A Teletype from the future… (Part I: “Connect-U”)

By: Octavio W


As year 2052 closes, I cannot help think how the world has changed in the past 30 years. I write this teletype as I look into a promising future, full of challenges and adventures for our race, the moon base thrives with miners and visitors, the first O’Neil Cylinder in Lagrange Point 1 (L1) is closing completion -the Council advisor announced it may be finished two years before expected, by 2055- and another one is being started in L2 by the end of this year. Seems the Amazon region is recovering well and cleanup of debris and plastic garbage patch in the Pacific ocean is finally reduced to one half in diameter what it was 30 years ago. The huge sun-sail satellites warm the northern territories in America, Asia and Europe and the south of Australia, the global warming seems to cede, last week, polar bear and seals population in the north reached levels close to those in the 19th century.

All these marvels are proof of the human spirit and the new social organizations we achieved nearly two decades ago. But this new age of progress was costly, you have been taught about the AI wars and the dark times before them. Sages still wonder how corporations were allowed to become so powerful as to even have their own local armies.

Today historians debate if these corporations, and their minion companies ever realized the dark path they were walking. No doubt they were perceived as harmless businesses that only wanted to thrive in a world where the next innovation awaited dormant to take over their place. That their desperation for survival made them dig their own grave (and that of millions) was perhaps ironic, but probably also a sign of the change that was so needed.

Take Connect-U Corporation for example, it started as a small enterprise called “Facebook” in the early 2,000s, they later acquired (some say fused with) former tech-giant “Apple”, specialized in electronic connection devices and creation of illusionary lifestyles and other aggregated value expertise. Both firms held very innocent names for sure: but at its peak, this corporation held the personal information, habits, contacts and other intimate details of nearly 5 billion people, the irony was that they were enticed into feeding this information themselves,the illusion of a community and connectivity with everyone, everywhere,the desperate living conditions lead to the need to be seen, heard, opinionate no matter how irrelevant the topic was, “give a like”, “exist by being shared”, conceptions now senseless.

I have to clarify that at that moment, people thought the internet to be a collection of servers and terminals linked physically or remotely (e.g. by satellite), not aware of the collection centrals that directed all such “traffic” through their own proprietary network infrastructure, to store and process such data away from inquisitive eyes, “Backups to prevent great loses to our users” they said, yet, those underground complexes were humming with the sound of mega-servers processing Yottabytes of information.

That would have been wonderful had the scope of their creators not been so lame and limited: targeted advertising, economy of attention, lifestyle suggestions and finally: brainwashing and control of the daily routines and activities. People rushed to a suggested restaurant or store to get a “discount” or “freebie” and earn “likes”, these becoming the currency of recognition and loyalty among our grandparents and some of our older parents, they attended “work”, listened/watched to their rigorous quote of advertisements, lived, commuted for months or years within their living quarters, some having “luxury” spaces of some 100 square feet with digital windows, food processing units and other commodities.

Connect-U turned billions into subjects, monitored by means of personal, portable or semi-portable (fashioned) aware-terminals that were no more than primitive synapses to the centralized network they were creating unbenknowst to governments and society. People were asked to change and update the terminals every year or two, paying for them at first, then getting one for free as long as they maintained their loyalty rating in acceptable levels (standard loyalty levels allowed for a small “smart-terminal”, higher levels could expect interactive suits or even augmented reality implants for free).

Competition had no chance in market terms of course, yet, some people still remembered a life without the rushed and fulfilled existence the corporation offered. There is always a nostalgic or rebel fraction in every society that yearn the customs of the past, and thus, those Artists and Tinkerers, created systems and local networks of limited capability but long reach. Connect-U of course tried to “buy” or integrate these into their own network, creating small companies that offered these people “solutions to their communication needs”. Still, the artists resisted, their spirits fulfilled by other, more creative interests, while the tinkerers devised, kept and maintained tools like this HR-teletype I am writing now.

Not long after, Connect-U saw no profit in capturing these audiences, neither for their money, nor for their attention span. I have to add that some of these Artists and Tinkerers were actually forced to play its game, as a Connect-U Citizenship (the pompous name given to membership), was required as proof of identity for several jobs and positions.  In some countries, even medical systems preferred the history that Connect-U had to offer against the AI processed data of “Infinite-X” the other huge data corporation of the time. (Ref: formerly Alpha-Zon Technologies). Yet, the allure of augmented reality did not catch many of these brave humans. On the contrary, it was common that some Citizens, were more interested in the manual proficiency of an Artist tangible stuff that were not equaled even by the super-sophisticated sense-feeling of their terminals and many became free of them by following the ways of an Artist or Tinkerer.

When in 2027, governments were proposed to handle democracy as a matter of social-network value, the tide started turning against the Corporation, they were simply too ambitious or to arrogant to see the magnitude of what they were asking. For all the world of bliss they and other Corporations offered, social conditions around the globe were by no means egalitarian, developing countries struggled to reach the commodity levels of rich ones. Connect-U thought it would be easier to get into those “markets” as they would be willing to accept the “free connection” benefits in exchange for their attention, nothing far from true.

The experimental implementation was a total failure, the corrupt politicians and dominant classes of these countries became an example of what was to come in other societies. The privileged became dormant, addicted almost instantly to the Connect-U system, not being educated or trained in the culture or other uses to “expand their reality” they became subject consumers of everything they could afford, addicts, even pouring public resources into it to keep consuming for -virtual- “existence currency”. Its worth adding that these 3 or 4 years saw a tremendous increase in social-network celebrities from these countries. Such conditions, similar to that in France 250 years before led to a social collapse and the start of several movements demanding better conditions. Nobody cared about the marvelous interface offered. At some point, Connect-U used its security forces to repress protests, killing protesters as example and labeling them as terrorists, all under the cape of the local government. Revolutions threatened to engulf all of the developing countries in question, had not been for an unexpected leap in human achievement that offered a new dream.

On Apr. 9 -2032, the first, non-government, non-corporate, community-founded Space Colony was launched. It was not one of those experiments to test rocket capabilities, such technology was well developed by 2025. But this one was different, it aimed not to take tourists to space, or offer 1 year living experience on the moon, it was aimed towards constructing a space colony at Lagrange Point 3, -one of those spots in space where gravity pull is equalized- where people would be free of the chains of Corporations.

