Blueprint for a Makers District

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on March 5th, 2015

The demise of local retail stores has been painful to watch. Empty storefronts and weed-infested parking lots are gut-wrenching symbols of community decay.

So if I told you there was an immediate way to turn this around, would that catch your attention?

This whole transformation in thinking started with a short visit on Saturday to “The Source,” an artisan food market inside a former 1880‘s brick foundry in Denver’s River North District.

Located far away from most retail, I quickly became enamored with how this eclectic mix of 15 shops could attract a packed house on a cold wintery day in February to an industrial part of town.

This brief experience caused me to spend countless hours over the following days researching similar developments around the country. For me, the collision course of intersecting trends in retail has become a full-blown obsession. (Just for the record, obsessions are underrated.)

To summarize briefly:

  • The first shopping mall was born in Edina, MN in 1956. After peaking in 1990, there have been no new malls built in the U.S. since 2006.
  • Big-box retailing was born in 1962. That’s the year when Wal-Mart, K-Mart and Target all opened their first big stores. After 50 years of putting mom and pops out of business, big-box retail is now struggling.
  • In 1994, Jeff Bezos launched Amazon as an online bookseller. Twenty years later it has emerged as the primary reason big-box stores are shutting down.
  • In 2005, MAKE Magazine published it’s first issue, signaling the beginning of the makers movement. Words like “handcrafted,” “home grown,” “authentic,” and “artisan original,” suddenly entered the public lexicon.

With retail stores closing, consumers are left with fewer options for out-of-the-home forms of entertainment, and a pent-up demand for meaningful experiences.

This collision course of trends is creating the perfect storm for the next retail revolution – Maker Districts.

A maker district can best be described as a cross between an artist colony, farmers market, woodworking shop, music festival, bakery, brewpub, and brainstorming session all happening in the same space. It’s all that and more.

Here’s why I see Maker Districts entering your lives in a big way.

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The Great Cow Epiphany and the Six Immutable Laws of Information

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on February 26th, 2015

 

Recent comments by Vint Cerf, vice president of Google and one of the founding fathers of the Internet, about the long-term viability of our data has many wondering what will happen to our digital information over the next 100, 200, or even 1,000 years.

At the heart of the problem is something he refers to as “bit-rot,” decaying levels of information that can be found in our digital storage systems.

Much of the data stored on outdated mediums like VHS tapes, vinyl records, cassette tapes and floppy disks has already been lost.

We currently have no usable form of storage technology capable of maintaining its integrity for centuries on end. Without a breakthrough in this area, humanity’s most important memories – videos, photos, books, writings, and thousands of other informational sources – may indeed be lost.

Sadly, paper remains as our most survivable form of information over the next 100+ years.

But here’s where that whole issue goes sideways.

Swiss scientists recently developed a process for encasing DNA in glass and chilling it down as a way to preserve data encoded in it for upwards of a million years. DNA is an ultra dense storage medium with the potential of holding 455 exabytes of data per gram of DNA.

Since all of the information that exists in the world today is still under 10,000 exabytes, we have the potential of storing all of the world’s data in less than a cup of DNA.

Yes, we still have a ways to go before encasing DNA in glass and keeping it chilled for all eternity becomes practical, and we still have to develop efficient ways to store and retrieve information, but the DNA approach may indeed be the light we’re looking for at the end of this tunnel.

With that in mind, I’d like to invite you along on a journey into the far reaches of future information. Come along as we create a few unusual scenarios surrounding the “six immutable laws of information.”

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Three Great Machine Learning Paradoxes

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on February 18th, 2015

I installed my Nest Thermostat a little over a year ago. This “learning” machine was billed as being able to study the habits of people and adjust the settings to optimize both temperature and energy usage.

But ever since then I’ve found myself in a constant battle with my thermostat. It’s cooling things down when I need heat, warming things up when I’d rather be cool, and the amount of energy it’s saved is far less than the loss of productivity I’ve experienced from being uncomfortable.

This is also true with my other “smart” devices.

My washing machine still doesn’t understand the fabrics it’s trying to wash. My smart door lock still doesn’t know who I am. And our home security system does a far better job of keeping the good guys in, instead of the bad guys out.

