Into The Future: What’s Coming Up
At this time of the year newspapers are full of predictions; Nitrate-free bacon is coming! And highways of driverless cars! And miraculous medical advances! Sadly, most of them not in my lifetime but maybe in yours.
When technology geared up for the next great leap forward none of us realised that its two biggest manifestations, the internet and AI, would eventually merge. Reading the signs, we should have seen that tech-revolutions no longer break like waves but produce continuous quiet ripples that incrementally change our lives.
The Uber revolution introduced electric cars to London overnight, but the innovative taxi service is controversial. The San Francisco company continually tests ethical boundaries with its aggressive lack of corporate responsibility, and is banned in many European territories. It is currently under review in the UK.
In London, one accidental side-effect involves thorny racial issues; Uber drivers are mostly BAME. The drivers of London’s luxurious black taxis are nearly all white. While governments feel uneasy about Uber the public loves it, and the peer-review safety system keeps the company’s most visibly aggressive tendencies in check. Likewise, AirB&B faces legal problems around the world for their lack of corporate responsibility, but is loved by users. But when it comes to paying taxes, what first appeared to be the application of people power in these innovations has proven to be corporate arrogance on a scale that even Coca-Cola never managed.
Supply-demand economics have long been due for an overhaul, and now, with surge pricing, virtual markets and the rise of consumer power we’re seeing an electronic takeover. We chase the easiest, cheapest options, and the internet is helping us.
The HomeEnt Revolution
The creation of multiple hardware devices to control programme input not only swept the world but made watching TV insanely complicated. God knows how elderly people manage to sort out their Apple TV, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix and subsidiary delivery services from their Blu-Ray, 4K and streamed film services. The studios are now insects compared to these producer-behemoths, and once they enter the world of film production we’ll see the collapse of the traditional Hollywood system.
Netflix tested the waters by making ‘War Machine’, an enjoyable if heavy-handed Brad Pitt satire that flopped, but it also bought ‘Okja’, outraging many in the industry. Having purchased the film at Cannes, Netflix prevented it from being seen in cinemas, and added it to their online roster before entering it in the Oscar race. ‘Okja’ was made for a big screen debut, something its buyers prevented it from having, so how can it be nominated for film awards?
The answer to this is that Netflix, Amazon, Apple et al want to remove the distinction between formats. Movies don’t make or break their carriers, so if one does badly it doesn’t damage the brand. Theatrical releases in the USA are dying faster than anyone foresaw and studios need to future-proof their business. The Chinese and Indian box office is now more important than America. Just around the corner is a barely noticed film, ‘Spiderman – Into the Spiderverse’, which crushes together photo-realistic settings and animated characters. The dream has long been to eliminate actors from blockbusters, and the East is far more accepting than the West. Such films could also remove the entertainment lines between East and West. Spidey won’t do it, but someone else might.
Home AI may not be quite as all-conquering as it first seemed. The front door, phones, TV, music and heating in my flat are all controlled by AI accessible on my phone from anywhere in the world. It has incredible capabilities that I barely use. Apparently my electronic key fob contains more technology that the Voyager space program.
Of course, advances only catch on if they’re needed. Amazon became a kind of Woolworths home delivery service, Uber, AirB&B, One Fine Stay, Netflix and Apple have all become indispensable. But the most loudly touted advances often turn into the biggest casualties.
The Death of Paper
It’s surprising that e-books found themselves with only a limited market; a brilliant portable tool for any student, an e-reader drops notes and highlights onto your laptop, defines words, remembers characters – and isn’t as enjoyable to read as a book. Sadly, before its sales slowed it managed to kill off the paperback.
In the UK book sales are healthy. In the US they’re in very deep trouble. Newspapers are folding, traditional TV networks are dying and everything is consolidating into personal device formats. It turns out that most people don’t care about picture quality, colour, sharpness or surround sound. What they want is portability. American males have all but given up reading in favour of browsing. What happens in Great Britain always used to happen first in the USA. But America’s international standing is changing fast, and perhaps this time we won’t follow their POTUS’s lead.
There’s one subject upon which all financial experts agree; pulling away from the EU is already costing us dearly, and it’s only just the start. How we turn this one around is anyone’s guess. The future may arrive with a bill we can’t afford.