Imagine if most of your kitchen surfaces were covered with thin panel TV technology. The front door of your refrigerator would be a TV. Each cabinet door would be a TV. The microwave door would be a TV.
This idea would be impractical with current technology. But I imagine we aren't far from having some sort of bendable screen material we can glue to any surface. It might be something like this.
Let's say the kitchen knows who you are by the phone in your pocket that is communicating via Bluetooth. Imagine that you walk into the kitchen and all the TVs come alive. Perhaps the starting channel is nothing but scenery. Or perhaps each member of the family has a default channel that comes up when they are the only ones in the kitchen. If you have a home security system, perhaps it shows all of your camera views.
You can control everything in the kitchen by hand signals. Point to one monitor and "toss" a TV show to it. Pull up a recipe on another screen, a shopping list on another, and the family calendar on the fourth.
You'd have speakers in the ceiling, of course, so if you play music videos the kitchen will become a concert hall. If a Skype call comes in, it pops up on screen and the music cuts off automatically. Emails and texts would pop up on separate screens. Just face the screen to which you plan to respond and use voice commands.
Now mom or dad can prepare dinner while catching up on some TV shows, answering texts and emails, and organizing the family schedule.
I can also see the kitchen screens being synchronized to dinner plans. When it is time for something to go into the microwave, for example, the screen on the microwave door would turn into a picture of that item. When it's time to chop some vegetables, a screen would show you the size of the cubes you want. I can imagine every step of the menu being visual and interactive. No more reading wordy recipes. Just watch the pictures and follow along.
The kitchen might need some sort of sound-proof doors to keep the rest of the house quiet while the kitchen is rocking.
Making a shopping list would be as simple as speaking the items you want. A picture of the item would pop up on screen for confirmation. When you're happy with your list, just send it to the cloud and your groceries will be delivered to your door.
When you need to check on the kids doing homework just make a video call from the kitchen. By then all homework will be done on a tablet or device with a camera. If your kid takes longer than five seconds to answer the call, he wasn't doing homework.
When it is time for dinner, call up a map that shows the location of all family members by their phones. You can see your spouse is only halfway home on the commute and your kid is still at soccer practice, so you time dinner accordingly. (Here I'm assuming privacy is a relic of the past.)
When it's time to eat, tell the kitchen to automatically text each family member and show any replies on the screen.
You should also have cameras on the stove top so you can walk away and still keep an eye on whatever is boiling via your smartphone. Better yet, the smartkitchen should keep an eye on boiling pots on its own and adjust the heat as needed.
The kitchen is already the fun place to be in the house. But we're nowhere near the limit of how cool the kitchen can become. And I didn't even mention robots.
A number of you forwarded links to a story in which Larry Page describes for the first time his voice problems.
In prior posts I had guessed his voice problem was caused by spasmodic dysphonia, a condition I once had. Evidently I was wrong. (For the first time.) But what Page does have is similar in a few ways.
With spasmadic dysphonia, the vocal chords clench shut involuntarily. Page seems to have the opposite, in that his vocal cords are partly paralyzed. There is a version of spasmodic dysphonia in which the vocal cords open involuntarily, and that might sound very similar to how his voice sounds -- breathy and weak. What makes Page's situation different, and also indicates to me that the problem isn't spasmodic dysphonia, is that his two vocal cords went bad in different years. I've never heard of that.
Interstingly, my voice problem was fixed by a surgery that clipped my existing nerve connection from brain to vocal cords and spliced in a new route. Page's problem also seems to involve nerve damage from brain to vocal cords. So his voice problem and my ex-problem are entirely different, but it wouldn't surprise me if the solution was similar: Nerve rewiring by surgery.
Interestingly, Page's voice problem was triggered the same way spasmodic dysphonia gets triggered, by a common cold or respiratory illness that causes laryngitis and simply never improves. I'm surprised there are two conditions with that same trigger.
Anyway, if Larry hasn't yet spoken to Dr. Gerald Berke at UCLA, he hasn't finished investigating his options. I'd be happy to make an introduction.
Sequestration refers to the automatic spending cuts that the government of the United States passed into law in 2011, and which went into effect March 1st of this year. The original idea was that the impending meat cleaver approach to the budget would force a contentious Congress to reach agreement on smarter and more targeted cuts for the good of the country. Common sense might tell you that making intelligent budget cuts would be better than reductions across the board. Most people held that view.
But my common sense argues the opposite. I say dumb cuts are every bit as good as intelligent cuts, at least for cuts of the size we are discussing. I'll explain.
