What should we make of 2016? This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade recap the year, with a focus on the big tech trends of the past 12 months. Topics covered include virtual and, augmented reality, Pokémon GO, Facebook’s fake news problem, Apple’s terrible wireless headphones, self-driving cars, cybersecurity, conversational interfaces, Rich’s eternal optimism, Paul’s fears for the future, and the things for which they are both grateful.
- The Worst Year Ever, Until Next Year by Jia Tolentino, which Rich read in Gramercy Park amongst the racist raccoons
- The mayor of Gramercy Park wakes up at 4 a.m. to make sure no undesirables are in her park and takes her own key in the shower with her
- Paul and Rich’s conversation with Elizabeth Spiers on VR and AR
- "Mark Zuckerberg" on Facebook’s fake news problem
- Paul and Rich on self-driving cars
Paul Ford: Richard Ziade.
Rich Ziade: Paul Ford.
Paul: Let’s do an episode of Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight, a digital product studio in New York City.
Rich: Let’s talk about what we do first. That’s important. People should know.
Paul: Rich, what do we do?
Rich: We build stuff. We design and build platforms and apps and services on top of those platforms.
Paul: So if I came to you and I said, “I have a sneaker company, and I wanna make an app that lets people figure out how big their feet are and put sneakers on those feet,” could you do that for me?
Rich: I’d ask you to come in to extend the conversation a little bit. I’d probably have some more questions, but yes.
Paul: Maybe start with a phone call?
Rich: But yeah, we build web apps and mobile apps.
Paul: What if I said I wanna build a whole new media thing, I wanna do a podcast network.
Rich: Let’s do it. That’s, that’s right in our wheelhouse.
Paul: What about…health care? What if I was like, I wanna help people take their medicine.
Rich: Killer. We’d kill it.
Paul: Do it on an app?
Paul: Yeah. All right. So apps, platforms, web, all that stuff, that’s Postlight.
Paul: We also do events where people come and listen to people talk about technology. You should check us out on our website at postlight.com. We have a Twitter account, at @postlightstudio on Twitter. You should follow that. We have a newsletter that goes out, you can check out trackchanges.postlight.com. And we have this very podcast. So we are fully vertically-integrated media enterprise inside of a great digital product studio.
Paul: And we’re about a year old, and we’re doing good.
Rich: We’re a little over a year old, and it’s been an interesting year.
Paul: What a year. 20…1….6….
Rich: Mmmm. A lot of people are writing, “This is the worst year.” I saw, I read a New Yorker article —
Paul: It’s not — 1939 was the worst year.
Rich: There was a New Yorker article recently — I just gotta name-drop that I read The New Yorker.
Paul: Oh really? You read The New Yorker?
Paul: It’s a great magazine. I’ve written for New Yorker —
Rich: I was in Gramercy Park —
Paul: DOT COM.
Rich: Reading The New Yorker.
Paul: Yeah? Yeah?
Rich: Yeah. I have a key.
Paul: Oh really? You got in there?
Rich: Just throwing that out there. Yeah.
Paul: They give those to Lebanese immigrants? [laughter]
Rich: They don’t.
Paul: I don’t think they do.
Rich: They don’t. They really don’t.
Paul: The Gramercy, for people who are not horrible New York City people, Gramercy Park is the only locked park in New York City. You have to —
Rich: Oh, it’s so full of shit.
Paul: You have to have a special key. And you can just —
Rich: It’s exhausting.
Paul: Imagine who has that key.
Rich: First off, it looks like a place where there are, buried inside of Gramercy Park, are the bodies of Civil War soldiers, I’m fully convinced. I’ve never seen a child playing in there, I’ve never seen a ball get thrown.
Paul: It’s an ugly little park.
Paul: Even the pigeons suck.
Rich: This isn’t about Gramercy Park. [laughter] The pigeons are jerks.
Paul: They’re horrible.
Rich: In Gramercy Park.
Paul: There’s a raccoon in there.
Paul: It’s racist.
Rich: Ugh! He wears slacks! You ever seen a raccoon wear slacks?
Paul: It’s terrible.
Rich: It’s terrible.
Paul: It’s a terrible, terrible park. We’re not here to talk about Gramercy Park.
Rich: So I was reading this article in The New Yorker.