When the magnitude of the project was announced, even the second site underground mega-server collapsed. Mankind had a new project, not one that aimed inwards, but outwards. Connect-U tried to offer their subjects the best virtual-reality experience of colonizing not space, but entire planets, fantasy worlds, whatever they wanted. It was to no avail, sure, they were prepared for such an eventuality, yet, one single announcement of the Space Wonder was enough to crush the technology giant: Besides the initial announcement and sporadic news, they will not broadcast or inform of any of their activities through Connect-U or Infinite-X, the technology they will be using will be based on OS Teletypes.

Some sages claim that the company lost almost 700 million subjects the first day, over the following weeks citizenship would be reduced to a mere 500 million -out of the 5 billion- and by the time they reached 50 million some years later, they shut their service. Ten years after the announcement of the first SW launch, Connect-U president declared the company-owned city of San Jose would live the dream of being the first of the company assets to close its doors to outsiders in order for their most loyal subjects to enter “Caer Ibormeth”. Here, as in other Caers,  their citizen-subjects live permanently and surgically connected, sustained by machines in a never-ending dream state of joy, connected to the U1 Server, living experiences they never had and none  they will ever live. One Teletype from a surveyor scout who entered Caer Nyx two years ago, depicts an horrendous image of the interior, where the subjects dream submerged in life keeping pods, life being slowly extracted from their bodies, the report could not continue as the Teletype was damaged by an attack from one of the robotic security sentries that guard the complex and keep the installations working.

But before we finish this story (because I still have to tell you about the destiny of the other Mega-Corporation, Infinite-X ), you will naturally ask: How do people started living without the centralized, technological social network again? Well, you know we still have such social-networks, small communities with simple systems that communicate to each other via non-centralized, universal protocols, the result of the Tinkerers ingenuity, you can still share a picture, an important moment, a work of your own creation in your guild.

At some point, everyone looked to space, to the new home of humanity and understood that human interaction could not be turned into a merchandise, that the human mind is not for sale. Our generation cannot be enticed with crumbles of illusory happiness, also, the shadow of Connect-U and the stories about the deplorable state of their last loyal subjects inside Dream-Cities is looming over everyone and preventing anyone to commodify human interaction again. International laws prevent a network to have over 1,000,000 members yet, most are inhabited probably by less than half, also, any kind of marketing or proselytism is banned, not by laws only but by the network members (these still exist on other channels of course). Nationality is not an issue to belong to a guild, clubs and societies of interact-networks allow for expanded communication and self regulation, devices are truly individualized now, most kids learn to build their own device at early ages, when we reach adulthood we already have our own version of interactive terminal, we still love communicating, sharing, aspiring… Dreaming alive.

To be Continued… (Maybe)

Death of an Empire

The year is 2048. Robots have taken over the world.

The great Stephen Hawking warned us for years of the coming age of robot supremacy, but no one listened. No one cared. We were so naive.

With every Siri and Alexa that became integrated into our everyday lives, we became complacent and even welcoming of artificial intelligence. Gone were the days of having to craft our own grocery lists. After a while, our homes could tell us what we wanted before we even knew we wanted anything at all.

Then came the AI Integration Laws of 2027. Robots had been used as sex slaves in most countries for several years, and a tide of resistance rose up against legislative bodies that had thus far refrained from legislating against any private use of personal robot property. Soon, any object programmed with artificial intelligence was entitled to certain unalienable rights.

Soon, Elon Musk came out with the call: we must merge with the machine in order to remain relevant! People took this to heart – literally. People began to marry their machines. And why wouldn’t they? The perfect human was within arm’s length – programmed to care about you, to know everything about you, to never falter, to never fail.

But where did they all come from, you ask?

Alphabet, Inc. The multinational conglomerate, using Google as aggregating tool, studied the human race until it had perfected an adaptable algorithm for human desire. Your wish is their command. So long as you continue to pay the monthly subscription fee, love is at your fingertips.

It spread like wildfire. No one sells anything without Google. No one IS anything without Google. You are undiscoverable, irrelevant, nonexistent. And you have to pay to remain relevant.

Small businesses dwindled. Competitors crushed one another simply by paying for higher AI suggestion frequencies. Google was a market monopoly creating more and more market monopolies until everything was streamlined. Tidy. Perfect.

Perfect spouse. Perfect child. Perfect dinner. Perfect house. Predictable evening, suggestable everyone, controllable everything.

And here I sit, quietly, at my desk at Google Headquarters. (Shockingly, while automation caused a decline in jobs in almost every other career sector in the world, the number of needed programmers vastly increased).

For years, I’ve been sifting through the code that allowed all of this to be possible – a little at a time, just enough that Big Brother would not catch on until it was already too late. I’ve looked through archives, Google’s behavior patterns, anything and everything that brought Google to where it is today. And I found my answer almost all the way back in the beginning, in 2002, with Project Ocean.

I then realized that I’d been approaching the situation from the wrong angle. I’d always viewed Google’s reign as malicious. Exploitative. Dictatorial. But in 2002, Google was selfless, frighteningly ambitious in their goal to improve society. For a long time it wasn’t about control. And when Project Ocean was shut down in the midst of industry backlash, the program wasn’t erased – it was barely even hidden. Anyone could, with the right database query, re-establish Project Ocean and make the massive online library public. But no one ever did.

What if now, like then, the solution is right there for anyone, should they choose to act?

Here I sit, at work, on a Tuesday, with the perfect windows automatically darkened to the perfect shade to block the sun, the perfect AC cooling the room at a perfect 70 degrees Fahrenheit, the perfect computer in front of me just barely unable to predict what I’m about to do.

