JimPinto.com - Connections for Growth & Success™
No. 171 : 1 January 2005

Keeping an eye on technology futures.
Business commentary - no hidden agendas.
New attitudes, no platitudes.

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Possibilities, predictions & prognostications

Over the past few years, Futurism has become one of my avocations. I write and speak as a technology futurist, and closely linked societal, business & political trends tend to creep into my material.

In this new century of rapid-fire technology inflections, and unstable political and societal shifts, professional futurism is being ridiculed. Indeed, a recent Wired article suggested that futurists are "loosely informed, jack-of-all-trades, trend-watching pontificators". But many still value the profession, and Futurists continue to hone their skills and methodologies. The prizes go to those seers who are able to forecast trends from very early signals, to pick winners (products, technologies, companies, stocks, political shifts) before they emerge as winners.

In today's accelerating technology environment, with ever-shifting societal forces, change is multi-dimensional. We need to go beyond old truisms like "smaller, cheaper, faster" to measure the future. Narrow metrics become irrelevant when one considers major paradigm shifts.

  • The Internet has shrunk the world to a village, crossing barriers of time, space and language, allowing knowledge-workers to be used from anywhere and reducing the advantages claimed by "developed" countries.
  • Biotechnology breakthroughs are near. Already animals have been cloned successfully, and human-cloning cannot be far behind. There will be serious ethical, religious, legal and societal implications.
  • China & India (some 40% of the world's population) will become part of the global economy, and will cause inexorable changes.
  • With steadily depleting resources, the world's seemingly incurable addiction to oil will bring serious consequences.
  • Powerful countries recognize that their traditional weapons are not effective against small groups of terrorists, and malcontents have discovered the effectiveness of their ultimate weapon - the suicide bombing. There seems to be no solution to this problem, other than diverting tremendous resources to combating terrorism, which drains much needed aid from pressing economic and humanitarian problems.
  • After the fall of Communism, traditional Capitalism was beset by Enronitis, which has still not been eradicated. Raw Capitalism simply makes the rich richer and widens the chasm between haves & have-nots. Without a conscience, or a country, it kowtows to dictators and despots to buy privilege, shifts resources for selfish advantage, and blindly utilizes slave labor simply to maximize profits.
  • Traditional religion, which preaches tolerance and harmony, seems powerless to produce solutions and is becoming irrelevant. Instead, religious extremism is growing rampant, producing polarization that demands drastic change.
Despite all these pressing problems, I remain an optimist. I believe that the solutions will come from within the problems. Human beings, when challenged, seem to come up with the right answers at the right time. The bigger the problem, the bigger the paradigm shift that brings the solution. The answer that seems too simple, or stupid, suddenly crystallizes to become the best solution.

And technology is always the catalyst for cataclysmic change. Ray Kurzweil insists that we will NOT experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century; rather we will witness on the order of 20,000 years of progress (at today's rate of progress, that is). That's hard to fathom. But it fuels my optimism that our seemingly insoluble problems at the start of this century will simply be the platform on which a better future is being built.

Click Pinto (June 2002) - Finding a softer approach for a new century

Click Book - Viable Utopian Ideas: Shaping a better world

Click The Pace and Proliferation of Biological Technologies

Click Kurzweil's Law - "the law of accelerating returns"

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2005 technology trends

So, with that "heavy" futures stuff out of the way, let's linger awhile on some lighter, somewhat more tangible technology futures.

Bill Gates makes an interesting observation:

    "There is a tendency to overestimate how much technology will change in the next two years, and a similar tendency to underestimate how much things will change in the next 10 years."
Most magazines now make year-ahead predictions for the New Year and we track the better prognosticators. Here are my technology picks for 2005, plus some stepping stones to the future.
  • Digital cameras grew 40% in 2004 and this growth will continue
  • Music, media and software bootlegging will be rampant worldwide
  • Moore's Law (computer power doubling) will continue (few more years)
  • Internet telephony is growing - VoIP is cheap, and effective
  • Identity and access management - everyone is being tracked
  • Biotech & Genomics yield results - medical treatments and revenues
  • Fuel-cell's will emerge toward practicality
  • New frontier of Search - your own desktop
  • Web services everywhere, machine-to-machine (M2M) is coming
  • The digital home expands

Click PC Magazine: 2005 What's in Your Future?

Click Gartner Predicts 2005: Technology, Applications, Industry

Click Red Herring - Top Ten Trends for 2005

Click Entrepreneur - Hot trends for 2005

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The future of industrial automation

No one can figure out the future merely by extending past trends; it's like trying to drive by looking only at the rear-view mirror. The automation industry does NOT extrapolate to smaller and cheaper PLC, DCS and SCADA systems; those functions will simply become embedded in hardware and software. Only anaemic growth can come through integration services which are too people-intensive. Healthy growth must come from totally new directions.