Rich: Where it said, no, this isn’t the worst year, and it’s actually really funny. They go back, probably the last 100 million years, and kind of tried to peg what were the worst years.
Paul: Yeah, a comet hit the world.
Paul: Actually, I mean —
Rich: 65,000 BC, a volcano erupted that was really bad news.
Paul: I’ll also point out, like, the Civil War was pretty bad. Half the states, people owned slaves, and then we went to war with each other.
Rich: And killed each other terribly.
Paul: Truly —
Rich: A lot of bad things about it.
Paul: America was an unbelievable disaster at that point. Luckily we had Abraham Lincoln as our president, who got us through that. And we didn’t end up in that situation this time.
Rich: Yeah. And to quote Lincoln, he just sort of looked around and said, “Guys are you serious??”
Paul: Yeah, that’s what he said. That’s actually his epitaph. [laughter] You go to the Lincoln Memorial and you walk along and, “Guys. Are you serious?”
Rich: So I’m an optimist, so as I look back on this year, you know, it’s been a strange year, for sure. The mass shootings, David Bowie passing, all sorts of stuff, right? And so…
Paul: Yeah, we got some rough stuff.
Rich: So we’re not going to cover general news here.
Rich: We’re a tech shop. We are tech thinkers. We’re futurists.
Paul: [weary sigh]
Rich: So here’s the funny thing, Paul. We actually just recorded about 15 minutes, and it was feeling really political?
Paul: It got so…sad.
Rich: It got a little sad, and then you got sad face, and then I tried to cheer you up.
Paul: Let’s talk about virtual reality.
Rich: And that’s not 2016!
Paul: No! 2016, let’s talk about, let’s talk about virtual reality.
Paul: What happened in 2016 in virtual reality? I think it went mainstream.
Rich: Well…I don’t know about, I don’t know if it’s there yet, but it’s definitely on its way.
Paul: It’s on its way. You think it — when are you going to buy goggles?
Rich: Oh….when am I gonna buy goggles? I don’t know if I’ll buy them. I think they may come with my phone.
Paul: Oh, that’s possible.
Rich: I think it’ll be just the T-Mobile upgrade, I’m like, well what are these? Why is my box so much bigger? I think that’s gonna be the case.
Paul: That’ll be interesting. It’ll only work around half of New York City, but it’ll be cool.
Rich: Well, I don’t know. I mean, if you apply via, you know, virtual reality, should we define it? We have a general-interest audience.
Paul: Sure! It’s reality that’s virtual.
Paul: No, you —
Rich: It tricks your brain into thinking that what you’re seeing in your phone are the surroundings around you. You’re not staring into a little screen.
Paul: It’s worth differentiating. So virtual reality is very immersive. You put a viewing device in front of your eyes, that is, a computer screen, and —
Rich: Well, you look like an idiot. It’s worth noting.
Rich: We’re a ways off from seeing someone do this on the train.
Paul: And then you’re in a 3D environment and your brain feels it’s there. Augmented reality’s quite different. Augmented reality is you’re looking at the world, often through glasses. Google Glass tried to be augmented reality.
Rich: Or a phone camera.
Paul: Or a phone camera. And data about what you’re seeing, or data somehow connected, is displaying on the phone.
Rich: On top of the world.
Paul: The archetypal augmented reality example is I’m looking at the engine of a car, and it’s showing me an overlay of all the parts of a car.
Rich: Yeah, with little arrows pointing to the different parts.
Paul: So I know which kind of — I could point at a bolt and it might tell me which wrench I need.
Rich: Correct. Actually, if you want to get a taste of it, it’s very crude, but if you want to get a taste of it, the Amazon mobile apps, if you want to look up a book on Amazon, or actually, frankly, look up a product, I could point it to a set of headphones and it throws these little dots on top of the camera and it takes that information and actually tries to look up the product against what’s on your camera.
Rich: If you do it with any book cover, it works almost perfectly.
Rich: And it’s pretty impressive. Essentially they just leapfrog, you know the barcode?
Rich: That’s on labeling? They just said, the hell with that.
Paul: So you can go in, like, a Barnes & Noble and order everything on Amazon.
