Want an Eye for the Future of Technology? These 5 Sci Fi Books Can Help🔮

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“Nobody today will believe your prophecy, nobody will care about it.” — Jules Verne

Science fiction is important for the development of new ideas in a society. It’s also helpful to understand how people will react to new innovations and what we as humans ultimately yearn for in technology. Even the Harvard Business Review has caught on to the importance of science fiction as required reading for business leaders.

With that in mind, I’ve pulled together a list of the more prophetic science fiction books I’ve enjoyed reading that frame up a digital-forward future. These books all share their author’s amazing ability to foretell how as humans we will go about experiencing a world with all the technologies that we’re creating.

One thing to keep in mind; some of the earliest books on the list predicted where we would be with technology today.

So let’s dig in! From top to bottom in order of their release:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)

The most recent in the list, this book is the most recommended when it comes to understanding virtual reality’s potential impact on society. This story follows Wade Watts as he navigates the OASIS; a digital world experienced through virtual reality headsets. A few books on this list are more prophetic around technology. This book is more of a narrative on where our society is going socio-economically and how things like virtual reality will be used. Virtual multi-user narratives (MUN’s) are constantly evolving and getting more robust. The use of technology as escapism into these MUN’s is a central theme in this book and something that is heavily scrutinized today.

🤔Thought-provoking Technologies: Virtual Reality, Advanced AI assistants, haptics

Rainbow’s Edge by Vernon Vinge (2007)

Set in the year 2025, this book follows a middle schooler and an old man as they get wrapped up in a massive homeland security plot. The novel looks at a few trends in consumer technology but also examines that role that government actors and security plays in a digital future. Vernor Vinge, a professor of math and a computer scientist, does an amazing job of identifying relevant trends in 2007 and draws realistic conclusions of where things could be 20 years out. In 2018, a little over halfway to the world he imagines, this book is a great read.

🤔Thought-provoking Technologies: Augmented reality/wearables, Advanced AI assistants, haptics, cybersecurity

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (1979)

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is One of the strongest narratives on the list and the first in a massive series. Arthur Dent learns that we aren’t alone in the universe and finds himself on an adventure across space running into aliens of all kinds. Some of the technology that Adams writes into the book have already drawn comparisons to things coming to market today. It’s worth a read or having a watch of yhe film adaptation from 2005 especially to see the hilarious “emotionally intelligent” robot that Adams foresees (spoiler alert: the robot is chronically depressed).

🤔Thought-provoking Technologies: Translation/NLP, Electronic books,Nutrimatic machine (like today’s June Oven), Search engines, AI assistants

The Master Key by L. Frank Baum (1901)

It’s hard to imagine that at the turn of the 20th century the jury was still out on the impact of technology. Written in 1850 by Baum (who also wrote the Wizard of Oz), this book is amazing in it’s ability to capture some of the concerns that arise in a digital world. A young boy experiments with technology and finds a way to master it’s capability thus summoning a “Demon of Electricity”. This demon brings the boy electricity-driven gifts which predict some of the technology we’ve come to see today. It’s a quick read and is interesting to consider from the point of view of someone experiencing technology for the first time. Baum’s sense is that all the advanced technology will end of making our lives more complicated.

🤔Thought-provoking Technologies: Feed of global events (social media/modern media), communicator (cellphones), teleportation (air travel)

Paris in the 20th Century by Jules Verne (1863)

The oldest of most prophetic book in the list also comes with an interesting backstory. Written by Verne (of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fame) in the mid 1800’s about what Paris would look like in 1960. This book was held back from publication due to what were then outrageous claims about technology but eventually found and published in 1994. This book looks at a society ran by engineers and the impact it has on creatives/the arts. The storyline of this book is anticipatory of the “bubble” challenges that Silicon Valley and the technology industry is facing as a whole.

🤔Thought-provoking Technologies (Keep in mind, it’s from 1863!): Skyscrapers/glass towers, elevators, computers, software.

What other science fiction books from the past or present have you found that does a good job of articulating the future?

Advanced Reading — 200-Level

Hamlet on the Holodeck by Janet H. Murray (Revised Edition 2017)

This is considered a master class in understanding how technology will shape the future of storytelling and immersive experiences. Although academic and not a novel, this book is the basis for any modern thought around experience design and digital narratives. Murray does an amazing job at predicting the future around interactive web design, virtuality reality platforms, and even today with what we are seeing in artificial intelligence. Relevant for anyone looking to get a basic primer on emerging experiential technology and one of the best comprehensive, and readable, academic works on the space.

A big thanks to Luke Stiles, Mike Whitworth, Danny Steiner, Karolina Manko, and the friends who inspired me to read these books along the way!

