Archive for January, 2012

Copyright wars

Andrew Curry writes:

Watching the SOPA/PIPA saga unfold from the other side of the Atlantic, it was difficult not to see it as a ‘wave war’, in which companies which grew up in different technology waves compete to set the frame of economic and policy discussion. On the one side, the media companies, creatures of the mass production era that dominated much of the 20th century; on the other, the technology companies that have grown up in the digital wave that followed it. (We wrote about these waves in our Futures Perspective report, Technology 2020).

The technology companies seem to be on the right side of the generational wave. As we noted last week in Futures Five, our fortnightly US newsletter for MONITOR clients,

most [Millennials] see far more nuance in pirated content-sharing than other generations: According to the 2011 Yankelovich MONITOR, 70% of Millennials indicate it’s “sometimes forgivable” if a person “views or downloads pirated content online (such as movies, television shows, music or shows),” almost double the 34% of Baby Boomers who feel the same way.

Of course, this is not a uniquely American issue. The proposed international treaty ACTA has the same intent as SOPA, as do sections of the UK’s Digital Economy Act. My view on this was shaped by James Boyle, the Duke University scholar who wrote The Public Domain, and his view was shaped by Thomas Jefferson, the first policy-maker to think seriously about copyright (yes, that Thomas Jefferson).

In a nutshell, we need copyright to reward creators, but in creating this legal privilege, we need to balance it so we don’t kill off the social, cultural, and economic gains from the free flow of knowledge, which let creators and innovators stand on the shoulders of others. The hugely extended copyright periods we now have in the USA and the UK are a grotesque tribute to the lobbying powers of media owners and old rock stars.

There’s another point here, too, about the way in which the mental landscapes of politicians shift only slowly. It’s been said that American politicians were surprised by the strength of opposition to the SOPA and PIPA bills, and more surprised to discover that their media industries were small fry, in economic terms, when compared to the tech industries.

The UK had a similar problem, in a very different sector, a decade ago. In response to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the government closed off large swathes of the countryside, only to discover that rural tourism and leisure were worth far more to the economy than farming. The policy-makers understood this. The politicians didn’t, because they’d got used to the farmers’ lobby. But, as with SOPA, the noise of the lobbyists had drowned out the quiet shifts of long-term change.

The image at the top is from the Bangstyle blog, where you will also find a perspective from the independent music sector. It is used with thanks.

30 January 2012 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

Trending @CES 2012

Last week, we and 150,000 of our closest gearhead friends attended CES, the consumer electronics industry’s largest trade event – and with a few days’ distance from the Las Vegas hype and glitter, we’ve been able to identify some of the show’s most interesting trends.

1. The Center of the CE World Is Shifting

While the big Japan brands – Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba – still dominate the show floor, it’s never been more obvious that Korea’s tech titans, Samsung and LG, now represent the front line of consumer electronics innovation. Or at least the innovation on display at CES. The biggest U.S. gadget players – HP, Google and especially Apple – are conspicuous by their absence; Microsoft has announced that next year, it too will exit the show, selling the rights to its coveted exhibit space to Dish Networks and China’s Hisense electronics. The latter is also a sign of the times: While Chinese brands are still quietly building market share rather than trying to technologically leapfrog, it’s only a matter of time before the biggest China players – Lenovo, Haier and TCL in particular – make a move for mindshare as well.

2. Say Hello to the Internet of Things

As of 2010, there was an average of one net-connected device per human being on Earth; by 2015, there will be an average of two. This reflects the reality that more and more information is being exchanged between intelligent devices, independent of human agency. In fact, networking giant Cisco recently estimated that the single fastest-growing category for Internet traffic is “machine-to-machine,” with the amount of data flowing between M2M modules now soaring at a rate of 258% per year.

Several brands at CES pushed the curve on the thing-based Internet. LG showed off the second generation of its “Thinq-enabled” home appliances line – e.g. a smart refrigerator that’s capable of tracking grocery purchases and ordering favorites when they run low, as well as transferring recipe suggestions to a connected smart stove.