Rich: In fact, they’re so so aggressive about it…if you go into Barnes & Noble and just quickly do it to 10 different books, it doesn’t assume you’re gonna buy them, but it stores them all away. You could go into Barnes & Noble for, like, 10 minutes, point your phone at, like, 10 books, and walk out, and you get the list and the prices. It’s actually pretty impressive. It’s been around for a couple of years —
Paul: Not for Barnes & Noble. It’s not impressive to Barnes & Noble!
Rich: Well Barnes & Noble’s a coffee shop at this point.
Rich: It’s a toy store and coffee shop.
Paul: And an educational services provider.
Rich: And an educational services provider. It’s a different thing, Barnes & Noble.
Paul: All right, all right, all right.
Rich: So that’s actually a taste of where augmented reality can go.
Paul: And then VR, you get to go inside and just wish your life away.
Rich: VR, I’m not gonna go to Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble’s gonna come to my face.
Paul: I’ll get to look at all the books, and I could drink the coffee virtually, and…
Rich: Nah….we’re a ways off from that.
Paul: What’s gonna happen, no I mean, I can pretend to drink fake coffee.
Rich: You can.
Paul: I do that now.
Rich: That’s a little sad.
Paul: It…exactly, I do that now.
Paul: Tinder on virtual reality’s gonna be a strong, strong —
Rich: That’s a path we’re not gonna cover in this podcast.
Paul: No, you’re right. That’ll be for Track Changes After Dark, which will come out in 2017.
Rich: Yes, it might be a spinoff of some sort.
Paul: Oh, you know, the other one on augmented reality, there was a huge hit, it was a little bit of a fad, but a huge hit with Pokémon Go.
Rich: It was a huge hit. People were kinda going bananas over it.
Paul: You hold up your camera and it puts a Pokémon on the screen, if you’re in the right place. It used geolocation.
Rich: I feel like it faded out pretty fast.
Paul: Yeah, I know, but it was huge, it was enormous. I actually, when I was in Central Park about two weeks ago, I saw 30 people running, saying…
Paul: Squirtle, or whatever the hell they were saying. Yeah.
Rich: See that’s a little upsetting.
Paul: Eh, life is life, man. People like their tomfoolery.
Paul: We like shenanigans. We like, what, whiskey. We’re recording a podcast. We get up to all sorts of silliness.
Rich: True. True. And they’re getting a little aerobics in.
Paul: They’re having fun.
Rich: It’s fine.
Paul: They’re capturing a…
Rich: I think we’ll see more of that. I think we’ll see more of that. I think we’ll see it in a more adult context.
Paul: I’m worried about that.
Rich: Uh, no, no, I mean in, like, in terms of…
Paul: Oh, like adults will go, honestly what is that, how is that different than Fortune 500 executives going to Scotland and tasting various fine whiskeys and scotches while he golfs?
Rich: I’m not making the connection.
Paul: Well, it’s like, collecting Pokémon.
Rich: No, I mean, like, in this bar that you’re in right now, there are four other hardcore Liverpool fans.
Rich: That sort of thing.
Paul: That’s long been kind of coming.
Rich: Yeah, but there’s, there are weird lines, and some don’t want to cross them, and it’s like, whoa, I don’t want to let people know that that’s where I’m at, or…I think there are interesting things that we’re gonna have to test out.
Paul: Yeah, the future’s gonna be…
Rich: Because they’re cultural…
Rich: Creeps here.
Rich: It’s gonna be a little creepy. But VR, I mean, are we at the point — Google Glass has failed. I’m fascinated by the failure of Google Glasses.
Paul: I’m fascinated by the failure of Google products in general.
Rich: While that’s just bitterness and jealousy.
Paul: No, it’s really not, because I also, I’m equally as horrified and scared of Apple on a regular basis as I am of Google, but Apple…
Rich: I don’t understand your fears. You have a MacBook and you have an iPhone and you’re afraid of what, they’re a consumer products company.
Paul: Right, but —
Rich: You’re an intelligent consumer.
Paul: I know, but they get into my brain, and then I feel like maybe I’m not as free to think thoughts as I could be.
Rich: Oh, that’s interesting.
Paul: Because I’ve got this stupid white Apple pulsating. You know, that could be, that could be reading me, that could be scrolling poetry by Walt Whitman, but it’s a stupid Apple.