The Brexit Effect on the Startup Ecosystem

 The Brexit vote will have a wide-ranging impact on the UK startup ecosystem

The Brexit vote will have a wide-ranging impact on the UK startup ecosystem

The big news this week: the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. A decision initially posed to quell political unrest looks like it will have a wide range of lasting impacts. Looking closely from a startup ecosystem standpoint; here are a few key ways that this will impact both the UK and EU startup ecosystems.

  • Talent Acquisition

Easily the biggest impact that this has on startup ecosystems is the ability to bring the best and brightest to startups in the UK. Startups based in London, Belfast, and across the UK previously had the broader EU talent pool to pull from. For example; a Manchester-based founder could bring on a developer from Poland, Czech Republic, or any of the other EU countries with vast pools of engineering talent. This is no more. With the Brexit comes the massive hurdle of securing work visas (something we are very familiar with here in the US) making it much more costly to hire the best talent. For a startup, recruiting is one of the most important things that a company needs to survive the early days. The decision to leave the European Union puts a heavier burden on UK-based founders to either scour the fairly small UK market for talent, to build remote teams, or to move from the UK altogether.

  • Fund-Raising

Financial regulations being managed at the EU-level meant that UK-based founders could engage angel investors and venture funds across Europe. Technology-focused investors from places with where startup ecosystems are just taking off like France and Spain could invest in UK-based startups fairly easily. Although it is unknown how exactly this will impact the financial regulation, it is clear that easily moving capital between the UK and continental Europe will be much more difficult. The UK currently has one of the strongest financial sectors in the world with one of the largest pools of investors. Experienced entrepreneurs will have no trouble raising money from well-capitalized technology investors based in the UK. Less experienced technology investors in startup ecosystems outside the EU will now have trouble participating in rounds led by UK-based founders. Also, startup founders that are having trouble securing funding in the UK will now have more difficulty bringing in capital.

What Startup Ecosystems Could Benefit from Brexit

Startup ecosystems rely heavily on their ability to connect abroad. Breaking away could jeopardize the growth that the UK and especially London have seen due to having a robust startup ecosystem. This leaves the door open for a few other European startup ecosystems to rise in the order of being the best European city to build a startup (if they don’t follow the UK’s lead in leaving the EU):

  • Dublin, Ireland

Cheaper than London (although not by much),a growing pool of experienced sales talent, and favorable tax regulations regulations for Ireland-based startups combined with the EU talent pool make Dublin a very attractive place for startups. Startup Dublin has been making massive strides in getting companies comfortable with the idea of being based there and BREXIT can only improve on those efforts.

  • Berlin, Germany

Berlin’s incredibly international population, low rents, and strong technical population make it a great place to think about building a startup in Europe. The international feel of Rocket Internet, SoundCloud, and a few other Berlin startups are a nod to how this differentiation helps build companies.

  • Barcelona, Spain

Spain’s an up-and comer the broader European startup ecosystem with its strong mobile talent and great quality of life (the weather, the food, everything). London's closed boarders and dreary winters will make Barcelona's beaches look even for founders looking to build a company.

Dark-horses:

I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on impacts (good or bad) from UK’s break from the UK and other startup ecosystems that might stand to gain.  

 

Microsoft, Facebook, and the Future of Apps

 Xamarin Evolve 2016 - One of the major app developer conferences

Xamarin Evolve 2016 - One of the major app developer conferences

Today, only 43% percent of the world’s population is connected to the internet. According to Facebook’s “State of Connectivity” report we’re still a few years away from the threshold of half of the world connected. When that threshold is crossed the vast majority of those users will be experiencing the internet for the first time through apps. We got a peek into how things are changing for app developers at Microsoft's Build conference, Facebook's F8, and most recently at Xamarin's Evolve. Looking at how the mobile app world is changing, there are a few app elements I believe will be standard for these new mobile users in the next 3-5 years when half of the world comes online.  

Personalized Through Data

There are some services (exp: Wells Fargo, Nike, Sprint) that I have been a loyal customer of for over a decade. Vast amounts of information about me lives throughout their databases. Everything from what drives me to buy something, elements of my lifestyle, even information on where I am when I engage with those companies. With all of this information, these organizations still fall short in delivering any sort of customized experience on my mobile device. Simple services have been made more convenient by using features of a smartphone like GPS powering simple requests like "Where is the closest ATM?". There is no combination of features of my phone and the data that some of these companies have on me. This means my experience is no different from someone who has just started paying for those services today but has the same type of phone. In the next few years, I'd expect services to leverage their databases and combine that with smartphone components. Mobile apps will have features that are powered by data to create rich user experiences.