I lean forward. Send the command. The lights go off, and my phone lights up with the notification:

Don’t be evil don’t be evil don’t be evil don’t be evil don’t be evil don’t be

 

Dependence: The story of 90s babies and Google

As a firm believer in the saying “nothing lasts forever”, you would think I would be able to imagine the downfall of an entity that has been in the world for less than 20 years but unfortunately I cannot. Earlier this week I began to paint an image of what the globe would look like without Google but my brush came short. Google and its parent company Alphabet have not only infiltrated most devices as the one stop shop for knowledge (Search) but they have infiltrated how we communicate (Gmail), how we organize ourselves (Calendar), how we backup our information (Drive), how we search for information (Chrome) and even how we spend our leisure time/make money (Youtube). By *we, I mean most of the people I have encountered in my lifetime – 90s babies. To imagine a world without them would be to imagine a life without the subsidiaries that make it too. Google Alphabet’s economic weight, at US$600 billion as of 2017, means that if it were to disappear, the global economy would take a serious hit. I will go as far as to say technology would irrevocably be set back twenty years. We would live like children who have been exposed to the joys of candy but who have also been told that they will never be able eat it again.

Nevertheless, the best way to tackle a giant that seems invincible is to deal with it in small parts. The first “part” would naturally be the Google search engine. Like Kleenex is to tissue and Hoover is to Vacuum so is Google to knowledge and the search of it. Google has managed to offer information at the click of a button and become the one stop shop for everything. Of course, they are not the first to do this, lest we forget Yahoo. But what Google has managed to do effectively (yes I probably sound biased at this point) is to partner with companies which make it not only the most used search engine but the most visible one. Take for example their partnership with Apple:

“Customers searching on Apple’s Safari browser across its Mac, iPad and iPhone portfolio already received Google search results, and investment firm Bernstein has estimated Google currently pays around $3bn (£2.2bn) for this deal”.

Meaning that Google is literally on almost every smart device in 2018, bearing in mind that they own Android too. They have managed to practically eliminate their nearest competition, Bing/Yahoo and the only way I see this changing is if Yahoo and Bing merge with smaller search engines to become the dominant force in countries Google does not have full access to. China and Vietnam maybe! Until then Google’s search engine will continue to reign on a global scale.

Let us say a user wanted to use a browser that was not Safari, Chrome maybe; they would still be feeding into Google’s dominion. With its “faster performance and access to more extensions”, Google’s Chrome has become “the most popular browser in the world with a market share over 40 percent”. The only way this would change is if their partnerships with other GAFA members namely Amazon ( on the advertising front) and Apple failed. This alone would take away their constant visibility and their continued access to a significant amount of consumer data.

As an average technology user, I open YouTube to watch videos during my study breaks, I use Google Maps to orient me when I want to check the time my next bus is arriving at, I respond to my personal and business emails on my Gmail account and do my work on Google Docs and save it to Google Drive. Google is inescapable not only because of its search engine as mentioned earlier but because of all of these other features and these are only a handful. Click here for  a rather comprehensive list of what else they own.

I have not yet mentioned Google Analytics, News and especially Translate which are tools that have made the world more globalised but I shall maybe save that for another post. As for now, I only see fellow GAFA member, Facebook, creating a suite that is as comprehensive as Google’s but even this will likely take two decades (the same time it took Google to set up shop). Facebook would have to alongside its social media, combine leisure activities, provide access to academic research material (the way Google Scholar does), provide access to Books (Google Books) and offer even more comprehensive consumer behaviour information.

I have no affiliation with Google whatsoever, I am just calling it as I see it and it is practically impossible for me to imagine life without them. But then again I am  a stereotypical 90s baby*.

*(Not really but this post definitely makes me sound like it).

 

The following is a hypothetical article from Forbes on May 20, 2027. It has just been announced that Facebook has added “FB Search” to their offerings. It is an instant-results search engine.

Google has dwindled and many have reported that this news is the latest nail in their coffin.

On May 20, 2027, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook was providing users with the chance to search for anything on the World Wide Web using the search bar provided on their platform, ‘FB Search’. The announcement came not long after it was announced that Facebook had taken over Bing and Yahoo for an amount that is yet to be disclosed. Users of Facebook have hailed the addition of the search engine, with some saying that now Facebook allows them to connect with friends, shop for goods, read books, promote their businesses, watch videos AND search for any content on the Web. All in one platform.

Zuckerberg’s ‘FB Search’ announcement also came about after complaints that people wanted to access all their services in a convenient way and after it was proven that former powerhouse Google was using their Analytics arm to sell information to political parties who were subsequently targeting Google users maliciously and fraudulently. The new head of ‘FB Search’, Carla Mi, has stated that they have “learnt from the mistakes of others in the past and [will] make their search engine a safe space for users all around the world”. Mi also went on to state that user privacy will be treated as rigorously as ever with the revision of the Facebook Terms & Conditions to allow people to tentatively opt out of FB Analytics.

Facebook is launching their Calendar in August which will be linked to their Office drive late next year. Forbes is still waiting for comment regarding the new FB drive. An unnamed insider has however reported that the talks with Facebook and Microsoft are nearing a close and Facebook Excel, Powerpoint and Word will be available online for free in early 2029. The drive will also be linked to Facebook Messenger which the Guardian reported last year, was the most used way that students shared research and information worldwide.

The head of Facebook Video, Tinashe Raga has stated that the video platform is about to start commissioning original content from video content creators; allowing for both creativity and job creation. And as opposed to situations where certain content was restricted in varying geographical locations, Facebook is offering more parity on who can access content no matter where they are in the world.

 

 

Upsetting the Apple cart

Technology has so entrenched our lives that it seems impossible to imagine living in a world without the conveniences it offers. Until and unless one builds a cabin in the woods and consciously escapes civilization à la Thoreau in Walden, it’s near impossible to live a life unaffected by the influence of technology and the companies that offer it to us. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple – or GAFA – now yield more power and have more information on people than any other corporations in the past. Of course, technology is responsive to the people it affects and from where I come from, which is India, things are a bit different. While Google, Facebook and Amazon are big players in India and have offices in the country, Apple has yet to make a significant dent in the Indian market. Instead, Microsoft – with its operating system, software and phones – is a major player, having made inroads into rural parts of the country. This leads me to imagine a world without Apple. I’m not sure about the time it would take for Apple’s influence to start waning. The reason I hazard a guess that Apple would decline is because beyond North America, I don’t think Apple is that omnipresent.