Explosive growth can only be generated from new technology inflection points: nanotechnology & nanoscale assembly systems; MEMS and nanotech sensors (tiny, low-power, low-cost sensors) which can measure everything and anything; and the pervasive Internet - machine-to-machine (M2M) networking. The future belongs to nanotech, wireless-everything, and complex adaptive systems.

The large, centralized production plant is a thing of the past. The factory of the future will be small and movable to where the resources are, and where the customers are. In the old days, centralized manufacturing was necessary because of localized know-how, design investments, technology and personnel. Today, all those things are available globally.

Beyond just labor, many businesses (including major automation companies) are also outsourcing knowledge work such as design and engineering services. This trend has already become significant, causing joblessness not only for manufacturing labor, but also for traditionally high-paying engineering positions.

Innovation is the true source of value, and that is in danger of being dissipated - sacrificed to a short-term search for profit. Significant competition is developing in rapidly developing countries which are making huge investments to boost their technology prowess.

Today, automation companies have little choice but to expand globally. Global business success demands management & leadership abilities that are different from old, financially-driven models. What is required is minimal domination of central corporate cultures, and maximum responsiveness to local customer needs. Marketing speed and business agility will have major influence on results. Multi-cultural countries (like the US) will have an eclectic advantage in the global arena.

In the new and different business environment of the 21st century, the companies that can adapt, innovate and utilize global resources will generate significant growth and success.

Click Manufacturing Automation - Automation at a crossroads

Click JimPinto.com - The Future of Industrial Automation

Click Using Global Resources to Succeed

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The future of personal computing

Some 23 years ago IBM created the PC standard, an "open platform" which changed the technology landscape. The category of "mainframe" computers still exists, but mid-level "mini-computers" have vanished.

Now the PC seems to have reached a plateau. IBM has exited by selling off its PC business to a Chinese company for a relatively small price. It signals the end of an era, the close of the first round. IBM, still one of the most powerful technology forces in the world, considers the PC a commodity. In my opinion, this is a mistake. It simply shows that IBM leadership has a lack of imagination.

David Gerlerntner, professor of computer science at Yale, is one of the best technology thinkers of recent times. Here are some of his ideas, mixed in with those of George Gilder, another eminent technology prognosticator.

The PC is 25 years old. That's about the same age as the TV in 1970, when it started going through all kinds of revolutions. The automobile turned 25 in the early '20s, and the revolution continued. The airplane was 25 in the 1920s, and continued to evolve till the jet engine was developed decades later.

There are big differences between the PC and these other technologies. But there is a big similarity: all took a lot longer than 25 years to reach maturity, and to eventually cause a major paradigm shift.

There are lots of things wrong with today's PC. All sorts of useful functions are available only as add-ons, available only to geeks & nerds. I for one would replace my old PCs more often if bringing up a new PC was not so difficult. Good PC design could and should make that problem disappear - connect your new machine to the Internet and all your files should appear on the new PC automatically. And there are many more basic pains that can and should be cured - spam, virus, unwanted advertising, etc. Clearly these cures will arrive sooner or later.

David Gerlerntner suggests many more possibilities. Why should anyone delete anything when data storage is dirt cheap, and search is easy? Why a flat windows-menus-mouse interface, when a 3-D screen landscape can be much more effective? Why aren't large-screen, living-room computers growing faster? Some day soon, new winners will emerge to build all these things and more into a radically more powerful and simpler PC.

George Gilder thinks that people get hung up on looks - associating form with function. But at remarkably regular intervals, through evolutionary and revolutionary steps, the shapes and sizes of things change.

Radios, for example have shrunk over the last 75 years - from something like a piece of furniture to the equivalent of a wristwatch. Computers changed - from rooms full of equipment desktops and laptops and PDAs. Similarly, the PC is getting even smaller and more portable, and much more feature-rich.

Cell phones that take pictures, browse the web and send email are already becoming commonplace. Tying all these functions together into one unit with the computing power of a desktop PC will bring in the age of the "teleputer" - a handheld device that's a fully functioning personal computer, digital video camera, telephone, MP3 player, video player, personal GPS, storage archive. And one wonders, what else?

Extrapolate these features, with still to be introduced inflections, and you'll have a revolution - as cable was to TV, the jet engine to flying, the integrated circuit to electronics, wireless to telephones, the Internet to communications.....

It's a pity that, with all its technology and marketing muscle, IBM didn't push the PC to the next level. They could have merged with Apple and put Steve Jobs in charge. Instead, they sold out to China - for all the wrong reasons.

Click David Gerlerntner - How to Build a Better PC

Click George Gilder - The Rise Of The 'Teleputer'

Click A parody of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky - "PC-Wocky"
Pinto 1989 poem which describes IBM's DOS battles

Click "You are old Father Big Blue"
1989 Pinto poem about IBM, parody of Lewis Carroll's Father William

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Jenny Pinto, artist & feminist
- making paper the old-fashioned way

Permit me some Pinto family pride.

