Saturday, 7 January 2017

October 10th, 2030

Daphne Lee was frustrated. It was the second time this week that the AUTORIDE self driving automobile had made a mistake in the booking. Instead of arriving at the pick up location where she wanted to be picked up, it had arrived at the destination. Standing by the sidewalk, she worriedly scanned thru the fuzzy map on her rather bulky ONEMOB device for other nearby AUTODRIVEs, but she was resigned to the fact that there was not much she could do this close to her departure time to find another one. They had to be booked at least 24hrs in advance.

 She decided to drive her 15 year old hybrid car to work, but secretly hoped that today of all days she would not get ticketed at the gantry – afterall, who could predict if the smartgrid had an excess of carbon credits that day or not. She had for this very reason, recently topped up her BITNOTE account.

 At 41, Daphne was senior brand director for CENTREX Pharma’s BioEnhance range of ion supplements. This month they were launching the new pill, IonPro by BioEnhance, which helped regulate the body’s ion content for those increasing number of consumers who were implanting chips in their wrists to connect them to their devices. Work was hectic and especially so, as it meant a lot for her personally. This had been her project since she had joined CENTREX three years ago. She had poured her heart and soul into getting all the different aspects right.

 Her meeting that day was with the head of R&D and product engineering team, who had asked her to convince them about the marketing plan she had come up for the IonPro product. They had cast doubts on why she was being a traditionalist and not allowing the crowdsourced brand platform to be the main channel of getting the message out to consumers. It was a critical, if not a make or break meeting.
Daphne had started her career back in 2015 in the erstwhile market research industry, starting off as a research executive working on traditional survey research. She had been a star, adapted to the already fast changing times in the latter half of the decade and rose up fast amongst the ranks to become the youngest account director in her company in 2022. She had immersed herself in new paradigms of research in that decade and had taken an active lead in transforming the research industry to be mobile first. Her paper on “Non-intrusive mobile surveys using key logging on social media sites” had even won the ESOMAR Congress award in 2018. But after 2024, things had started changing and for no mistake of her, a lot of her work and personal world were about the change.
2023 and 2024 had been in many ways a watershed years, but in a jarring kind of way. Multiple systemic shocks had sort of converged leading to multiple bubbles imploding that years from a tech perspective. The tech industry and the entire ecosystem of the commanding heights of economy which had been built up on that hype faced a significant set back from which today in 2030, the sector was still recovering. It had widespread impact on many parts of everyday consumer life, which by then had become very tightly locked into a tech fuelled world which was expected to be ever advancing.
Four shocks came to a head in 2023 which caused the unravelling.
First, the realization that Moore’s law of constant increase in processing power was not going to hold as it had come up against physical limits of miniaturization. Many academics as early as 1990s had warned of the limits of Moore’s law, but with advancing technology in manufacturing science, the processing power boom had continued another 20 years without becoming a serious threat to growth. This had coincided with the explosion of mobile computing and the challengers of Moore’s law had been side lined for short term growth. By 2018 it was evident in academic circles that the processing power increasingly demanded by consumer electronic devices in the next few years was going to be unsustainable in the current silicon based electronic technology systems. They also knew that investments in bio-mimicry and other substitutes to silicon where promising, but not yet advanced enough to replace silicon’s efficiency. But the industry faced the same problem as the energy sector where cheap fossil fuels crowded out investment in alternative energies. Similarly, cheap silicon crowded out research in other sectors – and unfortunately it did not even have the ticking time bomb that the energy industry faced due to global warming, so nobody paid any attention to the weak signals, obscure academics who warned about silicon’s limits and niche companies which offered bio-computing products.
The second shock was ever more telling. The world just ran out of rare earth metals (like Neodymium) which were essential to making smartphones. China which had been the main source of these rare earth metals in 2017 started tightening trade in these metals which started pushing up prices of devices which had been falling until then. Only towards the end of 2020 did the world realize that China had run out of this ore in the sense that it could be extracted at costs which had reasonable efficiencies. And China’s traditional closed door nature had not alerted the world earlier to a deep shortage of this ore. Massive retooling of the electronics industry followed in 2021 thru 2026 and many of the leading telecom equipment manufacturers had to cancel the next versions of their telecom devices. Major efforts at institutional recycling and scouring of old devices for refurbishments was instituted. Companies and economies started setting up Rare Earth Credits similar to Carbon Credits. The developing world’s adoption of smart device technology came to a grinding halt.