For starters, consider how often common sense is wrong. My most-used example is that common sense tells you that investing in individual superstar stocks would give you a better return than buying the market average. But we know from studies that buying individual stocks is a sucker's game unless you have insider or special knowledge. Common sense often steers you toward calamity.
The thing we call common sense is in reality some mixture of bias, fear, self-interest, ignorance, misjudgment, emotion, and about a dozen other psychological malfunctions. Common sense only operates well in simple situations, and the budget of the United States is far from simple.
When the sequestration was originally contemplated, the hope was that by 2012 Congress could get past partisan politics and agree on intelligent, common sense cuts. The flaw in that plan is that intelligence and common sense aren't real things when it comes to the budget. If you fired everyone in Congress today and replaced them with new folks, you would end up right back where we are. In the context of massive complexity, common sense and intelligence are nothing more than the soothing sensations our brains provide so we'll feel less frustrated and confused. Our tiny brains prefer simple statements such as:
Cut that defense budget!
Stop giving those freeloaders my money!
Yay for solar power!
I have a bit of insight about across-the-board budget cuts because I was a budget manager for a bank and then a phone company during a portion of my corporate career. My job was to present management with enough information for them to make "intelligent" budget decisions. Management would look at my information, assume it was nothing but a compilation of lies from department heads, and proclaim a 10% budget cut across all departments.
And oh how the department heads squawked about the irrational budget process. But they made the cuts, after much complaining, and life went on. As the budget guy, I got to see how many doom and gloom stories transpired because of the "dumb" cuts. Answer: none. I never saw a real business problem that could be traced back to the budget cuts. People simply adapted to the new constraints.
I would go so far as to say that sometimes the best way to improve a department function is to cut its budget. Constraints generate creativity. People will only try hard to improve if it is necessary. A fully-funded budget removes that creative energy.
Consider this highly simplified example. Let's say a government-funded medical procedure costs $1,000 per patient, but the budget cuts make it impossible to spend that much for the coming year. Once the constraints are in place, you might see more effort in searching for cheaper solutions across the globe. Before the cuts, there was no reason to even look for a cheaper solution. Now folks might do research and discover that India has a procedure that costs $100 and produces the same result. Or you might do a study that results in a better understanding of which patients will respond to the treatment, so you can skip the people who wouldn't have been helped. For the best results in the long term, you need a healthy balance of both funding and constraints.
The best way to ruin a good program is to overfund it until everyone involved gets fat and lazy. One could argue that the best way to improve a program - once it has reached a massive national scale - is to cut its budget and force some creative energy into the system.
So while most of the country was worrying that the dumb budget cuts of the sequestration would lead to doom, I was thinking it was a brilliant work-around to a failed Congress. The dumb budget cuts would be no worse than intelligent cuts, and we'd gain some degree of predictability about the fiscal future. The economy loves predictability.
This is another situation in which the Adams Law of Slow-Moving Disasters comes into play. The law states that any looming disaster that the general public recognizes years in advance will be solved. For example, if today the government proclaimed that Social Security would go away in the year 2040, the country would adapt. And the solution would likely have many advantages over Social Security in the long run. For example, perhaps it would trigger a massive wave of home upgrades as people add in-law apartments to their existing homes. The economy would boom, grandma would be close to the grandkids, and you could easily feed her with the money you saved by not paying Social Security every month. When she dies, you have an extra space to rent.
Don't get too caught up in my examples. I'm just making the case that budget constraints fuel creativity. And that trade-off is sufficiently unpredictable that common sense simply can't tell you whether to cut a particular large program or not.
So how do you make budget decisions in the face of massive unpredictability? That's simple: You pick the path that is cheapest. And that is roughly what the sequestration did.
Problem 1: Grandparents enjoy watching movies, but they don't enjoy the hassle of going to the movie theater.
Problem 2: Grandparents want to see more of their families.
Problem 3: You feel obligated to visit your parents/grandparents but it can be mind-numbingly boring. And you don't want to sit in the living room for hours listening to medical complaints.
Solution: Suppose the AARP (a seniors organization) worked out a deal with the major film studios to allow seniors to stream new movies to their homes on the same day the films are released to studios. And let's say the price is high, perhaps $100 for a two-day streaming rental.
Now you have a situation in which the grandkids might want to visit the grandparents just to see the new movie that is out. That's doubly true if the grandparents have a huge screen TV.
A typical grandparent would have twenty-or-so family members and friends who might be interested in a new movie. That brings the cost down to $5 per viewer if everyone wants to pitch in. Or grandpa could pick up the entire tab to sweeten the deal.