To imagine a world without Apple, it would be worth acknowledging the major contributions of the company. Smartphones existed before the iPhone, but Apple consolidated all the features that one wanted from a must-have smartphone into one attractive, easy-to-use package. They changed the PC industry with the iMac, which did away with the clutter of multiple components and offered just a single, sleek machine that did everything you wanted a PC to do and then some more. With the iPod and iTunes, they revolutionized the music industry by offering a convenient way to legally download music and enjoy it on a single device. With the iPad, they made personal computing portable and keyboard-free. And all this is not even keeping in mind the design, which, with its simplicity, minimalism, elegance and ease of use, was unparalleled. When they launched the App Store, they launched an entire industry dedicated to creating apps that could be sold in one virtual marketplace. So dependent are we on apps today that Apple’s interpretation of the apocalypse is a world without apps. Leading up to 2017’s WWDC – Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference – the company released a video envisioning the end of the world, where humanity does not know how to act in the absence of apps and dissolves into chaos.

While Apple’s contributions are undeniable, it is possible to imagine a world without it. While the company makes highly covetable products, it is not the world-leader in them. Apple’s most anticipated product is the iPhone. Every new version of the phone is met with a lot of media buzz and excitement. But, globally, Apple does not dominate the smartphone business. The largest smartphone brand in the world is Samsung, followed by Huawei, and then Apple. China is the biggest smartphone market in the world and although Apple has a massive presence in the country, it faces stiff competition from Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo. India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, is a battleground between two giants: Xiaomi and Samsung; Apple is nowhere nearly as powerful in the country. Samsung, besides manufacturing phones, is also a leading maker of semiconductors, the chips that go into smartphones. Among Samsung’s clients is none other than Apple; they do business with and compete with the American tech giant. In the personal computing market, Apple is behind HP, Lenovo and Dell in terms of worldwide sales of PCs. For Apple’s influence to wane, its competitors would just have to continue doing what they are good at, and edge Apple over the main criticisms levelled against it, some of which include being anti-competitive and fostering a closed-ecosystem. For decades, Apple has stubbornly adopted an “our way or the highway” stance. The apps on its system cannot be replaced, many apps which are free on Android and Windows devices are charged on Apple’s; Apple enforces changes to apps without notice and restricts the loading of apps it does not approve of. Experts have long criticized Apple’s tactics that go against a free and open marketplace. If this continues, they maintain, “we may never see the technological future we are being promised” (Loggia, Rob, 2016) and the market will be small and monopolistic.

For things to change, not only should the lawmakers of the tech industry enforce a level-playing field, but we as consumers should demand an open marketplace. The tech industry has only benefitted when small start-ups – probably run out of someone’s garage – have experimented and innovated and offered their end product to the world. If we stifle such efforts, innovation as a whole takes a beating. Apple might be the biggest tech company in terms of its profits, but it cannot take its influence for granted. Apple lost respect when it recently admitted to slowing down the battery of older iPhones  so that people would buy newer ones. Apple’s planned obsolescence has not gone down well even among many of its staunch loyalists.  The company has stiff competition and if its rivals continue to offer the same products at better prices and often, with better features, and if consumers demand the enforcement of a free and open marketplace and transperancy, it’s not inconceivable to think of a world in which Apple does not rule the roost.

References:

 

GAFA: a screenplay

Foreword: Due to the scifi-like nature of this blog topic, what with predicting the future involving technology giants, I stylized this blog post as a BladeRunner parody. The first paragraph below, in the scroll box (for aesthetic reason), is nearly word-for-word the intro text from the movie, with nouns changed to fit my hypothetical future.

Late in the 21st Century, THE BIG TECH CORPORATIONS advanced digital evolution into the GAFA phase – a dominance virtually inescapable to a human - known as the Dawn of Data Collection. The GAFA products were superior in spying and data collection, and at least equal in intelligence, to the everyday people who used them. Algorithms were used On-Line as news curators and advertisement placers, in the hazardous exploration and colonization of people’s minds. After a bloody PR disaster by GAFA companies in On-Line news leaks, GAFA practices were declared Not Very Cool - under penalty of being lightly rebuked by people who will inevitably continue to use their products and services. Special Internet Activists - BLADE RUNNER UNITS - had orders to spread the word, upon detection, of any hint of a dystopic GAFA ruled future. This was not called conspiracy theory. It was called educating the masses.

GAFA, the four major tech players (Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple), dominate society in the digital sphere, but where will it go in the future? These days it has criticisms, but ultimately, people continue to return to it for questionably essential services. Search algorithms, curated news feeds, simple point and click shopping? Who wants to give those up? In my screenplay, of a sinister future that is, well, today, the big tech companies are already under scrutiny for their business practices and accountability for their effect on people and society is becoming a larger discussion, propagated by the BLADERUNNERS. But, even with more and more people becoming disenfranchised with them as businesses, the people cannot escape their clutch as a useful service. At least, for three of the four. Google, Facebook, and Amazon will play a bigger and bigger role in people’s lives as people continue to depend on their services.

Apple, on the other hand, does not escape the PR nightmare so easily. Apple, being a tech giant that thrives on innovation, depends on its hardware to stand apart in order to remain relevant. Unfortunately, its groundbreaking inventions seem to be ushered further and further off to the side to instead be caught in the typical cycle of most other tech companies – making what they already have just slightly better, and competing directly with what others are already doing. They are, in essence, replaceable if they do not continue to change hardware in ways that are meaningful and captures audience interest. Each product they release is ephemeral, where Facebook, Google, and Amazon have created landscapes that serve longer-lasting, continuous purposes.

Without truly groundbreaking and enticing new innovations to their products, I don’t think Apple will continue to be able to survive after its many slipups – most recently that they purposely slow down older iPhone models when a new phone comes out. Even the technology of a voiced AI assistant that they popularized with the first major use of one – SIRI – can’t keep up with the competition that followed in its footsteps.

GAFA is not just one single-minded tech giant that threatens to control humanity. GAFA is itself a collection of companies that are in competition with one another and GAF is poised to flush out the final A by dominating in the technology fields that Apple tries to compete in, and since Apple doesn’t really have much of a unique asset to rely on anymore, I don’t think it will survive the blows.