Rich: I mean, you could be looking at whatever you wanna look at.
Paul: There are opportunities for creative thought that giant consumer brands don’t create.
Rich: You have this corporate overlord mindset anyway.
Paul: I’m just healthily paranoid, and 2016 hasn’t proven me wrong!
Rich: Well…how so?
Rich: In that…? You were tricked a bunch in 2016?
Paul: I feel — yeah, no, I read all the news on Facebook. I learned some really important things. I learned that the Pope is a reptile. I learned that Donald Trump is gonna come to my house and give me $100 million.
Rich: We’re speaking humorously here, but you weren’t tricked. At all, on Facebook, right? Not at all.
Paul: Not that I know about.
Rich: Right. And neither was I. Uh…
Paul: Were we? I mean, I don’t know, we could be reading some news right now and not have any idea.
Rich: No, I pay attention to the source of the news.
Paul: That is true.
Rich: And when I see weird links at the bottom of the article about, like, breast implants and how does, um, Soleil Moon Frye look today.
Rich: Then I know pretty well that that article’s a little dubious.
Paul: You know the one for me is, do you ever click on any of those?
Rich: It’s like you turn, it’s a bad part, yeah I have. I have.
Paul: Yeah. 700 next links.
Paul: I still don’t know how much Macaulay Culkin is worth. [laughter]
Rich: You’re trying to get there.
Paul: I was trying. I…
Rich: It’s a long slideshow, man.
Paul: I saw that one 200 times, and I was like, damn it, how much is Macaulay Culkin worth. And the best thing about it, you go through 50 celebrities and you get to the end and there’s no Macaulay Culkin.
Rich: Let’s do something. I’ve got the next Postlight Labs project.
Paul: What’s the next Postlight Labs —
Rich: It’s called bottomofthedeck.com.
Paul: Uh huh.
Rich: And it’s just the last slide of all these slideshows.
Rich: That’s all it is, page after page, it just zips through the money-shot from all of these slideshows.
Paul: Oh, that would be fantastic.
Paul: That would be, if we, because we could write a bot that would go in and spider all of those. All those bottom-of-the-link Taboola links?
Rich: How does this celebrity look today, right?
Paul: And then automatically follow the next link.
Rich: Yeah. Scott Baio looks the same, by the way.
Paul: He does.
Rich: He looks exactly the same.
Paul: He does. It’s a Dorian Gray situation with him. [laughter] Ever since “Happy Days.” You go to the end of, yeah, it’s bad, and then there are five more. It’s crepey skin.
Paul: All sorts of stuff.
Paul: So that’s — look, Facebook had a fake news problem, we got really caught up in it this —
Rich: I think it’s an interesting problem, and I think it’s a problem we’re gonna have to deal with, don’t get me wrong. I think that’s not something we should gloss over.
Paul: No, that’s a trend in 2016, was blatant demagoguery and falsehood spread through social networks.
Paul: It’s a tough one. I didn’t see a lot in the world of gadgets that was fun. Maybe there was —
Rich: Can I say something optimistic, somewhat optimistic about humanity in relation to the fake news?
Rich: That it will never happen again.
Paul: You think that it will get locked down after this?
Rich: Well you know, if you look at how like, I don’t know this for sure, but I get a sense that when newspapers first started, there was probably some terrible abuses of newspapers, and when other technologies first started, there were these terrible abuses of things —
Paul: People couldn’t tell what reality was. Like, it would be, sea serpents, they believed in sea serpents, so there was a lot of gaps they would fill in with whatever.
Paul: Human beings are incredibly bad about knowledge gaps.
Rich: Right, but we do, we step into that shit once, and then we’re sort of very skeptical and very cautious after that.
Paul: Right, and you had stuff like “War of the Worlds,” people believe that there were aliens attacking.
Rich: Right. Right. And never again, right? And so again, I’m…
Paul: I don’t know, because in this case, it was Macedonian teenagers looking to game the system.
Rich: Yeah I know, but I think this is their window.
Paul: It might have been.
Rich: I don’t know. Again…
Paul: There are still phishing attacks. People were vulnerable at the end of that election. They were vulnerable for all kinds of information that normally they probably would have vetted.
Paul: Just on a little mental check, like does the Pope really like Donald Trump?
