Monday, 17 July 2017

How emerging future technology will change social reality

The ultimate future of our social wellbeing and how it is influenced by technology is an exciting but scary thought for me. With new technologies emerging mostly for commercial reasons and not for the greater good of society, could the very things that make us human come under threat?

In my previous post I wrote about about the definition of real social and my belief that the majority of current social technology is taking us down a path of human disconnection. My hope being that real social technologies will gain traction in the not so distant future. These two paths of differing social technologies, the real and the virtual, are likely to become more apparent in the future with new technologies set to either enhance or replace our human-to-human connections.

The first and most obvious technologies that will affect social reality are those that redefine reality itself. Virtual Reality (VR) has had a 30 year history but has only recently taken a massive leap forward. Facebook's acquisition of Oculus for a staggering $2 billion in 2014 puts the cutting edge of VR technology within the hands of the worlds biggest social network. The purchase and valuation was more than just an investment in modern was insight into Facebook's future strategy.

Facebook clearly sees a future in which we can connect with each other in a virtual way with the convenience of not having to leave the comfort of our own spaces. We will be able to have virtual face-to-face gatherings of our friends or meetings with work colleagues regardless of where we reside. We will meet in virtual locations, whether that be a virtual representation of a real space or in Homer Simpson's living room. The things we communicate to each other will be virtually brought into the space to support our conversations in real-time. There are, without any doubts, some very beneficial results to society through the introduction of virtual social technology. The best examples being the sharing of the world's best education and medical advice to anyone, anywhere that has a device.

Virtual reality, just to clarify, is.... well, virtual! There is no reality in virtual reality. VR therefore inherits the very same problems as traditional social of the current age in that it disconnects us from physical human-to-human experiences. Luckily, for us real social advocates, there is Augmented Reality (AR). AR will co-exist with VR and offer us much of the same supporting benefits but without the full takeover of our senses. Computer generated visuals and sounds will be augmented (overlaid) onto our real-world environment to make the best of our real life experience.

AR has the clear disadvantage to VR in that virtual simulations cannot be created and human connections need to be physically present. It does however, have the advantage that the devices (most likely wearable tech to start with) will always be on and most importantly, will facilitate our real social connections instead of virtually replacing them.

Unfortunately, other emerging technologies do not offer as much hope in pushing the real social agenda. Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing, drones, advanced biotech and robotics all have the capacity and arguably the intention of replacing things humans once did. Even sex, the most intimate of human-to-human experiences, is not far off being replaced by technology and thats for both the fun bit as well as the reproduction.

So what we are left with is a huge moral dilemma! If there is a future where I can be born artificially and delivered by drone, get educated, socialise, work and go on holiday using VR, buy all my goods online and have them 3D printed and even have a partner (or 2) that is actually a robot, why would I ever leave my home? I would just be permanently and remotely plugged in!

Now you may be thinking this is all a little far fetched but we have already had a taste of what might happen with Second Life, a space in which people learn, socialise and even do business within a virtual world....and this has been going on since 2003! Some of the more extreme users have admitted their virtual digital lives are more important and fulfilling to them than their real ones....reality is just for eating, sleeping and shitting!

The end to our humanity as we know it (assuming we haven't nuked ourselves or gone down 'The Terminator' route), is the convergence of all this tech to such an advanced level that we are able to reach a state of Hyper Reality, a space that once plugged directly into our brains, makes it impossible to tell the difference between what is real and what is simulated. Our bodies become vessels for the mind (much like the film 'The Matrix' but of our own free-will). It might seem farcical but some of the brightest minds on our planet actually think we may already be living in this world, with the world as we know it being the virtual one. Some, including tech billionaire Elon Musk are known to be funding projects to get us out of it. It seems plausible to me too. Its inevitable that tech will evolve to this level in the future so assuming it can happen in the future, there is a very high chance its already been done.

If we are (or will be) living in a simulation so real we can't tell the difference through our senses, then the benefit of real social ceases to exist...or does it? Are there inexplicable, spiritual energies that connect us to other life-forms? In many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions the soul is the incorporeal essence of a living being that could never be replicated by technology. Maybe Hyper Reality is the catalyst for us to find out the true meaning of life?