Conversation as the UI

Steve Jobs famously said "Design is how it works". Mobile developers have gotten incredibly good at creating fluid, natural user interfaces with gesture controls. The constraints of limited screen size and gestures like swiping have made it much easier for app developers to get creative when building user interfaces. The evolution of this is voice. This is the ultimate user interface in that it is completely natural to the user and easy to understand. There's no learning curve; as humans we've been communicating with speech and text our entire lives. The ability to embed this as a feature in mobile apps has become easier with the opening up of Artificial Intelligence platforms like Microsoft’s Cortana and Facebook's bots within Messenger. App users of the future are going to expect some sort of fluid user experience via speech and it will need to be powered by an AI platform. 

All the Platforms

Currently, it’s common for apps to only be available on only one of the major mobile platforms (exp: iOS only). However, as businesses seek to gain 10’s or 100’s of millions of users, there will be a need to be present on every platform. This means having the app look and feel the same where the users are whether that’s iOS, Android, Windows Phone and new devices. Users will expect a consistent app experience from apps across their other connected devices like tablets, TVs, smart watches, and even Virtual Reality headsets. App developers will need to broaden their thinking when it comes to the platforms they have their app running. Making these tools available across platforms was only made easier with announcements at Xamarin Evolve and will continue to be an area of focus for Facebook as well.

Those are just a few of the major developments in apps that I see coming down the road. What features do you think are going to become standard over the next few years? Have any examples of apps that show off any of these features? 

Lessons Learned from Consuming 5 Years of PIE

To start off, this post isn’t what you think it might be. It isn’t about some new pie related diet fad like the desert  equivalent of the “taco cleanse". This is about an entirely different experiment, and an entirely different type of PIE. This is about the Portland Incubator Experiment.

PIE, a project of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, has been a fixture in the Portland startup community since it’s founding back in 2009. Initially, PIE was spun up as a place for technologists in Portland to gather and work on projects together. It has since morphed from a co-working space to a formal incubator investing in over 40 early-stage companies. Now the team is on to an entirely new type of experiment.

Rick Turoczy and Renny Gleeson, PIE co-founders along with Jason Glaspey, are open-sourcing the startup accelerator know-how they have gained along the PIE journey. Through the PIE Cookbook Project, the team aims is to work with startup folks from all over the world to pull together the best knowledge on startup accelerators. I decided the best way to celebrate this new project here on PST would be to share a few of the things PIE taught me about accelerators and building startup communities.

Here's three elements in the Portland startup community that I'm looking forward to contributing to the PIE Cookbook: 

Make the Community Accessible

When it was a standalone space, PIE had a completely open door policy. Sure, there were some awkward moments involving people actually coming in asking for pie (like, the real sugary kind) or people wandering in because the sign on the building looked cool (thanks W+K!). I like to think those people left with a much better understanding of startups after chatting with whomever greeted them. For people who had a slight inkling of what it was and were bold enough to come in, the open door gave people who intended to get involved the chance to do so without any barriers. Young and old, from big company employees to seasoned startup veterans – anyone remotely interested in Portland startups could come into PIE for beer, coffee, or one of the many meet-ups. This open door policy brought great new people into the community who were coming from both outside of Portland but also from outside of tech. These fresh new people and ideas from diverse backgrounds (with an expanded focus to make it more diverse) have helped Portland’s startup community grow stronger.

Cultivate a “Give and Take” Culture

Once interested in PIE and Portland startups, people will go out of their way to get you involved. People acknowledge the role that the community has played in their success and go out of their way to give back. On the flip side, something that I really admired in the tone set by Rick for the PIE community was how PIE encouraged everyone to contribute. No matter what your background was, Rick would find a way for you to be able to give back. I’ve seen people with a wide range of backgrounds get involved with helping Portland startups that you wouldn’t see in other cities. The concept of getting people bought in and contributing as soon as possible constantly adds fresh excitement to the mix. It also fights a culture where a few people hold most of the opportunity with a lot of others clambering for a chance. There’s enough opportunity to go around when everyone is bringing something to the community.

Humility Goes a Long Way

One of the most important startup community elements that has become engrained in the Portland ecosystem is how approachable people are. Founders of some of the biggest startups in the Portland community go out of their way to welcome newcomers, engage people outside the tech community, and be ambassadors for Portland startups when traveling. There isn’t a real sense of anyone being on a pedestal. Rick himself will personally welcome anyone and everyone who is interested in Portland startups. Having a startup community leader so invested in people’s first impression creates a greater sense that everyone is working together towards the common goal of helping Portlanders build great companies. Rick’s humility brings an incredibly sense of camaraderie that has spread out beyond just Portland to other startup ecosystems throughout the state of Oregon. It’s this humility that continually encourages people to feel inspired to try new and exciting ideas.

Of course, these are only observations of one individual startup community. Have different elements you've noticed from your startup community? Do your part in pitching in your know-how! 