Professional movie theaters would still have a huge quality advantage over home theaters, especially for 3D. And some people simply prefer doing things with crowds because it makes the event more exciting. So theaters should continue to do fine. My guess is that the revenue stream from grandparents would more than compensate for lost theater attendance. And the grandparents would be happy to see more of the grandkids.
It would be easy enough to test this plan in a limited market. Pick one theater and draw a circle around it on the map. Market this new streaming service for seniors within the circle and see how the theater performs compared to its peers.
You'd have cheaters of course. Young people might add grandma's name to their house deeds just to be able to watch new movies at home. But I think the cheating could be in the 10% range.
I want a computer interface that is built around the idea of actual faces on every file and file folder.
It occurred to me the other day that everything I do has some sort of human associated with it. Some stuff might be for my editor, other stuff for my startup partners, and so on. Everything I do is ultimately for the benefit of at least one human, even if the human is me.
Humans are wired to spot faces quickly. If you open a folder with fifty faces, you can spot the one you are looking for in a second. With our current computer interfaces I have to read all of the file names, or sort by date of creation. It's doable, but not natural.
The most natural way to sort files in a folder is by "target person," as in who will be the audience or beneficiary of the file. The second filter would be by date last opened. So if I want to find the document my lawyer sent my last month, I pick his face from the crowd on my desktop, click on it, and view the documents in the order they were last accessed.
This sort of idea wasn't practical before Facebook, LinkedIN, and smartphones with cameras. In the past, you wouldn't have access to photos of people to create your filing system. Now you can find a picture of most folks with a Google search, or a Facebook or LinkedIN search. And your family and friends are probably on your smartphone already.
I don't know about you, but I often lose files on my computer because I can't remember the file name or the folder I put stuff in. If the application I used to create it has opened too many "recent" files, I have trouble finding my target file that way either. My hypothesis is that humans are so wired for social living that we would remember what "face" we filed something under more easily than we would remember a file name or folder.
In some cases you might need to use fictional faces. Let's say you pick Shrek as the face for your "miscellaneous" files. Even though the association of Shrek with random files makes no logical sense, I think you would still easily remember what face goes with which files, much the same way you can tell me what kind of car each of your friends drive. We easily remember what objects are associated with different personalities.
Taking it one step further, I imagine my desktop looking like a model of the solar system, except instead of planets you would see floating faces representing various files and folders. Let's say there are a dozen-or-so face-planets around a sun, and the sun represents you. You can rotate the face-planets around the sun by swiping your screen in any direction. As the face-planets rotate, the ones in the back come to the front and vice versa. You might arrange your personal face-planet solar system by time of day, so the work-related files are nearest you in their natural orbit during the day. At night, from home, on a different computer, you see the same face-planet solar system but by the time you get home, your personal files (face-planets) are nearest you.
The idea is that you would sit down, think of the file you need, immediately associate it with a face, and know instinctively where the planet would be in your interface. Swipe once and it starts spinning until you tap to stop it. Then tap the face-planet to open.
I got this idea from my dog, Snickers. She has herding genes and we can see that she keeps a mental model of who is in which rooms of our house at all times. There's a lot of coming and going with a busy family, but by her actions we can tell she knows where everyone is at all times. If two people leave by car, but one returns, she always looks for the second person. She is hardwired to think of her world in terms of the humans in it and where they are. I think you and I do the same thing.
I am always acutely aware of the location of my loved ones, although obviously I am sometimes wrong. They have a tendency to move without telling me. But I automatically keep a mental map, accurate or not, of the physical location of everyone I care about. I think that natural brain wiring can be used to keep track of files too. That's all I'm saying.
In 1997 I predicted in my book The Dilbert Future that someday all crimes would be solvable. My thinking was that video surveillance and other technology, such as electronic noses, would make it nearly impossible to get away with anything illegal.
There will always be crimes of passion, and there will always be insane criminals, and criminals who didn't get the memo that crime doesn't pay. And a few geniuses will always find a way to stay ahead of technology. Crime itself will never go to zero, but I'm going to double down on my prediction that technology will someday make it nearly impossible to get away with crime.
The Boston bombers were spotted on several security videos. That probably marked the point at which the public came to understand how ubiquitous video recording is. But you probably thought that sort of video surveillance is common only in cities.
Last year some presumed identity thieves went through the garbage cans on the streets in my quiet suburban neighborhood at about 3 AM. A least two neighbors produced home security video of the perps, taken from multiple angles facing the street. At some point, every home that has a security system will have video as a component. Law enforcement will know who comes and goes through nearly every front door.