Much of the “smartness” we’ve added to our lives has been in meager doses, slightly better than before, but not much.

That said, the level of intelligence in our homes, cars, clothes, and offices is about to move quickly up the exponential learning curve as connected devices combine remote processing power with everything around us.

Our orange juice bottles, cans of soup, and boxes of crackers will all have a way of reordering themselves when inventories get low. Toasters will soon be toasting reminders onto the sides of our bread so we won’t forget birthdays and anniversaries.

Biometric coffee makers will know exactly how much caffeine to put into our coffee, and our fireplace will even know what color of flame we’re in the mood for.

If I’m feeling ill, not only will my devices know what’s wrong, they’ll be able to scan my home and give me a quick recipe for a cure.

“Add 2 oz of turpentine from the garage, 3 tablespoons of shoe polish, four capfuls of Listerine, and 2 cough drops to a cup of boiling water, and what floats to the top will fix your problem.”

I refer to this as “MacGyvering medicine.”

Our learning machines will pave the way for a hyper-individualized world where everything around us syncs perfectly with our personal needs and desires. But that’s the point where the train begins to derail, and all our best intentions start to work against us. Here’s why.

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Going Beyond Micro-Payments to Nano-Payments

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on February 10th, 2015

If a billion people each gave you a tenth of a cent, you would have $1 million.

Over the past few weeks I’ve become enamored with the power of financial friction. This could involve everything from adding a tenth or hundredth of a cent charge to every email sent, social media “likes,” video downloads, views of copyrighted photos, and much more.

Even though it may not seem significant, there is a huge difference between “free” and “0.1 cent.”

Tiny charges, much like the rest of life’s sandpaper, tend to give us clarity between what’s significant and what’s not.

The reason this has become such an important topic today is because transaction costs have plummeted along with the cryptocurrency invention of distributed block chain ledgers, and the possibility of creating “nano-payment” networks is opening the doors to thousands of new fractional payment models.

The traditional way of providing online services like email, news, or uploading photos has been to pass the cost of operating these services on to advertisers. But that could change.

Over the past decade, micro payment schemes have created successful business models around charges less than $1. As an example, Google’s AdSense charges advertisers as little as a few cents for every click of their ads.

It’s only recently that we’ve been able to consider much smaller charges, even less than a penny.

In the past I’ve been an ardent advocate of simplicity, but over time my thinking has changed. Automation enables complexity, and the intricacy of complexity is what opens the door for unusual new business opportunities.

Here are just a few ways these seemingly insignificant payment schemes could become a big deal in your future.

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Four Rules for Game Testing Our Way to a Better Future

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on February 4th, 2015

 

At a recent video game tournament in Denver called ClutchCon, I was moderating a panel discussion on the future of video games, and we got into the topic of leveraging the time and energy spent playing video games into a “wisdom of crowds” approach for solving the world’s problems.

Video games have a way of immersing players into an epic challenge that consumes them physically, intellectually, and emotionally. While detractors commonly dismiss game playing as a waste of time, it more accurately embodies an evolutionary shift in human pastimes causing more synapse-firing per second than virtually any other activity on earth.

It is this heightened level of brain activity that most intrigues me. Educators would love to tap into it. Employers would give anything to see their employees as engaged at work as they are in games. And big thinkers who are heavily invested in solving the world’s biggest problems would drool over the prospects of applying ten gazillion well-focused brain cells onto whatever problem they’re wrestling with.

Passive engagement is far different than commanding someone’s full attention, and games have a way of engrossing players on virtually every brain metric for hours, sometimes days, on end. Gaming’s kill-or-be-killed situations force players to constantly push themselves to another mental state.

The addictive nature of gaming comes from players reaching pinnacle levels of brain activity where they are rewarded with an endorphin-like high. Ordinary kids are suddenly transformed into a swaggeringly ultra-cool superhero persona, and the accolades they receive for their digital accomplishments are just icing on the cake.

At issue, though, is our ability to transition “digital accomplishments” into something of real world value. How can we shine this spotlight of laser-brain brilliance onto problems like curing cancer, mitigating hurricane damage, or large-scale corruption and actually change the world?

