16 July 2018

Disruptive Technologies – Predicting the Future

Too Many Lists!
The world of social media is littered with lists. There are lists for leaders, lists for motivators, lists for technologists, and even lists for haters of lists. Most of these lists claim to be definitive and declare themselves to be incontrovertible fact, and the worst of these lists are the ones that predict the future…

…And so in the spirit of having too many lists that predict the future, here is my contribution.

My blog for today has been prompted by a look back at a tweet from three years ago by @ForbesTech that listed the top 5 disruptive technologies that “will shape the future”. Their list was as follows:

1. The sharing economy (e.g. Uber)
2. Cloud computing
3. Digital supply chain
4. 3D printing
5. Internet of things

If you take the time to follow the link from the tweet to the article you will find out that the actual point of the list is to highlight technologies that will create jobs and provide entrepreneurial opportunities, but I’m not beneath deliberately ignoring this point to pursue my own agenda.

My immediate response to this list was “those aren’t technologies of the future; they are very much with us now” and that led naturally to considering which technologies I considered to be the ones to watch over the next ten years. Having considered this for at least ten minutes I tweeted “IMO it's robotics, implantables, life prolonging drugs, and fast charge batteries. Blog post coming...” and committed myself to justifying myself. I also clearly owe an apology for the dubious act of adding “able” to the end of a verb to create a new noun for which a perfectly good one already existed. 


Apology over; now for that justification.

Look into my Crystal Ball
The first thing to note is that just like everyone else (even those with credentials), I’m guessing, but guessing leads to discussion which leads to argument which leads to new thinking, and that’s what I’m really interested in. So, for clarity, my list is:

1. Artificial Intelligence & Robotics
2. Implantables
3. Life prolonging drugs
4. Fast charge batteries

AI & Robotics – back in 2015 there was a NASA robotics competition which prompted everyone to joke about the fact that robots couldn’t even open doors and fast forward to 2018 where a Boston Robotics video showing robots opening doors for each other goes viral. The simple truth is if you state robots can’t do something, someone will make them do it but this is not the point. The real future in robotics is not about replacing humans; it’s about automating the things we use to make our lives easier, and augmenting our natural abilities with things we find difficult.

Implantables – it’s about convenience. Making the technology just happen. An evolution from the clunky world of machines that make us work their way, to devices that allow us to use touch, gesture and voice, to solutions that simply interface with us in the way we naturally interact with the real world. I blogged about this in my post entitled The Augmented Human.

Genetic Medicine – it’s about being healthy and lasting longer. It’s inevitable. In my grandfather’s youth, antibiotics didn’t exist and the national health service hadn’t been created. If you got a bit sick, you died; the idea of being ill was a universally accepted reality of life. Nowadays, ill health is a relative rarity in western society and that which is unfamiliar is also frightening and must be eliminated. More and more, the problems left to solve are inherently printed into our DNA, but recent advances open the door to creation of new treatments, and the creation of biologically sympathetic products.

Fast charge batteries - Proliferation of mobile devices and a push towards the electrification of transport has created a deep dissatisfaction with battery technologies. This in turn has triggered an explosion in research and development focussed on energy storage technologies as highlighted in the PocketLint article, Future Batteries. The tipping point will be when a battery can achieve the holy trinity of miniaturisation, long life, and near-instant charging; out of this will spring a new generation of technical solutions.

The Sum of the Parts
So, we can all make lists of disruptive technologies, but essentially they are not predictions of disruption. That’s not to say the lists are wrong; quite the opposite. Every single list of technology advances will come true in the end, but they do not represent the change, any more than a list of ingredients describes the meal.

Real disruption is the unexpected new thing that emerges when all these technologies are brought together to create a thing that was previously unachievable. Mobile devices have been “invented” many times, but the real explosion only happened when a whole list of technologies came of age and someone squeezed them all into a single handheld device, connected it to the internet and created an ecosystem around it. We just call the result the smartphone, because that’s the bit we own and hold in our hand.

What’s Next?
You may have noticed that, despite all the noise and publicity around virtual and augmented reality, it didn’t appear on my list; there is a reason for that. I do not consider VR/AR to be a technology as such or just a device, but instead a potential disruptive change similar to that of the smartphone ecosystem. VR is not the headset, and AR is not just a smartphone app. These are, in my opinion, just the PDAs of the 21st century, and they will go the same way as the PalmPilots, Psions and Apple Newtons of the 1990s. Remember them?

Over the course of my life there have been many attempts at introducing virtual reality to the market. To be accurate, VR significantly predates my life. I was born in 1966, 127 years after the invention of the first stereoscopic viewer (View-Master - 1839), 16 years after the first “immersive” virtual reality machine (Sensorama - 1950), and 5 years after the first motion tracking head mounted display (Headsight - 1961). This article on The History of Virtual Reality makes for interesting reading on the topic.

