be seen as successful in industry awards?

Probably not.

Even in Effies, I question if anyone would bestow anything on it other than ridicule.

But the pen might … with the right case study video attached, detailing the struggle to reinvent writing or some other headline worthy statement.

And that bothers me because commercial creativity will always start with the mind and if we ignore that in favor of the eyes and our egos, then we will be walking even further away from developing the ideas that I know we are capable of making that can fundamentally impact culture and commerce.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to try and push what is possible … but when you’re over-engineering a solution for no other reason than trying to win an award, then you should get fists in the face rather than applause.

Maybe Andy was right.

Years ago he told me the reason why judges at awards often favour scam is because it satisfies their ego to be associated with ‘ideas’ that allegedly push what is possible … even if it’s not real or effective.

Which is why most of the ‘innovation’ ideas that are awarded in advertising shows never gets to see the light of day.

Remember Peggy?

I rest my case.



The Most Ridiculous Phone Management System In The World …

American companies – like every other country in the World – love automated telephone systems.

To actually get to speak to a real human, is harder than earning a PHD in astrophysics.

But what makes me laugh is how they try so so hard to make it sound like you’re talking to a real person when it’s painfully obvious you’re not.

However, in America, it has reached new heights.

I was organizing Direct TV and was having to repeat my answer to every question asked by the ‘automated human’ because it doesn’t understand British accents when – finally – it accepted my answer.

Imagine my surprise when immediately after, I heard the sound effect of a person typing.

Seriously, it was trying to suggest they were literally inputing my answer into their system.

If that wasn’t mental enough, the sound they used sounded awfully like a typewriter from the 1920’s.

Apart from the fact that a supposed high-tech company shouldn’t feel embarrassed about not using real people, if they really believe genuine human interaction is more desirable for customers than a computer, then HIRE SOME FUCKING HUMANS.

Another example where a consultancy has come in to improve efficiency and ignored reality.