Wednesday, February 08, 2012

If these are the next 5 "big" technologies, I'd sure like to see the small ones

Occasionally the doors to the research laboratories in Silicon Valley and other high tech centers open just a crack to reveal what the geniuses and entrepreneurs inside are doing to improve humanity’s future.  That’s why I always take notice when I see headlines like this one from KGO-TV in San Francisco: “Next big 5 technologies that will change your life.” 

Oh good!  What does the future hold in store?

This time the story features some visionary, blue sky projections from Bernie Meyerson, IBM's vice president of innovation.  In tones of earnest excitement Meyerson describes the astonishing breakthroughs just over the horizon. 

1.  Phones and computers will actually know what you’re thinking (by observing your behavior);

2.  No more spam (the filters will improve);

3.  No more passwords (computers will have facial recognition, voice recognition, etc.);

4.  New ways to charge phones (micro-generators produce energy from the body’s motion);

5.  The digital divide will disappear (as godsends like items 1 through 4 trickle down to the world's grateful poor).

It comes as no surprise that silliness like this comes from a vice president of “innovation.”  To a great extent, “innovation” has become the brand name for projects of breathtaking triviality.   For those obsessed with “performance measures,” here are some good ones – “metrics” for a civilization that staunchly refuses to apply the best of its knowledge to the world’s most urgent problems – peak energy, climate crash, global inequality, world hunger, environmental crises too numerous to list -- but instead generates an endless stream of clever toys designed for high end consumers already sated with gadgets galore.

Max Weber accurately described our predicament about a century ago: 

“Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has obtained a level of civilization never before achieved'" 

(from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905)



  1. Anonymous1:24 PM

    Hi Langdon,
    I've been visiting your site for about six months now and have enjoyed your droll commentary. This post is timely in that a large ad appeared today in the Seattle Times lauding the"outstanding technical achievements" of certain Microsoft personnel titled "On the Shoulders of Giants--the work they do carries us forward." It then goes on to profile someone named Alex Kipman whose work on Kinect for Xbox 360 "makes technology disappear". Since "the greatest barrier between people and the entertainment they consume is the controller" he and his team "created the technology that enables Kinect to "read" a person's movements, understand their voice, and recognize who they are". This entails some interesting presumptions, notably, the grave necessity of fusing people with the entertainment they consume, thus rendering entertainment all-consuming. Lord knows that takes precedent over being able to make the rent or pay for chemo but, hey,life's about more than mere survival. More seriously, though, you considered the aspect of social control that this possibly represents? It would appear that this puts us one step closer to the Matrix.
    Thank you for this wonderful blog!

  2. Anonymous1:33 PM

    Oops! Third from last sentence should have read, "Have you considered...".

  3. As always, a good read. But do we want computers to recognize us by voice and or face recognition. Orwell would have a thing or two to say about that. And the idea that we get no spam at all means that the filters will be screening our messages and gathering information about our networks, interests, and perhaps our ideas. Just why is this something I want to pay for?