As a genuine fan of virtual and augmented reality, I’m willing to put up with a lot of discomfort to experience it, but even I would say that the most advanced offerings currently on and soon to appear on the market are still not ready to disrupt our lives in the way the iPhone and its successors did. To succeed, the technology would need to become far less intrusive.

However, if you bring a variety of technologies together you could have a genuinely disruptive outcome. Imagine implantable devices made biologically compatible through advances in genomics and powered by subminiature fast charge batteries (perhaps even charged by the body’s chemical processes). Now couple these with an information ecosystem enabled by AI recognition systems and you can bring an augmented world directly into the senses of the individual allowing them to be more intuitive and informed in everything they do.

Now, this could be utopia or dystopia; in reality it will probably be a mix of the two, but for me, there is real promise in this. It could also be the ultimate alternative to reality into which we all disappear and stop interacting completely. The smartphone is accused of exactly this sin, but perhaps those who say this are forgetting the trains full of people reading books and newspapers, and the father at the breakfast table hidden behind his broadsheet. Maybe they’re not aware of the moral panic that arose around “these foolish, yet dangerous, books” during the rise of novel reading as a pastime in the 18th century? (“The Novel-Reading Panic in 18th- Century in England: An Outline of an Early Moral Media Panic” has an interesting take on this). 

Alternatively, and perhaps with the right ethical framework, human augmentation could become a disruption in which technology does all the emotionless, mechanical things so that people have more time to actually be human.

Who knows; only time will tell. Maybe it’ll be something else…

…like faster horses, for example.

The Enterprising Architect

13 July 2018

Freudian Data - Security Slip

Update - 16th October 2018 - Tim Berners-Lee is working on something called Solid; an ecosystem that does pretty much what I'm discussing below. Sometimes, the threat comes sooner than you expect.

Update - 8th July 2019 - British Airways fined £183m for data breach (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48905907)

Tell Me about Your Mother
In the ever increasing digital push, we are all encouraged to interact on the internet (and yes, that does include mobile) to perform essential daily tasks. Some of us do this willingly and welcome the increased efficiency and convenience that it brings; others are forced into this world as alternative approaches become less available, and harder to access. Either way, we’re doing important stuff online, and to do that stuff we have to share our data. 
Some of this data is fairly innocuous (names, titles, ages, preferences) and we have learnt to share this information without even thinking. In fact, many people now go out of their way to share this data via social platforms even when the sharing is not necessary to perform a transaction. Some of this data, however, is sensitive and there is real risk in sharing it. Banking details, passwords, and shared secrets all involve us trusting those with whom we transact, but share we must if we are to interact in the modern world.
In the early days, this wasn’t such a problem. The organisations we had to trust were few in number (the bank, our supermarket of choice, and maybe a major online retailer or two) and the chances of that data going astray was low. We were encouraged to use “strong” passwords which we changed regularly and were reassured that the organisations in question had strong security “perimeters”. We could trust them to keep us safe. 

But they didn’t...