Rich: Yeah. I don’t know. I don’t know how we’re gonna perceive the credibility of those sources going forward. My mom used to be terrible at clicking bad things in her email. She had one bad experience and she was, she said, give me a tool or something, and then, then she wouldn’t open anything for a while. So I think, I don’t know, I just think humans, this is so new. This means…
Paul: You know, 2016 was a very weird year in tech, as you think about it.
Rich: It was a strange year.
Paul: Basically everything broke. Like, VR and AR, we’re talking about them. But they’re not truly widely, except for Pokémon Go, there weren’t too many hits.
Rich: Yeah. Right.
Paul: I don’t own goggles yet. I don’t know when I will get them. I don’t know what will make me want to get them. Facebook broke in three or four different ways. Yahoo had 1.5 billion hacked. Security broke everywhere.
Rich: Which is like all aunts and uncles, too.
Paul: Yeah, everybody.
Rich: That’s the problem with Yahoo. It’s not, like, your savvy cousin.
Rich: It’s, like, grandma and Uncle Jeff and people who’ve really, it’s a bad scene for them to get hacked, actually.
Paul: You know what was supposed to land and be a big deal was bitcoin. Didn’t happen.
Rich: No. We’re still figuring that out.
Paul: All those startups, all those 18-month runway startups.
Rich: We had — yeah, we —
Paul: Were supposed to launch. They didn’t launch.
Rich: Well funded and the whole nine yards.
Paul: Ethereum came out and kind of blew up.
Paul: Apple headphones disappointed everyone. They have five hours of battery life.
Rich: Children are gonna — they look ridiculous, those things. That should not succeed.
Paul: People get used to it.
Rich: You want some Apple hate, here you go. First off, children will eat those things. There are going to be stories about children eating those things.
Paul: Oh they really will. It’s hard to pass them, too. They’re not…
Rich: [laughter] That’s a bad scene. Yeah, no real home runs. Anything really jump out at you for 2016?
Paul: No, and it’s breaking my heart. It was the year of the podcast, including this one, frankly.
Rich: Is that true?
Paul: But this was the year podcasting started to really blow up as a major media presence.
Rich: I think that’s great for podcasting.
Paul: Yeah it’s great, it’s a new…
Rich: For the people involved.
Paul: It’s a new, big medium. It was a big year for the media because of the election.
Paul: Open source is just enormous right now. There’s just so much going on in the world.
Rich: That doesn’t feel like a 2016 event. That feels like a continuum of just continued growth.
Paul: It’s just, I would say if you went and looked at what’s going on, it just has to be bigger than it ever…like, it’s bigger every year.
Rich: Oh, I agree with that.
Paul: And so it just felt like GitHub was…you know, there was code everywhere, flying every which-way.
Paul: There were no truly exciting commercial software hits. There were a couple games. Pokémon GO was a huge fad.
Rich: Yeah. No game jumps out — I mean there’s the usual annual Call of Duty, and Madden 17 or whatever…
Paul: Right, and those are all spend $200 million, and maybe make a billion.
Paul: They’re —
Rich: They’re incredible.
Rich: They look photorealistic at this point.
Paul: There’s another Star Wars.
Paul: OK. And some —
Rich: We’re on our way to self-driving cars.
Paul: We’re suddenly on our way to self-driving cars, and Google just launched a new self-driving car space online, I think they call them Waygo [Waymo] cars, so…
Rich: Well that’s fun.
Paul: So there it’s starting —
Paul: It’s coming, they’re saying.
Rich: It’s a ways off, though.
Paul: You and me, we’ve got 2017. What do we want?
Rich: Look ahead.
Paul: What do we want?
Rich: We can’t just say, “What do you want?”
Paul: Well I —
Rich: We have to say, “Here’s what’s coming. We are the thinkers. We are the tech thinkers. What’s gonna blow up in ’17.
Paul: I think that security, as boring as it can be, is bound to take off. Signal is growing as an app, that’s, if you go and download it for iOS, and I believe also Android, it’s a secure, end-to-end encrypted chat app. Email has to get more secure. Everything’s gonna get two-factor authentication. What are the easiest ways to communicate securely without being hackable, and that is going to be a huge issue all through the year.