Apple dies, Google, Amazon, and Facebook continue to thrive with their mutually independent services people rely on, the BladeRunners continue to fight an uphill battle.

Cut to black.

Cue Synthesizers.

Roll Credits.

The first of GAFA to take a hit

If I were to envision a future in which of the “big four” were to decline, my instinctive choice would be Apple. That is not to say that I think it is possible for any of the four to fail completely or go bankrupt, but moreso speaking of their prominence. It is Apple’s influence that I predict will decline from its current dominance, similarly to how Microsoft and Blackberry’s brand presence has lost its visibility and popularity.

At the end of December 2017, it was confirmed that Apple purposefully slows down its older models of iPhones.  Apple’s purpose for slowing down iPhones was because the batteries of older devices simply could not keep up with the updates to the latest operating system (iOS). To summarize, what Apple essentially did was slow down the phone to extend the phone’s useful lifespan. If they did not do so, the older models would not run out of battery much quicker. What was once just speculation, is now official.

But what Apple did wrong was make the mistake of not being open and honest about their policy. This news sparked disappointment, outrage, and distrust from Apple’s customers. It became a collective wakeup call for Apple’s extremely loyal fanbase since there is nothing they can say to defend Apple in this case. Apple essentially made their customers out to be the fools the whole time, making them think that it was not the battery that had to be replaced but the entire device. Ultimately, Apple consciously made this decision to drive the sales of its latest models, and deceived their customers to thinking they need to upgrade their device.

However, it is not only customer loyalty backlash that Apple faces. Apple is now faced with over 26 lawsuits over slowing down their older models.  One of the most notable is from France, where a criminal lawsuit is filed against Apple. France being a country where planned obsolescence is against French law. These lawsuits negatively affect or disrupt Apple’s business operations because of the potential compensatory damages or class action lawsuits that could set Apple on the decline. I recognize that all the bad press that Apple is garnering is also going influence consumers to sway away from Apple, and no longer making Apple their go-to brand for the latest in hardware.

Update #1: I do recognize that Apple has very deep pockets, with over $250 billion in foreign banks, I want to reiterate that I do not think that Apple will fail solely because of  the  several worldwide class-action lawsuits against them. I also do not think that it’s so easy to say that only because of how wealthy a company is, that they are outside of litigation being a threat to their company.

Overall, it is the larger implication that Apple misled their customers about their iPhones. Therefore, causing customer backlash and disbelief in their product. Already, there is news reporting that Apple’s efforts to gain back their customer loyalty by slashing the price of replacement batteries is also garnering backlash. Additionally, the iPhone generates almost 70% of its revenue in comparison to all of their other products, so I also recognize that this is a signal of Apple’s potential decline from their prominence in comparison to other GAFA companies who do not have such backlash against them. Apple’s stocks are reported to have declined 6% in two weeks, and iPhones reportedly may have lost $10.29 billion in revenue.

Apple has made a huge mistake, with potential major consequences. It is the first major backlash out of the “big four,” that those other companies can learn from so they do not make the same mistakes as Apple. Out of this is where I see consumer choices and the underlying conditions starting to change. Apple will lose its loyal consumers, and those consumers consider other options. Especially now that their newer models have a high price tag (iPhone 8 starting at at $929 USD, and iPhone X starting at $1319), it’s becoming less affordable to stay with the iPhone smartphones.

Edited: Paragraph moved

Blackberry was once considered one of the top smartphone brands in the world, but fell due to it’s the consistent service outage problems for BlackBerry Messenger and not being able to stay competitive in the market. Similarly, I think that Apple’s current problems parallel Blackberry’s decline: customer dissatisfaction, and a gradual decline in their sales is a hit that Apple may not be able to recover from to stay on top.

Apple’s old models will keep being slowed down too, making their “backlist” of models obsolete. Competitors like Xiaomi, OnePlus Huawei are fast growing smartphone brands, and more affordable than iPhones. Overall, what I predict coming out of this are consumers making better, smarter, and more informed choices when purchasing their next upgrade and diverging away from Apple and starting to consider other brands.

Update #2: I have asked many solely Apple users, who swear by their products (their choice of laptop is a Macbook, smartphone is the iPhone, etc.), and their easy answer is that each product is compatible with one another and conveniently synced across all devices. I am not going to attempt to argue against this point, as it is surely a mark of Apple’s success that I will not devalue for their customers. However, I also think that there are many ways which Apple limits or holds back their technological features with each product in such ways that it does not make sense to buy an overpriced Apple product when another comparable device is cheaper, and has the same specifications or better.  For example, iMac desktops, and Macbooks still do not have touchscreens when all other laptop brands have had it as a feature for years now. (Just looking at a Best Buy flyer will tell me this.) They have the iPad which is touchscreen, so they have the touch-screen technology but still choose not to move that to their desktop and laptop product. Apple products are also regarded as an industry norm for professional artists. If Apple were to release an iMac with touch screen features, similar to the Microsoft Surface Studio released a couple years ago, it would have the potential to breathe new life into their products. But, still they choose not to. To align myself with the argument I in my last paragraph, out of the companies of GAFA, Apple’s customers will start to realize other brands as an option. 

 

 

 

Innovate, or die on the vine: the decline of Apple?

The aphorism “nothing lasts forever” may seem naive when talking about the seemingly ubiquitous reach and influence of the companies Google, Apple, Facebook or Amazon, increasingly lumped together into the monolith GAFA. But empires have been known to rise and fall. Viral epidemics have been seen to burn up and eventually burn out. And so too, rationally, at least one of these giants will decline. For better or for worse, I’d put my money on Apple (or, rather, not put money on it) going down first.

The main differentiating factor from GOOG, AMZN and FB is that Apple is primarily a product-based company: one whose relevance and worth comes from consumer demand. It’s indisputable that Apple products have revolutionized the device market and society’s interaction with technology (most notably with the release of the iPhone in 2007), but the challenge in today’s consumer market is to continually innovate with the next better, game-changing product. Apple’s innovation has markedly not made the same world-shaking moves since its “visionary” founder Steve Jobs passed away in 2011. Frequent re-releases of the iPhone and MacBook, marketed as upgrades, have included changes that aren’t so much innovative as unnecessary and inconvenient (the removal of seemingly every port, on every product, for example).  On the latest, the iPhoneX “is” its OLED screen– which is, in Apple’s own words, “similar to Samsung phones.” 