The PIE Cookbook project is now live and would love to have you involved no matter where in the world you're from. Contributions of just $1 get you signed up to help with the project. You can read more about the PIE Cookbook, read about some of the goals, and get involved by visiting their Kickstarter page.

  The landing page for the 1st class of the portland incubator experiment

The landing page for the 1st class of the portland incubator experiment

The New Silk Road Pt. 3 : Potential Winners?

What Ecosystems Will Capitalize? 

Tech companies in the US have done a good job of serving our domestic market and have made it very hard for international competitors to gain traction. It’s very hard to find examples of foreign startups being extremely successful here (Spotify, Waze, any others I’m missing?). Indian and Chinese tech startups have both seen crazy growth by focusing domestically as well. On the flip side, it will be interesting to see where startups will come from that capitalize on China putting money into building out internet infrastructure in emerging economies. Places like Singapore have done a good job of positioning itself as a place to go international across SE Asia and India. Will a new tech ecosystem emerge from somewhere such as Dubai or Pakistan that will capture all of this growth long-term for their region? Will traditional powers like the US, China, or India start pushing more mobile apps, SaaS products, and e-commerce plays into those countries? Will local winners take everything in their respective market? Or will RocketInternet rule everything?

It’s all up in the air. I do know that with these announcements it’s showing that a lot of people will be brought into the global market and will have infrastructure to get online. How startups react to all of this economic growth led by China will be interesting to follow over the next few years as the New Silk Road comes together. If history can tell us anything, it's that new economies along the New Silk Road will see their barriers to the global market fall. It is anyone's guess as to what might happen with a single country attempting to drive it as a policy. 

I’d love to hear what you think. Do you know of some startups that are good examples of focusing on those areas? See the situation panning out differently than how I paint it? 

The New Silk Road Pt. 2 : Hardware

Huaqiang Electronic World in Shenzhen, China

China as the Gateway to Launch a Consumer Electronics Startup

The route of the Silk Road covers around half of mankind from a population standpoint. I mentioned the investment in internet technologies but there will also be new roads, ports, and better ways to deliver goods and services to those populations. The focus here is on goods. Shenzhen, the world’s capital for making electronics, is only a quick hour drive from massive ports in Hong Kong and a 2 hour flight (with 17 per day!) to the center of the New Silk Road in Xi’ian.

With the infrastructure rolling out from south China like a red carpet, it’ll be extremely easy to connect a consumer electronic device to any market along the New Silk Road. Incubators such as Brinc and HAX are going to have increased value over the next few years as they continue to give access to the top consumer electronics startups from around the world that need to take advantage of the areas manufacturing know-how. It’ll be interesting to see how Shenzhen/Hong Kong’s startup scenes change as this economic policy matures.  

Next up: I'll finish up these posts on the New Silk Road with a look to some of the lesser-known startup ecosystems that stand to gain a lot from China's new economic policy. 

Have you traveled to Hong Kong, Xian, or Shenzhen and have some experiences to share? Building a hardware startup that is looking to take advantage of the knowhow in China? Feel free to leave a comment!


The New Silk Road

 Mapping China's New Silk Road

Mapping China's New Silk Road

A few months ago, the Financial Times published an article on China’s new economic policy known as the “New Silk Road”. Announced in Kazakhstan in 2013, the plan has focused on ways to strategically use China’s overcapacity in manufacturing. This plan is comprised of a number of trade deals and large infrastructure investments along a route that’s nearly identical to the original Silk Road from hundreds of years ago. After reading through this, there’s a few highlights that I think are particularly important when looking at this from the angle of startups. The first one I wanted to look into is what this plan means for ecosystems outside of China that might be off the radar. 

New Regions to Focus On

A few rapidly emerging technology ecosystems are part of China’s path for the New Silk Road. Markets such as SE Asia, Central Asia, and East Africa are all places that have been largely ignored up until now by tech companies as viable markets to launch products in. Markets such as Indonesia, Kenya, and Pakistan are all places filled with young, mobile-first populations and rapidly-growing middle classes. They are also all English speaking countries. It’s important to think that these countries will be receiving large infrastructure investment from China, increasing bandwidth for mobile and high-speed internet penetration to businesses. Entrepreneurs that are looking for big areas of disruption should take notice of these countries in particular as the infrastructure investments continue. Also, incubators like Skystar (Jakarta), 88mph (Nairobi), andPlan 9 (Lahore) will be good places for international teams to go to learn about what’s happening on the ground. 

What other ecosystems might see growth from China's plan? Do you have any experience working in any of the ecosystems I mentioned above? Feel free to comments with thoughts, opinions, or your personal experience. 

Next up, I'll be exploring what these changes mean as China looks to stake it's claim as a consumer tech hub.