The third shock was a creeping threat as well, but it reared its ugly head in 2023 which made its impact all the more devastating. Undersea, submarine cables which carried the world’s internet bandwidth came under siege from terrorists. Proclaiming that the internet was a harbinger of the doom and filth, a terrorist group which had developed a navy and hitherto unknown submarine capabilities sabotaged multiple key undersea cables in multiple parts of the world. Instantaneously, for two months in late 2023, many parts of the world were cut off from internet completely! This caused irrevocable financial damage, but it also set in place a systemic problems affecting security like never before. Regaining access to sabotaged infrastructure is still an ongoing conflict in some parts of the world in today in 2030. Rebuilding alternative infrastructure, albeit faster, was still a set back by a few years. The gap between the internet haves and internet have-nots only grew.
The fourth and final shock, which particularly affected the marketing community was probably one which no one wanted to acknowledge, but was increasingly creeping into decisions. The internet had become too crowded with non-consumer data generated by AI bots which were so good that it was no longer possible for other algorithms or people to differentiate if a certain piece of content was created by an actual human being or if it was created by a malicious bot. Some of the 1st instances of this had been observed way back in 2015 when during the attacks in Paris, fake tweets of mass shootings by terrorists had surfaced misguiding law enforcement authorities about the veracity of the claims. Those had been engineered by some rogue elements, but over the next decade, the proliferation of AI algorithms and bots on the internet had grown exponentially. Researchers who had started off in using social media data to understand consumer behaviour had found some increasing benefits, but soon came up against lack of usable data. The first manifestation was increasing noise in social data. But soon, the problem deepened. It was not noise that was the problem, but being able to tell what was actual consumer generated information which correlated with actual behaviour, and what was generated by bots which had surpassed the turing test. This was further compounded by the fact that the main networks affected by this bot generate noise was the Google, Facebook and Amazon networks, which by 2019 had become virtual monopolies. These huge companies thru their search, social network and e-commerce monopolies had become the only gateways thru which consumers could access content in the internet. All advertising on digital for example was consumed mainly through Facebook video and with the launch of FaceTV even the broadcast medium had been compromised.
These four shocks combined had a profound effect on the scope and growth of the internet in the decade of 2020. It was only in the latter half of 2028 and 2029 that things had started coming back to the normalcy that was there before 2021. But many of the wild projections of 2030 from a couple of decades before had been discarded. Many of the base technologies which had started becoming mainstream in 2020 like 3D printing, drone delivery, data everything had remained in hibernation, not really hitting the exponential growth trajectories that were envisioned. While there was significant advancement in the base technologies, these have remained active in labs and among lead users. There are many systemic issues that need to be sorted out before these can hit the scale needed for them to have mass impact today in 2030. Consumer mindsets had ofcourse evolved, but we are only now coming to terms with the new normal.
Coming back to 2030, today Daphne was heading to the manufacturing hub of CENTREX in the outskirts of the city and not the workhub in the city central her company shared with others as a common work environment. As the journey took her more than an hour, she could not help but reminisce a little about those good old days back in late 2010s and early 2020s. She had owned multiple devices then -  a personal laptop and a tablet device, a wearable smart watch which alerted her to medical information and social messages. Her work life had consisted of a sleek office laptop and company smartphone. It had been a heady experience juggling multiple devices, screens and managing attention spans across the devices.
Today however, she has a single ONEMOB device as regulated by her rare earth credit. It is a great device with multiple functionalities and detachable segments for ease of handling, but because one requires sufficient screen size for various activities, it is by nature a slightly bulky device. Eyewear projection devices are available in the market to make it easier to see when directly projected in front of the retina, but they are still not available at mass market levels and remain niche. Bandwidth consumption restrictions mean that while she uses one device, she has to manage multiple networks. She connects on WRKMESH for her official work and SOCMESH for personal. The multiple firewalls between the two mean that doing both (work and personal) at the same time is not as seamless an experience as it had been in the past. New solutions are being introduced every other day, but still some fundamental problems needed to be sorted. And finally, she has to manage multiple payment solutions because of security and encryption requirements. She uses the BITNOTE platform for major expenses, and NICEDOLLAR for many everyday activities.
As Daphne pulls into the manufacturing hub facility, she is jolted back from her reverie of thinking of the world in 2010s and early 2020s. She is in 2030 now and has to deal with the new realities. Marketing has changed, but it has not changed much as well. Yes, social media is alive and thriving, but the extent of its appeal as a marketing medium is still being debated. Yes, most of the media is consumed digitally, and e-commerce is fast replacing the physical retail outlets, but not as fast as it was expected. And that is what she had come to make a case for that day to the head of the product team. That despite all the changes, the brand was still an important underlying factor defining the success of the IonPro by BioEnhance, and why she was convinced that letting it become something defined by the crowd will not get them anywhere and is not something she recommends.