I'm always positive about our future, after all we are the ones that define it. I therefore think our social future will end up being determined by human ethics. Its been 20 years since we cloned 'Dolly the sheep' but there has been no human cloning and its illegal in almost every country in the world. I'm sure that when something threatens our very real existence there will be some kind of revolution if we haven't already prevented its likelihood. We may be talking hundreds of years into the future but this path has already started now with the current social technologies that have disconnected human-to-human contact. For me there is no better time to save humanity than the present.

{EDIT 28/07/17 - For those that are interested the BBC reported the following yesterday...don't say I didn't warn you about the other future things 😏}

Monday, 10 July 2017

What is Real Social? Is it the end of Social Media?

Real social is a new kind of technology sector that I have defined for the purposes of differentiating types of social tech. 

A real social company creates products and services to enhance society in a very physical and real way. A real social company differs from a traditional social company in that it creates a technology solution that is temporarily used in order to increase human-to-human connectivity as opposed to permanently placing the technology between the relationship in a human-to-device-to-human manner.

Many of the existing social media platforms do a good job of connecting existing contacts and facilitating communication between them but have they really made humanity more social? Although the majority of people in the developed world use these social platforms, they are becoming aware of the negative effect they have on their ‘real’ social lives. Regardless of opinion, there is no doubt that social media has had a major impact on individual behaviour as well as society as a whole.

Examples of existing ‘real social’ businesses include, Y plan and doodle. Examples of ‘traditional social’ businesses include Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook (although Facebook events would be considered real social) and Tinder. WhatsApp, Skype, Slack and FB Messenger are considered social communication and not real social communication tools (even when using video-to-video communication).

Real Social Tech Ltd is a company I have setup, based in London that endeavours to better the society we live in by creating technology solutions which promote human physical connectivity. Our intention is to offer an alternative way for people to interact with each other that bucks the trend in creating social tech that results in physical disconnection.

A real social business is not just delivering a different type of product or service to that of a traditional social business. It also has very different internal culture, values and objectives. To give you an idea I have listed our values at Real Social Tech:

We use social insight and not technical insight to create tech, which is better than the competition in a fundamental and significant way. A technical insight led company (such as google) finds new ways of applying tech or design which either drives down the cost or increases the function and usability of the product compared to its competition. A social insight led company looks at human behaviour and its relation to tech in order to serve a human need that hasn’t been previously identified or fulfilled to the optimum standard.

Society first, user second. The greater society at large should always be prioritised over the individual needs or wants of the user. We believe that if we focus on the greater good of mankind then the user will reap the benefit because we are all living in the same social world. Companies which put the user first can make successful tech, but often do so at the detriment of the greater good and often have a less sustainable business model. On the face of it, a lot of these companies are solving user problems but over time it can end up creating a new culture that impacts society and our authentic interaction with others. At Real Social Tech we would assert that, deep down, people want that authentic interaction more than anything.

We create tech to work alongside natural human social behaviour, not change human social behaviour to fit in with our product. Civilised mankind has existed for thousands of years and many of the positive human behaviours that have evolved to form the basis of a better society are being replaced or repressed by the introduction of tech. We should always remember that mankind are the masters of technology and not the other way around.

Our tech should always maximise human-to-human relationships and never become a barrier to them. The interaction with our products should be as quick, simple and intuitive as possible…not just because we want to create a better user experience with our tech, much like our competition, but because we believe that good social tech should serve its purpose and then get out of the way. This belief is in contrast to almost all social companies that survive by retaining the user within their tech for as long as possible.

Our first project at Real Social Tech is a dating platform. Dating is a sector that needs some serious real social alternatives. Amongst the success stories that they promote so well, are a huge amount of disgruntled users fed up with the way online dating works....but what option do they have? Much like the big boys in social, users go to where the crowd is already present....well, that is until they are shown another way.

There will always be a place for traditional social media, especially for documenting and sharing communications. Its just my strong opinion that we use it too much, to the point where we have often replaced or minimised our 'living in the moment' face-to-face connections.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Reading list for creative and tech entrepreneurs

I'm passionate about work-related learning. My knowledge at work gains me respect and more importantly helps me to gain the background in order to form my own ideas and opinions. Whilst there are many different ways to learn I am still yet to find a better way than old fashioned reading.

Aside from learning specific knowledge, reading also helps you form the understanding of how to write and has been proven to increase your intelligence (even if you just read fiction). The people that tend to write successful books are at the top of their game. I mean why pay for a course by a local teacher when you can read, in more detail, a book from the worlds leading authority?