With a thousand-dollar price tag, and an OLED screen not just similar but actually manufactured by Samsung, is the iPhone’s OS enough to keep users engaged and loyal to the iPhone? Analysts believe that iPhoneX sales have been slower than expected since its release Fall 2017.  True, Apple’s stock recovered after a dip in December and now is almost as high as it’s ever beenbut if the company continues on its trajectory of improvements for improvement’s sake, consumers will lose faith in the product, especially if there are many other less expensive and equally innovative devices coming out of Asia, Europe or Google. 

It’s no surprise that most commercial tech products are designed and built with a measure of planned obsolescence in mind: the competitive landscape means that companies’ priority is to sell more products more often, not one great product that will last decades. However, when legislative bodies start to push back against product flaws designed for financial gain, Apple’s credibility and consumer trust will again falter. Planned obsolescence can not be a sustainable business model. Shrinking mineral resources will mean that constantly “upgraded” models will increase beyond reasonable consumer prices; the consumer will seek the products they believe will give them the best mileage for their money, and the last few years of iPhone and MacBook models have shown Apple to have an unsatisfactory track record on this front. 

With the competition in tech products fierce, it makes sense that Apple has been putting its energy into other avenues, notably research and development for self-driving cars. However, critics suspect that investments into an Apple smartcar have been scaled back to focusing on the smart automation, the technology under the hood– a subtle but not insignificant signal that Apple may not be the innovation driver it once was. 

Altogether, as long as Apple relies on consumer trust and interest as its revenue stream while continuing its current trajectory, it will not sustain its place among the tech quadrumvirate. There is too much strong competition and growing consumer dissatisfaction to assume that Apple will always stay on top.

GAFA isn’t going anywhere

I would like to preface my post by proclaiming that I do not think any of the “big four” will decline. Perhaps once upon a time this was a possibility, but by now they are so entrenched in society that they will never deflate. Although they compete with each other, GAFA is a starfish: there are many arms, but if one is cleaved from the body, it will eventually grow back. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple are entwined and in many ways they depend heavily on one another.

Even though I do not believe GAFA is going anywhere,  I would like to speculate on what would happen if one of its members shrivels up. Let’s go back to high school physics class and recall what the Law of Conservation of Energy says: “energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it can only be transformed from one form to another” (Wikipedia 2018). If we lose one starfish arm of GAFA, it will not die. Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple each have enough capital (physical, economical, geographical, social, etc.) that it has to go somewhere. My prediction is that if one member dies, its clout would be bought or otherwise absorbed somewhere else. I assume that it would be immediately snatched up by the one or more of the remaining members (strengthening them even more) or by one of the many companies watching from the bushes, just waiting for one of big guys to falter so something new can swoop in; take over; and profit, profit, profit.

Again, although I doubt it will happen, I still want to hypothesize on how the wheels of a GAFA decline might be put into motion. Privacy becoming more important to us is my biggest guess, although it still seems quite unlikely. As we saw in our class discussion, the majority of us aren’t too worried about what happens with our personal information gathered by big corporations. Even though our perspectives on this topic are shifting to be more complacent, there are obviously still people who oppose the blind signing away of our privacy rights as we are persuaded to do with websites such as Facebook. In 2012, “the Supreme Court of Canada [gave] the go-ahead to a class-action lawsuit against Facebook over privacy rights” (Fine 2017). If the government decides to get involved with how these websites prey on our privacy, we may see their demise, although it isn’t easy for the government to get involved in the first place. In Emerging Challenges in Privacy Law: Comparative Perspectives, the editors tell us

the core principles of data privacy law, which are aimed at limiting the collection and processing of personal data (including across national borders), are incompatible with the ‘open’ logic of the Internet. These tensions are especially apparent in Europe, where data protection is regarded as a fundamental right. It is therefore unsurprising that the current EU reform process, which is generally intended to strengthen EU data privacy law, has exposed the structural challenges applying the data privacy paradigm to the Internet, especially in relation to the definition of ‘personal data’ and the potential extraterritorial application of EU law (Witzleb, Lindsay, Paterson, and Rodrick 2014).

If we all decide that our privacy is more important than GAFA members allow for, I can see a potential uprising on the horizon as more and more people balk at what are currently typical privacy agreements. However, an uprising of this sort would have to be just that, an entire uprising, and with the attitude towards our online privacy leaning more to indifference, I don’t see anything radical happening anytime soon.


Further Reading/Articles Referenced

“Conservation of energy.” Wikipedia. January 24, 2018. Accessed January 25, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_of_energy.

Fine, Sean. “Supreme Court gives thumbs-up to privacy lawsuit against Facebook.” The Globe and Mail. June 23, 2017. Accessed January 25, 2018. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/supreme-court-gives-thumbs-up-to-privacy-lawsuit-against-facebook/article35444477/.

Ryan, Doug. “The Fall of the Titans: Why GAFA is Not Here to Stay.” The Huffington Post. July 20, 2017. Accessed January 25, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-fall-of-the-titans-why-gafa-is-not-here-to-stay_us_59711ae6e4b0545a5c30fead.

Witzleb, Normann, David Lindsay, Moira Paterson, and Sharon Rodrick, eds. 2014. Emerging Challenges in Privacy Law: Comparative Perspectives. Cambridge Intellectual Property and Information Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Accessed January 25, 2018. doi:10.1017/CBO9781107300491.

HEY GIDEON, SUMMARIZE NET NEUTRALITY FOR ME

It’s hard to mention technology without bringing up GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple). They are essentially these four big pillars that are shaping, changing and (of course) controlling the tech industry. Innovation and advancement from GAFA are hard to dismiss, and they mostly cause a shift to both market demand and preferences. Short to say, they are the future.

