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