In many ways, the path to making some of the world’s greatest breakthroughs is much like slogging our way through a labyrinth of well camouflaged enemy warriors disguised as old school thinking, failed experiments, and self-doubt to find those eureka moments that have been eluding us for decades.

So is it possible to cluster the micro accomplishments of gaming in a way to inch our way towards the macro accomplishments of real world problem-solving? Here are a few unusual insights that are guaranteed to explode your objections to video games completely.

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37 Critical Problems that need to be Solved for Drone Delivery to become Viable

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on January 27th, 2015

 

It all started when Toni, one of our staffers working on our flying drone workshop, asked me a simple question. She asked, “Since I live in an apartment complex, if I order something to be delivered by drone, where would they leave the package?”

This naturally led to a longer conversation and we instantly ticked off around a dozen other problems that will need to be overcome before we can expect drone delivery to become a viable option.

As a futurist, I’ve often gotten caught up in understanding what an emerging industry will eventually look like, but tend to gloss over the labyrinth of issues that will invariably plague the early stage pioneers willing to plow through the messy early years and take on all the risks.

Naturally there are many areas where flying drones could instantly be put to use, but when it comes to having a company like Amazon offer product delivery throughout its system, these simple flying machines suddenly take on “workhorse” status requiring levels of durability, automation, and system-building that are currently missing inside most conversations.

For example, early stage drone delivery will require a pilot for every package, making it an expensive option. Not only will pilots need to navigate their way to the destination, they’ll need to handle the empty return flight back as well. Eventually this will be automated, but it’s not a simple task.

Since electric drones have very limited battery life and range, delivery drones will most likely be fueled with gas or some other petrochemical. Gas powered drones have issues with noise and pollution that will cause many communities to start restricting their use.

With limited range and capacity, only a select few items will be eligible for this kind of delivery. When it comes to delivering food, companies will need to carefully monitor portion sizes because weight will become an increasingly important variable.

After considering many of these current deficiencies, I thought it might be helpful to begin listing some of the key technical, system, and regulatory challenges that lie ahead. At the same time, every problem creates an opportunity, and the sooner our emerging drone entrepreneurs learn how to capitalize on these problems, the sooner we’ll see this industry take off like many of us are imagining.

With that in mind, here are 37 near-term issues that will need to be solved.

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Technological Unemployment and our Need for Micro Colleges

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on January 20th, 2015

Business owners today are actively deciding whether their next hire should be a person or a machine. After all, machines can work in the dark and don’t come with decades of HR case law requiring time off for holidays, personal illness, excessive overtime, chronic stress or anxiety.

If you’ve not heard the phrase “technological unemployment,” brace yourself; you’ll be hearing it a lot over the coming years.

Technology is automating jobs out of existence at a record clip, and it’s only getting started. But at the same time, new jobs are also coming out of the woodwork.

In March, when Facebook announced the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift, they not only put a giant stamp of approval on the technology, but they also triggered an instant demand for virtual reality designers, developers, and engineers.

Virtual reality professionals were nowhere to be found on the list of hot skills needed for 2014, but they certainly will be for 2015.

The same was true when Google and Facebook both announced the acquisition of solar powered drone companies Titan and Ascenta respectively. Suddenly we began seeing a dramatic uptick in the need for solar-drone engineers, drone-pilots, air rights lobbyists, global network planners, analysts, engineers, and logisticians.

Bold companies making moves like this are instantly triggering the need for talented people with skills aligned to grow with these cutting edge industries.

In these types of industries, it’s no longer possible to project the talent needs of business and industry 5-6 years in advance, the time it takes most universities to develop a new degree program and graduate their first class. Instead, these new skill-shifts come wrapped in a very short lead-time, often as little as 3-4 months.

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12 Emerging Trends that Everyone Missed at CES

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on January 13th, 2015

Every year that I attend CES in Las Vegas I reach a point of sensory overload. It’s not just from all the people, lights, noise, and smells, but an overload of product strategies and emerging trends for the coming year.