Luckily (or not so luckily), I have a 2 hour commute each day to and from work and use this time to read. I've literally read hundreds of books from my sector since I started university 20 years ago. I wanted to share a list of which books I consider to be the best books I have read. I will put my top books in each category and update this list continually each time I discover another great book.

Design / Creative
UX / CX / Product

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Brexit. When did internationalism stop being perceived as progressive?

I've heard so many factors being debated as to whether we should leave or remain in the EU, from immigration to sovereignty, economics and self governance. I passionately believe the most important reason and the one that is not so often mentioned by the remain camp for obvious reasons is internationalism.

Europe has been host to the world's most bloody wars for most of the last millennium. It was only in our grandparent's generation that 2 world wars were started in Europe and took the lives of almost 100 million people....nuclear and biological weapons were invented and some of the worst crimes against humanity took Europe. The world is still a complicated and unstable place but now has the potential to be more dangerous than ever before.

The formation of the EU and our desire to be part of something that works together on a bigger scale shows the rest of the world how it should be done, from the troubled Middle East to the Americans with their potential to elect Trump.  If we are to ever unite as one world then there are steps forward and backwards with leaving the EU being a giant jump back.

If we stay on this nationalist path it won't stop with leaving the EU. Scotland will have a second referendum and leave and then Northern Ireland and Wales will most likely look to join them and attempt to get back into the EU. Then what....the nationalists get their little England back. We will be proudly alone and fighting patriotically but twice as hard to have the same quality of life and have taken the first step in disconnecting Europe.

I know things are different outside the capital but I'm an Englishman in London that will often go out with friends in groups of 10+ and be the only Englishman of the's the nicest feeling and what makes me feel so patriotic. London is the most integrated place in the world and I'm proud to be British as a result of our country making this happen, allowing me to meet some of the most amazing people that are culturally different from me. Each of my friends work, pay taxes and spend their income in this country to the benefit of the nationalist living inside and outside London.

I want to be part of a peaceful Europe that works together to benefit all of US. There is no us and them...we are all Europeans, we are all human. The day Europe grows and the likes of Turkey fulfil their obligations to join will be the day we are safer and have a more united world than ever before and I hope to see this happen in my lifetime. 

In the most simplest sense I'm a loving father that wants his daughter to grow up in a world that respects our human similarities and differences. A world that attempts at even the most difficult of times to avoid war and unite to make a safer place for all of us to live in. Staying in the EU enables this, leaving the EU makes it harder.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Democracy Vs. Intelligence - The Donald Trump Effect

World politics is a hot topic again with the US presidential primaries appearing daily in the world press. As the rest of the world watches in bemusement at the successes of Donald Trump should we be asking ourselves what on earth is going on with Democracy? Should we just accept the way it is and will always be or can we be forward thinking and make change?

Growing up in the UK we are taught to believe that a democracy, ours being a Parliamentary monarchy, is the only way to fairly give power to the people. Although this may be true, it may not be the best thing for the country and the general population as a whole. Our views about the power of a democracy have been tainted by modern history which includes the victory in the world wars over dictatorships, the American’s strong fight over communism during the cold war and their general economic and military dominance over the rest of the world.

With all of the human tragedy that has been caused protecting our democratic freedoms, it’s no wonder we are defensive about it and resistant to change. The trouble with a democracy is the exact same reason that it’s great; everyone has a say.

Assuming a nation’s populous is made up of a majority of emotionally and mentally intelligent people educated in political difference then you’d expect them to make the best decision for themselves. The US population has a huge variance in education from its 14% that are illiterate (the UK isn’t much better) to the 1% that are considered some of the most intelligent people in the world. That combined with the massive power the US media has in influencing people with fear and propaganda, particularly encouraging islamophobia, makes the population look to vote for the likes of someone that could potentially fix their fears. The reality of course would be to seriously damage their country's domestic and foreign social values. In the UK we are sadly seeing more extreme far-right groups becoming popular in politics with almost half of the London mayoral candidates in 2016 representing far-right groups.

So what’s the answer to these problems? It’s been suggested and controversially debated that there should be an intelligence test/test in knowledge that would cover very basic literacy, history and geopolitics. If the potential voter failed the test they would either not be allowed to vote or would have a reduced vote count.