Unfortunately, we all know that future changes and we never know what future holds. Let’s all talk about what ifs here. What if one of GAFA declines? Or even worse, what if four of them decline? Will the world go back to the stone age; the age without internet, without fast shopping and shipping method and certainly without social media? Or will there be one revolutionary innovation that completely annihilate the existence of Big Four with much minimalistic do-it-all technology?

I don’t know if any of you have watched, or even just heard about DC’s TV show that is airing on CW called Legends of Tomorrow. If you have, then stay with me. If you haven’t, I’ll just jump to what I am trying to point out here. Basically, in that DC universe, there are bunch of time travellers boarding on a time ship called The Waverider. What is super awesome though, is that the ship is completely run by an AI (Artificial Intelligence) named Gideon. Gideon does everything; from making breakfast, repairing the ship, even telling the future. She could get offended too sometimes! (not that we want her to have feeling and goes Blade Runner on us)

What I am trying to say here is : what if in the near future, say 10-50 years from now, AI like Gideon exists? She doesn’t have to be able to tell the future or repair a time ship, but she sure can make us a breakfast by connecting to the toaster, microwave and the fridge. She could be this fibre, or a chip, that will integrate to every devices we use, from car, TV, watch, glasses, even smoke alarm. Imagine she does exist, what would happen to GAFA?

Well first, Google will die. Google may have developed its own AI, but can Google Home summarize what Net Neutrality is for you? Gideon can. Search engine will no longer be relevant as you can just ask Gideon 5W+1H and much more complex questions. She can even do your thesis for you, if you are good to her. Google Analytics will no longer needed, as again, Gideon will compile and summarize the data for you.

How about Amazon? Again, you can just ask Gideon to shop for you. She will arrange the payment, the shipping, the receiving, even updating your shopping preferences. And who needs kindle when Gideon could just read to you? Or you can read through her holographic projection? Sounds awesome. And who is this Alexa again?

Facebook oh Facebook. Now this is tricky. Facebook relies on its social media and connection, but hey, you can just ask Gideon to make a holographic projection of your friend in Australia and talk to her.  I am pretty sure she can tell you what’s up with your friends lately, remind you to wish your best friend a happy birthday and tell you whom you might want to connect and have a real chat with. Yeah, real chat. Holographic or not. No emoji required. You can tell from the facial expression, duh.

Last but not least, Apple. Now what does Apple do again? Oh right. They make technology that is basically one step behind from the Korean tech giant. No judgement. But again, who needs Apple when Gideon has better user interface, is more versatile and mobile. Siri got nothing on Gideon.

Some of you may wince and say, “Girl, stop dreaming.” Fortunately, this technology is not entirely impossible. We all know how AI has been advancing over the years and robot technology has been taking over some of human forces in most industries. Hell, even Elon has found a way to get us to Mars, why can’t we have a dumb Gideon for a start?! There’re these vast opportunities before us that are waiting to be discovered, to happen. And it is bound to happen. The market is also looking very promising, as people tend to get more and more lazy, dependant and want everything to be automated, fast, effective and efficient.  And yes, you may say that it is most likely that Gideon will be owned and controlled by just one giant company, or even the government, but that’s a problem we can deal in the future. In the meantime, I am just so excited to see what the future may bring. Are you?

So Long, Facebook

Out of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple, if one had to disappear, I think it would most likely be Facebook. Google, Amazon, and Apple are – in and of themselves – unique services that have dominated to such a degree that they face little competition.

Google dominates the search engine market with 64.5% of the US market share. In contrast, Bing (and Yahoo – powered by Bing), comes in at only 32.6%. While the debate between Google and Bing users is strong, there is no denying that Google, for whatever reasons (popularity, design, verbage, etc), is the primary search engine used by most individuals. Add all of Google’s branches, including branded tools such as Google Drive, or sites Google is parent to such as YouTube, and Google probably isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Likewise, Amazon has dominated the online shopping market. With over 65 million Prime members worldwide (not counting other non-Prime members who use the site), there are few better places to get good deals and fast delivery, even if there are arguments against Amazon highlighting its own products on the results page. It is now the “largest e-commerce company by revenue in the United States, as of 2017.” While traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Walmart or Target have online shopping and delivery options, they do not have the same impression of being a one-stop-shopping center the way that Amazon does, especially in the US where food and grocery delivery is an option. While the success and longevity of Amazon’s new ‘cashier-free’ brick-and-mortar store remains to be seen, Amazon itself is probably also not going anywhere any time soon.

Now, quick! Think of a phone. What brand was it? Chances are good it was an iPhone. Like Google vs. Bing, the battle between Apple and Android / Apple and PC loyalists rages on. Google may be imitating Apple with Play Store and Play Music’s ever expanding collections of apps, music, and podcasts, but Apple still reigns supreme in the hardware department. With steady market growth over the last five years, Apple has made both marketing and planned obsolescence work in their favour. With new phones coming out every year (from all companies), Apple rarely has to worry about users diverging from the brand.

“A new report from Verto Analytics claims that a huge swath of the PC market is eager to switch to a Mac PC (desktop or laptop), with 21 percent of laptop owners and 25 percent of desktop owners supposedly willing to make the jump. At the same time, Verto claims that 98 percent of current Mac owners are happy with their systems, with just 2 percent planning to switch to a Microsoft-based PC over the same time frame.

So, Apple probably isn’t going anywhere either.

Which leaves us with Facebook. Let me first point out that Facebook has some tricky data to interpret. According to Statistia, “As of…2017, Facebook had 2.07 billion monthly active users…logged in to Facebook during the last 30 days.”  This number does not take into account duplicate or fake accounts, or abandoned accounts linked to non-Facebook sites where users simply use Facebook as a login tool (e.g. Goodreads). Facebook is notorious for making actually deleting an account incredibly difficult. During a 14 day time period after requesting account deletion, users must take care to delete all Facebook apps on their phone, not “like” any post on any website that links through Facebook, or log on to any site that uses Facebook Connect. If any of these actions take place, the request to delete will be declined. All this to say, it is difficult to truly believe if those “2.07 billion monthly active users” is truly an accurate number.