Not to be outdone, Samsung unveiled its own plans for a household ecosystem of connected intelligent devices, with the Smart TV at its center. Will the television go from digital hearth to digital hub? Samsung – the world’s number-one seller of TVs – is banking on it.

3. Rise of the Intuitive, Immersive Interface

For obvious reasons, traditional devices are awkward input and control tools for an Internet of Things. (A microwave with a keyboard? No thanks.) This year’s CES showed dozens of ways that manufacturers are attempting to solve for this problem: Wall-sized multitouch surfaces (including a massive 82-inch capacitive display from Perceptive Pixel, whose technology powers the “smart walls” used on CNN), face recognition, and, of course, natural-language voice control.

Behind closed doors, Nuance – the developers of the speech recognition technology used in the iPhone 4S’s Siri intelligent agent – showed off their new DragonTV voice-based television interface, and it was impressive; Nuance says the software will power the smart TV offerings of “all the major manufacturers” (including, perhaps, Apple’s hypothetical new iTV?).

Meanwhile, startup Tobii unveiled an eye-tracking system that senses what you want to select next based on the position of your pupils. And PrimeSense, developers of the technology used in Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect peripheral, demonstrated the next-generation version of their motion recognition system, which uses a 3D camera to allow users to control devices with typical touchscreen gestures (swipe, pinch to zoom, and so on) – in thin air, from up to ten feet away.

4. What’s Next
Though some have questioned CES’s continued relevance in an era of instant communications and social networks, the show remains one of the few opportunities to watch the dynamics of the technology marketplace up close – allowing active observers to spot new technologies, track the uptake of trends, and identify emerging standards in real time. We’ll be following up on the phenomena we saw this year, so watch this space.

17 January 2012 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

From Chaos to Collaboration

Andy Stubbings writes:

Have you ever asked yourself what the travel guidebook of the future might look like, or why when it is arguably easier than ever to visit anywhere you like, it’s also more hassle to actually get there?

Andrew Curry and myself spent Wednesday this week with the global travel distribution company Amadeus, talking to journalists about the report, “From chaos to collaboration” we’d written for the company on the future of travel, and specifically how technology will change travel in the years to 2020.

In a nutshell: the report argues that over the next decade, thanks to a range of technologies as well as changes in social and economic contexts, there is great potential for travel to be enhanced at every stage of the journey by greater and more fluid interaction with other travellers and travel providers. The main benefits for travellers will be making the experience of getting to and from their destination less chaotic and stressful, and once they get somewhere else, they will be able to have a deeper experience of the place  by accessing other people’s collective experience. Most of the data that’s needed to do this already exists; the challenge is putting it together.

Sounds intriguing? The full report can be downloaded for free from here (opens pdf), and our friends at Kwittken, Amadeus’s international PR agency who worked with us on the report, have put together this infographic with some stats taken from the quantitative research done for the report.

A shareable version can be found here.

The picture is published here by The Futures Company under a Creative Commons licence: some rights reserved.

13 January 2012 at 11:20 am 2 comments

Doing Strategic Futures

Andrew Curry writes:

Just before Christmas, The Futures Company re-published a report which it wrote (as The Henley Centre) a decade ago, for the British government’s Cabinet Office, on understanding best practice in strategic futures work. It’s stood up well over the last ten years, because it focusses on organisational context and culture and on principles, rather than on methods. We were able to republish the work, which has been in the public domain, because of the generous copyright provisions of the UK’s Open Government Licence, which makes most Creative Commons licences look positively restrictive.

The report was based on an extensive benchmarking study, together with a literature review and a range of expert interviews. Without trying to summarise the whole thing here, one section has a set of methodological guidelines which are worth capturing:

  • Ensure there is clarity about the resource requirements of the work
  • Ensure that the process is inclusive
  • Ensure that people understand and trust the processes being used
  • Understand the limitations as well as the opportunities afforded by strategic futures thinking (there is no magic bullet)
  • Understand that the process will take time to deliver benefits to the organisation

The full report, published as part of our Future Perspectives thought leadership series, can be downloaded from the website (free, but registration required).

6 January 2012 at 6:48 pm Leave a comment

The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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