Friday, December 20, 2013

Futurism, Google, and Careers

A lot of people have talked about what Google's purchases and recent direction mean. A lot of people have come up with things that make some amount of business sense, but personally I think that Google is run by people who believe in "the singularity".

Well, whatever the reason, Google's proposed product lines sound like a bad scifi movie: "Starting as a simple search tool, over the next thirty years Googdyne released universal translators, always-on augmented reality, self-driving cars, and military robots."

Whatever Google's vision of the future actually is, it's clear that they have one glaring gap in their plans: technology requires cultural infrastructure, and they're radically underestimating how much. For example, Google Glass is a pretty impressive technical feat, but it is basically useless in today's world. The only value it has is first-person video, and that's pretty limited.

It's easy to imagine a world where people use augmented reality quite frequently. In fact, that world makes more sense than this world. But the culture isn't there. People don't have any expectation or interest in that kind of thing, and it'll take a long time before we can drum any up.

It could be that they plan to sidestep this by making things so insanely useful that nobody can bear not using them - for example, decent web search. But I think they're underestimating that, too. They did it once, by luck, and now they seem to think they can do it on purpose. Well, good luck: cultural tech use weighs a lot more and hits a lot harder than most people think.

For example, the concept of a "career" - hell, the concept of a "middle class" - is something that only exists due to cultural use of technology.

This is one reason why I get annoyed whenever anyone says something like "is technology stealing jobs?"

The only reason jobs like that exist is technology. The issue is that the jobs it initially created, it is making easier and easier. In turn, that makes them require fewer people and people who work at a higher level. That's the way technology has always worked: make something possible, then make it progressively easier. In this case, "jobs".

Perhaps there will always be more jobs available to create, but that's a theory that falls flat in our current culture. We've attached ourselves to a specific point on the tech curve and are culturally out of position to deal with it changing.

Anyone who wants to invent the future needs to examine the present. The world is changing in a lot of ways, but humans are not.

You can give humans augmented reality, but if they can't use it to live their life, it's not going to get used. You can give people robots, but if it doesn't put a roof over their head it's not culturally relevant. Hell, you can give them life-saving vaccines and they'll get upset about it.

Self-driving cars, though... that's a keeper.

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