In twenty years, the government will always know where your car is, the same way they can track your phone. Taxis will someday only take credit cards. Busses and trains will require you to swipe an ID, and so on. If you travel, the government will know where you went and how you got there.
Or suppose someday there are enough people wearing Google Glass that nearly every crime is recorded in real time by observers and loaded to the cloud automatically. I could imagine future versions of Glass keeping a one week running record of everything you see, just in case you ever want to play it back.
Eventually, physical cash will go away, and with it the easy means for criminals to profit. Once all money is digital, how do you buy illegal services? If you're following the Bitcoin story, you know that Bitcoin technology has potential for illegal transactions, but for that reason I see the government finding a way to clamp down on it.
I can also imagine big improvements in the area of personal identification. Imagine, for example, having a smartphone, an iWatch, and a smart car. When you go to the store, the cashier will someday automatically know that you, your car, your watch, and your phone are all in the same place. That is nearly a 100% identity check. When you approach the cash register, I can imagine your phone automatically identifying itself and pulling up your photo on the register. In the future, when we are part cyborg, we won't be using driver licenses for ID; we will use our proximity to our personalized hardware. (Someone already has that patent. I checked.)
In the near future, certainly in your lifetime, law enforcement will know every front door you entered and exited, where your car has been, where your phone has been, everything you've said by phone, text, or email, and everything you have purchased. You ain't getting away with shit.
Another interesting phenomenon is that the Facebook generation has an entirely different view of privacy. When I was a kid, I could count on my classmates to keep their mouths shut if they saw me breaking a rule. Today, keeping your mouth shut isn't even a thing. It went away when privacy did. In today's world, if a high school kid does anything inappropriate in front of witnesses you can count on it reaching multiple parents in about a day. The filters are off.
On the plus side, I also predicted that a lack of privacy would lead to fewer activities being against the law. The only reason law enforcement can afford to act against drug users, or prostitution, or gambling, for example, is because only 1% of those crimes are detectable. If police could magically know every time someone violated a drug or prostitution law, the volume would be so high they would end up ignoring the entire class of crimes for purely practical reasons. And that's where we're heading.
Ironically, the more the government clamps down on individual privacy, the more freedom the residents will have. When the government can detect every sort of crime, it will be forced by public opinion and by resource constraints to legalize anything it can detect but can't stop.
Porn has already moved into the mainstream. More states are making gay marriage legal. Weed is being legalized in various states. Promiscuity has entered the mainstream. And prostitutes with websites no longer try to hide their "escort" business.
I'm reminded of a banking saying: "If you borrow $100,000 from the bank, the bank owns you. But if you borrow $10 billion, you own the bank." There's a similar thing happening with privacy and your government. If you give up a little bit of privacy, the government owns you. But if you give up most of your privacy, the government loses its power over you.
Consider the effort to control legal handguns in the United States. Common thinking on this topic is that the more the government knows about your guns, the greater the risk to liberty. But my thinking is that gun sales will go through the roof if the government ever succeeds in tracking them. You don't want to be on a list that says your house has the least firepower on your block.
I know from past posts on this topic that I'll get a lot of down votes because you hate any thought of the government reducing your privacy. Let's agree that we all have the same gut feeling that privacy is a good thing and we want to keep it. All I'm putting forward today is the idea that the less privacy you have, the more freedom you will have at the same time.
Consider the gay rights movement. The genius of the gay rights pioneers is that they increased their freedom by voluntarily reducing their privacy. By coming out in large enough numbers, gays took from the government the ability to vilify gay sex acts and gays in general. There were simply too many gay citizens to ignore or to jail. Society necessarily started to adapt, and continues to evolve.
In general, whenever privacy is lost in a democracy, it creates an opportunity for freedom to increase. The mechanism looks like this:
1. A loss of privacy reveals how many people are involved in a particular activity and gives the public a chance to get used to it. (gays, weed, porn, etc.).
2. Law enforcement has no practical way to handle all of the "criminals" who are now exposed. And even trying would look like a bad use of resources.
3. Laws evolve to reflect what is practical. Formerly illegal activities become legal or tolerated because there is no practical alternative.
In the long run, privacy is toast. But what you will get in return is more personal freedom and less crime. That's a trade that almost no one would voluntarily make, but I think the net will be good.
[Update: Based on your comments, I should clarify that losing privacy in a dictatorship is always bad (Germany registering guns). But in a democracy it works opposite because public opinion matters. Great Britain, for example, has strict gun laws and a relatively low risk of initiating the next Holocaust. -- Scott]