My niece, Jenny Pinto, previously owned a very successful advertising company, making TV commercials in Mumbai, India. After 17 years of that fast-paced career, she decided that she wanted to do something that "reconnected" her to the earth. Papermaking - making paper the old-fashioned way - has put her on that path. She now has a beautiful workshop and studio in Bangalore (my original hometown, and that of her Dad, my elder brother Peter, who now lives in Pune).

Jenny makes a unique range of beautiful, translucent and textured paper from agricultural and craft waste fibers like banana, sisal, mulberry, rivers grasses, pineapple and more. She says she loves the look and touch and feel of beautiful paper, and enjoys exploring various natural fibers. She feels that the interplay of light and paper is exciting, and ways to make paper 3-dimensional, through texturing, sculpting, layering, is like play. The fun she has shows in her work.

In her studio, Jenny also designs a range of lights, home accessories, books and stationery using her own paper. A committed feminist, she also helps to set up small rural groups of women entrepreneurs.

Jenny's new studio in Bangalore, has been constructed with mud bricks, and is designed to harvest rain water and also recycle waste water from both, the papermaking process and sewage. This water is used in her garden, where she grows some organic fruits and vegetables.

It's interesting that Jenny's brother, my nephew Neil Pinto, also has a successful, multi-million handmade paper business in Kansas City, USA. Neil's company - Shizen Design - sells handmade paper and related products only through Retailers and Distributors, so you can't buy direct. But, handmade paper with rose-petals or leaves embedded, that you buy at Art Supply and Craft stores everywhere, likely originates from Neil's company.

I am proud of my niece and nephew, Jenny and Neil Pinto!

Click You'll enjoy visiting Jenny Pinto's website

Click Neil Pinto's ShizenDesign website

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I had several enthusiastic responses to my Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, and several people got Roombas for Christmas. There was just one complaint - the battery was not holding its charge, and iRobot (the manufacturer) was non-responsive, with no upgrade policy to get a newer model. Hmmmm.... Whatodo...?

Richard Kunst [Richard.Kunst@kromet.com] is getting TWO Roombas:

    "Your eNews keeps encouraging me to develop an enhanced digital manor at home. I have been looking at the Roomba vacuum for a considerable amount of time. Now I have deleted all my other requests to Santa Claus so that I can get my own personal Roomba.

    "My challenge is has been difficult to locate one here in Canada before the Festive season. But I truly look forward to playing with my new toy. I have also decided to give one to my father who is 74 years old and always intrigued with the latest technology. I am sure this toy will keep him occupied for days..."

Click Take a look at Roomba on the Amazon.com website

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Mitch Carr [mitchcarr@msn.com] sent us this view of Christmas Future:
    "Two decades ago the cartoonist, Gahan Wilson, sketched a cartoon for Playboy magazine which showed boxes full of broken toys stuffed into a corner of the attic. The caption simply read, "... and then we'll get him". These battered and broken toys had been lying in wait, plotting the demise of their owner when he finally returned to the corner of the attic where the toys lay in wait.

    "So what does that show us about the Christmas of 2014? Imagine 10 years from now when all products have RFID tags and many have Zigbee communications. Perhaps UPnP will finally get it right and create automated configuration scenarios. So imagine that these toys that are thoughtfully purchased and carefully wrapped are now sitting under the tree waiting to be unwrapped --- or are they? Or are they all talking to each other and configuring themselves to play together?

    "Is the new Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, "From the Grave" CD automatically adding itself to your play list? Is your Play Station 7 configuring itself to operate with the virtual reality heads up display? Is the new food processor scanning your pantry inventory based on recipes from your new on-line cookbook? All of this before you even open the first gift. Imagine all those packages wrapped in Currier&Ives paper whispering to each other about how life will be better."

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David Matherly [david@matherly.com] feels that corporate greed fuels excessive off shoring:
    "For publicly held companies, I see the root of the problem as plain greed under the guise of maximizing shareholder wealth. Who's winning here?

    "US companies are establishing partnerships with Chinese suppliers as well as sharing technology and opening plants in China. The effect is still the same; US plants closing, the cutting of overhead, and the downsizing of company jobs.

    "Boards of Directors defend these actions as necessary to ensure the health and survival of the company. I think many of us forget that a Board's number one responsibility is to maximize shareholder wealth. But when did one stakeholder become more important than the other? Isn't the worker as important a stakeholder as the shareholder?

    "Maximizing shareholder wealth should go hand-in-hand with taking care of stakeholders. Who's got more at stake when plants are shut down, plants are opened off-shore, and workers are laid-off - the shareholders or the workers?

    "For those of us who still have jobs, I think we could rationalize the lay-offs, freezing of company wages, reduced insurance coverage, private labeling, opening of offshore plants, etc. if it meant our company's survival instead of death. But what about holding companies with strong cash positions? What's their excuse? When is enough, enough?"

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