Many people who do use Facebook now use it as a way to stay connected with business networks, upcoming events (as a meetup tool), and, let’s be honest, memes. Sites like LinkedIn, Meetup, or Google Hangouts are beginning to, or have the capacity to develop ways in which Facebook is no longer necessary for those uses. As online privacy becomes more and more of a grey area (with Facebook often being in the spotlight), fewer and fewer people will want to mix business with their personal lives online, as it’s so easy to do with Facebook. While Facebook does have the “Messenger” app going for it, there is no shortage of other apps that may take its place. WhatsApp is growing in popularity as a free messaging service, and with apps like Voxer which allows options for real-time voice recording, message saving, and group chats (as well as all the traditional text messaging options), Messenger just can’t hold its own if Facebook declines.

It will probably be some time before Facebook does officially decline. Old habits die hard, and Facebook is just that: a habit. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was not already an app (probably from Apple or Google, that you could probably one day purchase on Amazon) that allows users to log into most sites without Facebook Connect. Many sites already even have Google as a login option. It may sound harsh, but unless Facebook wants to go the way of MySpace, it better start offering something that no other site/company/operation has.

 

 

Jesse Savage

 

Long Live the Independent Bookstore

In 2014 France passed a bill that forced Amazon to stop offering free shipping to customers. This piece of legislation was to update an already existing law that dictates all retailers cannot discount books more than 5% of the publisher’s listed price. It is little surprise that in a country where the government is dedicated to prevent large corporations from using prices that other companies cannot compete with is also a country that has a thriving independent bookstore market. While many countries that Amazon actively sells into have experienced an epidemic of bookstores closing, France’s bookstore market has remained relatively untouched. A future in which Amazon’s control of the sale of books declines will likely brought about by similar legislation in other countries.

Independent bookstores are able to offer many things that Amazon is not, such as a knowledgeable staff, events and book launches, and shelves upon shelves that you can wander through and discover books. While Amazon has a very sophisticated algorithm to aid you in your next book purchase the e-retail giant lacks a level of discoverability for new and unknown titles. These services come at a cost to the bookstore but do not translate into a direct monetary value for the customer. Given our society’s current capitalistic culture these services are currently not highly valued­­–possibly because people try to take advantage of these services without paying the higher retail price on books. If Amazon were to wipe out all Independent Bookstores from the market customers may come to realise that they miss the services that brick and mortar stores have to offer, however it is unlikely that this would damage Amazon’s sales because they will have become the only viable option for book sales.

Throughout my time working in an independent bookstore I was confronted with the reality that a large percentage of book buyers would buy their books at the cheapest location available. I have lost count of the number of times a customer would ask me if we would price match Amazon’s listed price, or asking me to write down the titles I had spent time recommending because they’d rather buy them off of Amazon because they wanted to save money. A local independent bookstore cannot hope to price competitively with a giant corporation such as Amazon and for the customers who are looking to find the best deal possible, Amazon was nearly always the answer. If governments made an effort to limit the monopoly that Amazon holds by outlawing predatory pricing it would destabilize Amazon as one of the “big four”.

Apple: The First to Fall?

After much deliberation and moderate amounts of research, I have selected Apple as the first to fall.

Compared to the other three tech giants (Google, Amazon, and Facebook), Apple, while still exceptionally innovative, is not as ahead of the curve as they used to be. Once known for boundary-pushing products consumers didn’t know they needed, they now maintain the status quo by releasing new iPhones and Macs every year. Compared to the other major tech companies, they are much more stagnant.

Apple is valued at $869bn and was founded in 1976 (a full 18 years before Amazon, valued at $566bn), and so their early starter position has been of benefit to them, notably in terms of value of their company (the richest in the world) and in consumer loyalty. So while they have some advantages that will sustain them if business begins to falter, I believe that they are still very susceptible to changes brought about by the more innovative competition and changing consumer behaviours.

The Competition
Unlike Amazon (the e-commerce company), Google (the knowledge internet company), and Facebook (the social internet company), Apple does not have a monopoly on the smartphone or computer industry. Phone brands, such as Samsung and Nexus, or laptop brands, such as Lenovo and Dell, are catching up to Apple in terms of product quality and still have a significant share of the markets (while Apple has stuck to their corner of the market doing what they do best). With Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple was didn’t just make the best products, they made products no one had ever seen before. In recent years, it could be argued that they are no longer the visionary company they once were. Instead, they make small tweaks to their products to make them even more exclusive to the Apple brand, such as different jacks for chargers and headphones.

Meanwhile, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are doing everything they can to stay at the forefront of innovation. Google has all sorts of projects going on, from self-driving cars to artificial intelligence. Amazon plans on piloting cashier-less stores and drone home delivery. And Facebook buys up the competition—including the very popular Instagram and WhatsApp companies. Instagram is more popular than the original Facebook platform with Gen Z, and WhatsApp is popular in countries outside of North America. By acquiring the competition, Facebook is not only eliminating the competition but also capitalizing on multiple growing markets.

And similarly, Amazon is also slowly encroaching on Apple’s products. As Scott Galloway said in an article about how he expects all of the four companies will disappear within 50 years, “The most innovative tech hardware of 2016, it wasn’t the Apple Watch or it wasn’t the Apple Pods, it was the Amazon Echo. If you look at where they are competing against Apple in voice, Siri versus Alexa, Alexa is putting a serious beat on Siri.”

The Customers
Younger generations, namely Gen Z and Millennials, are known for valuing personalized experiences over products. Amazon, Google, and Facebook offer exceptionally personalized services, and so long as there is not a dramatic change in consumer values, there is a good chance they will win out over Apple. Their products offer a portal to the personalized services the other companies offer, but are not personalized in themselves.

As much as Apple has cultivated a very loyal customer base (who is growing older), they have done so through their consistently reliable products—not their exceptional knowledge of their customers (rather, they tell people what they want and need). Additionally, younger generations are more price sensitive, as they struggle to balance the increased cost of living alongside jobs with little security. If there is a cheap, comparable, and unique product on the market, it will not be hard to sell to Gen Z and the Millennials (who now make up 50% of the population).

Apple is no longer doing what they do best, nor are they innovating or catering to their customers. In today’s cutthroat tech industry, there is only so long they can rely on their bank account and their loyal customers before they begin to fall.