Initially this sounds socially disruptive as a lack of education positively correlates to the wealth and background of the life someone is born into. Visions of an elitist voting population selfishly voting for candidates that provide them with even more wealth at the expense and suffering of others springs to mind.

On the other side of the argument how can you expect someone to vote in the best interests of their nation when they are illiterate, have poor to no understanding of the country and world they live in and do not understand the differences and implications in candidate’s policy manifestos. In no other walks of life do we empower people with such a large responsibility that does not match up with the relevant intelligence to support it. Lawyers bring in expert witnesses; companies hire people with the expertise needed to fulfil their roles and teachers teach children in the subject that they were once educated in.

Recently a plethora of the aforementioned US 1% including celebrities, academics and even some business people, made it clear that they would leave the country if Trump were to come into power. This would have the opposite effect and ostracise the elite! Whatever your stance on this matter, one thing is for sure. If ever someone with extreme views became the elected head of a powerful nation, the world would become a less stable place.

UPDATE 07/05/16: London just voted in Sadiq Khan as Mayor, the first Muslim to be voted as Mayor in a major Western city. Maybe there's hope for us yet! I hope this has some influence in the US.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

My Theme - The Impact of Technology on Modern Society

For as long as I can remember I've felt there's something exciting at the intersection of technology, human behaviour & society. I deeply believe that in the last 10 years part of our society has changed for the worse, caused by human behaviors that are abnormally created from interacting with ill designed software, sites and apps.

Whilst there are real solutions out there that solve human need and wants in a socially responsible way, the sole focus for many product owners is financial success. These (bad) product owners use the human computer interaction element of a user experience to make popular and usable software, sites and apps that appear to solve a need when in reality they are not. Some products were setup responsibly but after their owners gained a massive user base, they could afford to be more monopolistic in the features they subjected their audiences to. Regardless, it just doesn't correlate that a popular feature makes a socially responsible feature.

Never in history has there been a better time to be thoughtful of the impact that technology has on our society, with human to computer experiences often replacing the human to human experiences we've been having since the creation of mankind. Kids are playing consoles instead of playing outside with their friends, teenagers are more interested in the ideal selfie than living in the moment and adults out at dinner are using messenger services instead of talking to the people next to them.

It was once frowned upon for the family to have dinner in front of the TV but the way I see it, at least everyone was interacting in a many-to-one relationship with the TV, allowing for some physical social engagement. These days it's more common for each family member to be engaged in a one-to-one relationship with their own device.

I believe social technologies should be used to enhance our human to human experiences instead of either replacing them with human to computer ones or putting the computer between two humans as a barrier to real life engagement. My interest in studying these modern social changes will hopefully lead to the creation of new technical products that enhance social interaction with people in the physical sense.

Friday, 1 August 2014

The problem with using Search as a learning tool

The world of learning has changed significantly with the introduction of the Internet and search engines. Many children in their first years of education in the UK are aware of what search is and the basics of how to use it. The next major innovation that will change the classroom environment will be the introduction of tablets. Still in its infancy in being introduced effectively at school, it’s easy to see a future where each child uses their tablet just as an adult worker would use their laptop. Search should then replace the need for supporting paper-based knowledge right?

Well children are already doing this and it is a new age life skill that is (or should be) taught in the classroom. These skills are mostly taught like other research skills including understanding fact Vs fiction, the evaluation of evidence, quality, relevance and suitability. Although these skills are vitally important for a digital savvy future my argument is that we are teaching skills to children based on the limitations these platforms supply.

So what are the problems with search?

It’s easier to answer this question by re-emphasising the purpose of search. Most people would define successful Search as:

‘The returning of a list of results as quick as possible ordered by relevancy from inputting a string of text’.

This definition is limited by the preconception of what search engines such as Google actually do. If we strip the definition back to the core purpose of search we get something simpler like:

‘Returning the most relevant content as quick as possible’.

It may be that a user searching for a term gets the results they asked for in milliseconds but that isn’t the breadth of the whole user-experience. Most of the time we search for a term and then work down the list of results, opening each page, going back to the results, trying again, maybe refining our search again until we finally find something that is relevant (in our own opinions). This human behavioral element to finding what we want is also part of the search. There must be some holes, as the perfect search would give you what you wanted first time around.

Now before I proceed please don’t get me wrong, Search is incredibly useful and has its purpose in life but in the capacity of using it as a learning tool it could be better, couldn’t it? I’ll go into detail about some of the problems that exist and then go into our solution.