With everything from R2D2 showing up outside the convention center, to meeting celebrities on the showroom floor, or coming face-to-face with a Paul Bunyan-sized electronic game-playing running shoe by Sketchers, or walking into a booth full of the coolest Chinese technologies ever made but not being able to talk to anyone because they don’t speak English, it’s not possible to describe all the sensations a person will experience at an event like this.

Everyone will experience CES in their own unique way, and the impressions they walk away with will help define their understanding of the world to come. Big time decisions are being made by the impressions made here.

As events go, it’s one of the largest in the world, attracting a record 170,000 people, including 45,000 from other countries. Out of 3,600 exhibitors, 375 of them were startups, with special attention being paid to them in an exhibit area called Eureka Park.

In so many ways, CES sets the tone for the global economy, with tens of thousands of private meetings being conducted in the background forcing more deals to be cut in a shorter period of time than virtually any other event on the planet.

Walking across the exhibit floors is quite a mind-expanding experience. Since I tend to use a radically different set of lenses to experience this show, I walked away with some rather unusual perspectives.

For this reason I’d like to mention twelve of the trends that everyone seemed to have missed at CES.

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What Comes after the Nation State? – Fractal Governance

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on January 5th, 2015

In the beginning life was simple, just land and people. No borders, no restrictions, and no governments breathing down everyone’s neck. 

Over time, cultures formed around a common language and geography determined many aspects of lifestyle. As an example, people who lived next to the sea oriented much of their life around fishing, while those further inland spent more time hunting and farming. 

Traveling from one region to the next was difficult and dangerous. Before the time of Gutenberg’s printing press, the vast majority of people lived and died within 20 miles of where they grew up because they didn’t have access to reliable maps. 

Later, as populations grew, we began to see the need for more sophisticated societies. At the heart of these advancements were cities adding conveniences like streets, water systems, protection from lawless individuals, and justice systems to add a sense of order to all those advancements.

As years progressed, cities banded together with towns and villages nearby to create better systems, form geographical boundaries, and promote common interests. These groupings of cities became countries, and governments sprang up to manage and organize their interests.

Countries were formed around a common geography, common languages, and common systems like currency and transportation. 

The term “nation-state” came into play in 1648 with the treaty of Westphalia. This was an important turning point because countries transitioned from rouge protectorates to cultured political systems that recognized each others borders and were empowered to make deals with other nation-states.

Since 1648, countries, operating as nation-states, have become the most powerful entities on the planet. With large militaries to defend their interests and advanced monetary systems to build infrastructure, countries have become complex organisms with self-adapting properties.

However, when Internet started providing borderless connectivity, we began seeing national systems transition into global systems. As the need for borders became less clear, traditional ways of defining a country began to erode and the value of citizenship, less defined.

While countries struggle to maintain their role in the global community, people, as citizens of these nation states, are becoming far more mobile, wanting to be less confined by systems, rules, and geography.

So what comes next? Are we on the verge of yet another shift in global entities?

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Top 10 Most Influential Columns in 2014

Posted by FuturistSpeaker on December 26th, 2014

Over the past year we’ve delved into a variety of different topics on FuturistSpeaker.com and naturally some have been more popular than others. Sometimes it’s the headlines, other times the graphics, but in the end it’s the subject matter and content that will determine which ones rise to the top.

Overall, we’re still finding a pervasive fear over jobs, privacy, and the economy, and a strong desire to understand what comes next. Our confidence in government has plummeted and the newest evil villain is artificial intelligence gone awry.

On the positive side of the equation, both flying drones and robots are hot, even though both have serious downsides. The Internet of Things is gaining in popularity along with its magical junior categories of enchanted objects and smart homes. The sharing economy is becoming a more defined niche and tiny homes are an emerging category that will soon be replaced with 3D printed disposable houses.

Even though Bitcoin hasn’t been a good investment in 2014, it’s been a banner year for cryptocurrencies in general. No, we still haven’t minted any cryptocurrency billionaires just yet, but as national currencies become increasingly dysfunctional, with security holes affecting nearly everyone, new opportunities are just around the corner.

At the DaVinci Institute, our work on Micro Colleges are paving the way for future generations to reboot their careers quickly to better match the emerging talent needs of business and industry.

With that in mind, here are the 2014 columns that attracted the most attention over the past 12 months.

 

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