The Robot’s Pen and Sword

To be released early 2018.

Read Me First

Have you ever wondered why certain products fail to sell? Things like Google Glass, which may still become a success, but if it does, will not have been a quick sell. Then there was the Edsel and the DeLorean. Perhaps they were ahead of their time? And the Segway, Microsoft’s Bob, and Sony’s Aibo – what’s their excuse?

Then there’s the iSmell by DigiScents. According to Wikipedia, “DigiScents had indexed thousands of common odors, which could be coded, digitized, and embedded into web pages or email.” This 20 million dollar startup failed to bring any product to market. Why? Little demand I guess. But why make something like this in the first place, something based on such a speculative, untested, need? What really drives this kind of effort? Obviously, someone thought they had a good idea. Well, it was an idea, and nothing ventured nothing gained, but as a failure, it was spectacular.

Instead of focusing on the causes of failure, we could, and we should, go back to how innovators go down these roads in the first place. What drives the innovation marketplace? Windmill, steam turbine, or nuclear power, there is a history of the environment that moves humans to do what we do, and which ultimately pushes society in a certain direction.

This book is not an “oh-wow-isn’t-technology-great” fun piece; it is a critical look at technology and its marriage partner, marketing. Reading a book that tries to explain the effects of technology on society may take a lot of effort, so in the interest of removing some of the explanation clutter that surrounds us, following are two main points contained herein.

Technology – whether expressed as software, or hardware, nano, or mega – is a tool. As our tools have become increasingly complex and adaptable, we humans have increasingly become detached from completely understanding them, and with that, we are losing the ability to contain or manage the direction technology takes us. Because technology can do something, we let it, without fully understanding or appreciating the consequences.

That’s point one: “technology leading technology.”

The second point addresses the social and cultural consequences of following technology’s lead. These are mainly economic issues.

Marketing (and that could include our system of education) is a tool used to promote sales. And sales are directly related to the reality of surviving economically in a materially oriented world: make something, market it, make money, and survive. That’s real motivation, and with everyone given new and more powerful tools to create and market, many more humans have become motivated to do just that. They generate more stuff, which requires more marketing to get more sales. The point is, humans have become incentivized to allow technology to move us in directions that technology opens up for us: we think we’re steering the ship when really we’re going along for the ride (and we haven’t even arrived at A.I. yet).

One thing not addressed in this book are suggestions for improvements. I have tried to focus a mindful eye on the present rather than to assume the future’s next logical steps.

And as for you anti-Luddites out there, spare your oxygen: I am well aware of the beneficial uses of technology, especially considering my career involvement with technology. As for you Luddites, I also really like my tablet, a lot.

First published, 2000
Second edition updated and revised, 2017

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