Problem 1 - Search Input
The input for all search engines is a string of text. In our lives there are things we know and things we know that we don’t know. In most cases we type into search things that we know that we don’t know; headlines we’ve heard in the news we want more detail on, industry buzz words that we want to understand, a film that we’ve heard is good and want to watch the trailer. The trouble is it’s the things we don’t know that we don’t know that forms the majority of the world we live in. The Internet is full of this type of content but how do you get to it?

When learning a subject from scratch the entire subject is full of things we don’t know that we don’t know. It’s only as we progress from the introduction we find things to develop our knowledge on. Within Search the typical user experience can be expressed as something I call sidestepping. It’s when a user carries out a search, uses the results to find things they didn’t know they didn’t know and then refines the search and repeats until they have learnt the things they didn’t know existed from the start of the process. This sidestepping takes time and is limited by the users willingness to step out of their comfort zone.

Problem 2 – Non-linear
Learning from search is mostly difficult because there is an open way to navigate the search results. We all know that teaching a subject matter needs to be done in some sort of linear order. We need to learn English language before we can learn Shakespeare and we need to understand basic chemistry before we can understand photosynthesis. In its most simple form we need to read chapter 1 before we can make sense of chapter 3.

Search does not help us navigate in this linear fashion and is dependent on us selecting the appropriate steps in the right order or finding content that does it for us. It cannot guide a student but can offer support when guidance is given.

Problem 2 - Relevancy of content
This is probably the part search does best but there are still some problems. Content relevancy is retrieved based on a complex set of algorithms, which is limited by a formula. This formula is different for different search engines, constantly evolves and is as much dependent on the optimization of the page as its real relevancy.

Problem 3 – Quality
The quality of search content is variable. The search engines have limited capacity to filter out bad quality content, no way of telling the difference between fact and fiction and no way of assessing the credibility of the contents author.

Problem 4 - Suitability
Suitability refers to the matching of content with the users profile. This could be for example the age of the user, something very important in primary and secondary education as content written for an 11 year old might be very different for a 14 year old.

Despite the big-brother controversy around collection of user data the search engines know little personal details about the user. Social networks on the other hand do hold a considerable amount of data about you and if the search engines linked to the API’s of social networks for example Google plus to Google there is huge potential to increase the content suitability.

The problem though, will still remain until the author has a way of tagging their content with the attributes of its target audience.

Problem 5 - Is it online and accessible?
Some of the best content that exists in the learning arena has been commissioned by private companies such as BBC learning, wishing to license or sell its content. Its obvious that content in these cases is hidden from the Internet and/or from search.

All of these problems with search contribute to the reasons why content is still digested in the classroom in a linear fashion and even why we still use textbooks. Sure you can digitize the textbooks but what’s the point? Wouldn’t it be intelligent to make use of the wealth of knowledge that already exists?

So consider this as a solution. What if we give access to the plethora of content on the Internet but solve the aforementioned problems by bolting on some software as an interface.

The search results are taken from combining Yahoo, Bing and Google results. We then remove duplicate content.

We start by solving the problems of Search input and its open navigation approach by creating what we call a narrative. Each subject mater will be packaged with a different narrative and can be as specific or as broad as we like. For example we could create a specific narrative of ‘blue whales’ which was a sub-narrative of ‘natural history’. The narrative would put content into a logical order under chapters much like a books contents page.

Each chapter of the narrative has pre-determined keywords assigned to it that act as the search term thus a student would never have to think about what string of text they should be searching for. Each chapter can also be cross-referenced to specific criteria for an educational curriculum. This solves order and input but what about the relevance, quality, and suitability?

There is only one way to do this and that is to use human expertise. An expert in the subject matter vets each piece of content on the learning platform. It goes through an approval process that checks out the quality of the content and the credibility of the author. If approved, it is tagged with extra meta-data that indicates which chapter in the narrative it should appear, a tiny overview of the content, which parts of the curriculum it satisfies, suitability of age-range and how long it will take to digest.

There’s also one other thing to add to the content…. premium content that does not exist on search! We make arrangements with the content owners and then add our enhanced meta-data to this content in the same way we do with the existing search content.

This software could also includes tools for the user such as note taking, testing and evaluation as well as tools for teachers such as student activity, plagiarism checking and the creation of custom narratives.

If anyone wants to make this with me let me know 😊