Addicted to Gambling
Not that I’m blaming them you understand, nor am I suggesting that the risk we took with our information was not one worth taking. Digital services have made my daily life infinitely less painful and I want more of them, not less – and herein lies the problem. As any statistician will know, risk is a numbers game and the more times you play it the worse the odds get. The game is made all the more risky by the fact that for an intelligent species, humans are remarkably unoriginal, and all the digital services we are offered work in pretty much the same way. They all require the same username/password approach, and most people return that lack of originality by using the same username and password wherever they go. This means that one leak is all it takes to compromise your online life.
So, over time we share the same critical information with increasing numbers of organisations and the odds go up and up. What is more, as the number of things you can do online increases the value of that information to those who might steal it grows steadily. With so many points of attack, so few variations on the information used, and so much value resting on it, theft of that information becomes more than likely; it becomes inevitable.
Not surprisingly, significantly loss of customer information is becoming a regular occurrence and cyber-security is the hottest topic in town.
Introvert or Extrovert?
There is a widespread belief that this continuously increasing openness with data is a trend that will continue in its current direction, but it is just as likely to be a fad; part of a cyclic process. It is reasonable to expect that we will react to the data losses in a negative way by becoming much more introvert as a society. After all, if the data isn’t out there it can’t be stolen, can it?
Why does the data need to be out there at all? At registration, we are often expected to give companies all the data they need for all the services they offer, but we may only use a few. By interacting with apps and websites, we share our behaviour so that services can be customised, “in our best interests”. We share our credit card data every time we want to buy something, and everyone has our address even if all the parcels come to us from a small number of couriers.
We do this because we have to. The current ways of working in the world of e-commerce provide us with no alternative.
Control Freak
But what if there was an alternative? It’s not hard to imagine an independent decision making app owned by the user (an avatar that acts on my behalf), containing my preferences and data. Such an app could act as an intelligent agent, doing the comparing and completing the trades on my behalf. It could work to my personal preferences and not to a generic model and I could trust the recommendations it makes because it is owned by me and acts on my local behaviours and preferences. With increasing processing power on handheld devices it is quite possible that AI engines will be able to run locally, pulling down the data necessary to reach their conclusions, with no external visibility of the decision making process. 
The proliferation of such a capability would start to remove price as a differentiating factor and providers would need to move to the next desirable USP. My avatar might start to choose to trade only with the services that request the minimum amount of personal information, and providers would respond by offering data-lite transaction completion. In essence, the transaction requiring the least data wins.
For example, a transaction that allows you to make the payment directly through your bank (e.g. via mobile payment or bank transfer) and then share the payment reference with the seller so that their systems can watch for the payment in real time would remove the need for sharing of card or account details. Anyone offering this type of transaction would put themselves at an advantage in a data-introvert environment.
Peer Pressure
But why would anyone bother? Suppliers want to keep your data and track behaviour; it is valuable, and even when it isn’t, executives have been led to believe it is by the “data is oil” mantra. Why would they give this up and offer a transaction based data free service? Well, with the increasing awareness that data breaches have a long term impact on share price, organisations might start to see the keeping of data as a very costly burden. The high fines available through GDPR legislation could push the risk of keeping personal data above acceptable levels.
It only takes one provider to offer a transaction based service with no registration and no data storage and the market will decide. The most likely contender would probably be a start-up that wants to avoid the cost of data storage, data protection, insurance, etc. etc. and also exploit a new market. Storage is cheap, but if you’re not using any it’s even cheaper. Once a disruption like this happens, all others have to follow to survive.
It’s not impossible, therefore, to conceive of a world in which the wheel turns again, and this time from distributed to local; local processing and local data storage (or at the very least single trusted location for data storage).
So the real cyber-security threat to businesses is not that they’ll leak your data… It’s that they’ll lose access to it, altogether.
The Enterprising Architect

3 July 2018

A Blast From The Past - Enterprise Architecture Mantra

Recently, and quite unexpectedly, a set of my tweets from 2009 resurfaced on Linkedin. It appears they've been gracing the walls of a Gartner partner and are still in use. Needless to say, I was surprised and flattered so I thought I'd resurrect them from Twitter and post them all here for posterity. It turns out there are 29 in total (rather than the 21 on the wall) so here they are in full (including original hashtags).

#EAMantra (1) Finding out you are wrong is one step closer to being right

#EAMantra (2) Just enough, just in time, justified

#EAMantra (3) Future first

#EAMantra (4) If you can't draw it you probably don't understand it

#EAMantra (5) If you can draw it but can't explain it you still don't understand it

#EAMantra (6) If you can't find any gaps in your architecture, you missed something

#EAMantra (7) If no-one is questioning your architecture, no-one is using it.

#EAMantra (8) Architecture is like alcohol. Just the right amount gives you confidence, but you need to know when to stop

#EAMantra (9) Implementing architecture is like buying a car. First question is not "how much will it cost?" but "how much can I afford?"

#EAMantra (10) Measure the success of your architecture by counting how few architects you have, not how many.

#EAMantra (11) Failing to deliver perfection is not a crime. Failing to deliver is.

#EAMantra (12) If you know it is the right architectural choice, add it to your architecture. If you think you know it is, add that too.

#EAMantra (13) Plan EA in days and weeks not months and years

#EAMantra (14) A good architecture is like a Bonsai tree. Growing it is the easy part; the real art lies in the pruning.

#EAMantra (15) Do not mistake low complexity for lack of detail

#EAMantra (16) If your future architecture isn't changing, your people have stopped thinking. Trust me; this is not good.

#EAMantra (17) Know your place... and believe in its importance

#EAMantra (18) Do not expect EA to please those who know nothing, as you are removing their blissful ignorance.

#EAMantra (19) Do not follow the path of least resistance... Create it.

#EAMantra (20) They won't really get it until they use it. If they use it and still don't get it, you failed.

#EAMantra (21) He who favours a complicated framework is unlikely to produce a simple architecture

#EAMantra (22) Don't get so caught up in the journey that you forget the destination

#EAMantra (24) When documenting your architecture think "graphic novel" not "war and peace"

#EAMantra (25) When scoping EA responsibilities, remember: If you mow your neighbour's lawn, you may get a turf war instead of a thank you

#EAMantra (26) Remember - an architecture is not a product... but it should be the blueprint for one

#EAMantra (27) One sure sign your enterprise architecture isn't happening - you're not benefiting from it yourself.

#EAMantra (28) I am an enterprise architect and on the door of my ivory tower is a sign that reads "It can be done!"

#EAMantra (29) Make your enterprise architecture practical AND attractive - it may not be a building but people will have to live in it


The Enterprising Architect