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17 October 2015

Tomorrow, Today

Tag(s): Technology
My Livery Company, The Worshipful Company of Marketors holds an annual event with our sister Livery Companies, the Stationers and the Information Technologists because we share an interest in Digital. We recently held this year’s event on the subject of ‘Tomorrow. Today. How technology is changing our world!’ with four cracking speakers.
First up was Richard Watson who describes himself as a writer and a reluctant futurist. He is the founder of and the author of five books about various aspects of the future.  He asked us to imagine what we might have expected to develop in the next fifteen years at the turn of the millennium and then contrast that with what has actually transpired. Then thinking about the next fifteen years what might transpire? The pace of change is likely to continue to accelerate as Moore’s Law remains constant and so processing power and memory increase ever faster. Thus the pace of change might be twice as fast, even five times.  Regression was possible, but unlikely.
With people at Imperial College, Richard had developed a Timeline of Emerging Science and Technology. It consists of a highly complex graph looking at bio-tech, digital-tech, nano-tech, neuro-tech and green-tech and predicting developments from the present through what was probable to what might be possible. It is too detailed to even summarise here but present examples of neuro-tech include cochlear implants; brain finger printing used in court; and prosthetic limbs controlled by thought. Probable examples include eye-tracking in mobile phones;  an adaptive electronic assistant to prevent information overload; and mood-sensing machines. Possible examples include dream imaging and recording; communications devices widely embedded inside the body; and the end of dementia.
But Richard was keen to counsel us not to think of technology in isolation. The role of human psychology is critical. The diagram is all tech push but humans may get in the way. We still have a Stone Age brain married to medieval institutions with the technology of God. The standard perception of the pace of change is that it is too fast.
Alan Hunter is Head of Digital, The Times and The Sunday Times. He has worked for the papers for more than 15 years. Prior to taking up his current role in 2013, he was executive Managing Editor. He was in charge of The Sunday Times’ coverage of the 2010 General Election and the 2012 London Olympics. Alan told us that journalism is convulsed by technology but it always has been. New business models are being developed such as pay walls, freemia, free and even the Apple news app.
The Times was founded in 1785 and highlights in its illustrious history include the first war correspondent in William Howard Russell in the Crimea; the scoop on reporting the successful ascent of Mount Everest, but only reported on page six as page one was still given over to classifieds in those days; and more recently the exposure of the Rotherham sex scandal by reporter Andrew Norfolk.
The Sunday Times was founded in 1882 and its successes include the breaking of the Thalidomide case by the Insight team and more recently two sporting scandals: Lance Armstrong’s drug cheating uncovered by David Walsh; and the extensive coverage of the corruption in FIFA. Alan sees that the future of news coverage will be multi-channel but that print journalism will remain important. The circulation of the hard copy of The Times is rising while the tablet edition sells more than 70,000 copies per day and the Sunday edition exceeds 90,000 copies. Dwell time on these tablet editions averages 40 minutes to one hour, similar to the print copy. Readers may get breaking news from Twitter and other instant sources, but they still need to make sense of this torrent of news and they get that from considered analysis and editorial. “Technology” he said “has changed our world thoroughly and not at all.”
Omaid Hiwaizi is President, Global Marketing at Blippar, the world’s leading visual search and augmented reality platform. He is one of the industry’s hybrids, having studied mathematics and designed i-D magazine before entering the agency world as a creative and then a strategist. He is also a fellow Marketor.  Blippar harnesses image recognition and computer vision technology to bring the physical world to life through smart devices.
Omaid told us that augmented realty is shaping how people connect with the world. We’re naturally curious, and we are driven by our senses, dominated by sight. Recall is 62% if we see something, but just 10% if we only hear it. We need computer vision which can recognise and understand context. 
Omaid demonstrated how his device could recognise an apple and then call up myriad references to apples. We saw apple recipes, nutritional information about apples, and the Wikipedia page on apples. General Mills is now using the technology in its communications program. A blip builder is available free of charge for testers.
Dr Alan McClelland is Commercial Manager at CPI’s Printable Electronic s Centre, which is part of the UK’s network of Catapult Centres and is currently developing collaborative projects to address technology challenges in smart packaging, which require the integration of print and electronics. Prior to joining CPI Alan worked in senior management positions with first tier automotive suppliers.
Alan’s team is developing a plastic film that will harvest energy and drive an LED, i.e. smart packaging. As we develop the internet of things, a printed electric component can play a role in stock control. A smart phone can do the heavy lifting providing an energy source, a display and a communicator while printed components can create a label.  Alan demonstrated a prototype of a circuit board on a sheet of flexible plastic film that draws in energy from a smart phone and uses that energy to drive the LEDs on the film. but this is still in the development phase.
A lively Q&A followed in which I asked about the impact of new technology on jobs. I am not a Luddite but actually the principal concern of the Luddites was humanity. In a world where Airbnb is valued the same as Hilton Hotels but employs 1,000 people versus 150,000 or where Uber is valued as much as Hertz and Avis put together but employs a fraction of the people, what jobs will people do? Richard Watson shared my concern and is not optimistic about this issue.  So it was a fascinating evening if not a little daunting.

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