Rich: Interesting. I think that’s probably true. I think most will not bother. Because most don’t bother. I think we’re gonna see some world events that are tied to intrusion, that are gonna be pretty jarring. I think this was a precursor.
Paul: We’re talking now about the fact that possibly Putin himself, but definitely the Russians, infiltrated DNC and probably RNC email systems.
Rich: Right. And this is, look, this is a dark world, right? Things are gonna, like, if part of the electrical grid goes out in Russia, nobody, ever — this is gonna be a world where denial —
Rich: This is all sort of an extension of sort of espi —
Paul: You just see bubbles on the top of a bog.
Paul: And like, “What? Where did that come from?”
Rich: Yeah. It’s not an act of war, because it’s like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Nobody ever knows what anyone’s talking about.
Paul: No! No! What? How could we ever do that?
Rich: Exactly. But the signals will have been sent, and I think it’s gonna cause, for sort of a different perception of technology, not as this sort of this sort of free and open place, but rather as a place where you have to think about it pretty differently. The stakes are higher for governments and companies than it is for ind — I think individuals just aren’t there yet, to be perfectly frank. If someone is reading my chats, they’re just gonna be bored.
Paul: They are pretty boring.
Rich: I just don’t care. They’re pretty boring.
Rich: And so I don’t think about that stuff. I do think there are people out there who want my passwords so they can get at my money.
Rich: But I think, in terms of my chats, I just don’t think — but you know, in terms of governments and you know, starting to view those things as acts of aggression I think is gonna continue to escalate.
Paul: There’ll be real policy around that in ways that are publicly discussed. It’s long been a topic of policy, but they’ll be a global conversation that hasn’t happened before.
Rich: And probably there’s gonna be a, I think, a dance that won’t be in conversation. It’ll be sort of more in the realm of the CIA than in the realm of — because if you did something to me and you deny it, I’m about to do something to you and I’m gonna deny it, and back and forth we go. I think that’s less about, oh, this is an act of aggression and this is unacceptable. Actually we’d rather have it that we deny it. It’s actually even better. It’s an even better deterrent, in fact.
Paul: I don’t disagree.
Rich: You know?
Paul: All right, can I — let me change the subject a little bit.
Rich: So that’s dark.
Paul: Let me talk about —
Rich: What’s fun? What are kids gonna get in 2017, for Christ’s sake.
Paul: Here is an insight: there’s something really nerdy coming down the pike that I’m excited about.
Paul: And that is…you ready?
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: Paul. Tell me what WebAssembly is.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, I think you’re, you’re speaking to a particular audience here with that explanation.
Paul: But everyone will actually —
Rich: I think many —
Paul: Everyone will see the effects of this.
Rich: If it takes hold, right? I mean…
Paul: Well it will. All the browser vendors are basically on board with this.
Rich: No no, I mean in terms of building things.
Rich: For this new way.
Rich: And it may. I think, are we headed towards the day where —
Paul: It’s gonna be a couple years for this to fully land in our culture.
Rich: Correct. That speak in more layman’s terms, is the day coming when you go through the app store on your phone, on your iPhone?
Paul: Mmmm hmmm.
Rich: There’s no purchase or download, you just open.
Paul: That’s right.
Rich: You just go to the app, and you’re like, “That looks like an interesting game. Open it.”
Paul: This will change, this will change app stores if it takes off.
Paul: It will be —
Rich: You’re not, there’s no, “I have to get this first from Apple, put it on my phone, and then open it.”
Rich: You just open it.
Paul: There’s this sense of native experience in our world, where the native Android and iOS experiences are better than what happens inside of a web browser on a mobile client, so I can open up Safari and go to an app inside of my web browser and it’s kind of clunky.
Paul: Or I can go to the native version that I downloaded from the App Store.
Paul: That’s gonna get real blurry.
Rich: It’s gonna flatten, right. I think that’ll happen over time.
Paul: Once again, we’re seeing the web just kind of take everything over, and this to me feels like the web endgame. We have a complete publishing and software deployment framework with the web, and now we’re about to get an almost native-speed virtual machine that can do anything a regular computer can do.
Rich: Yeah. It’s exciting, from a technical perspective. I just wonder if there are gonna be business obstacles that are gonna stop it —
Paul: There will be everything. It’s gonna be a giant big old mess.
Paul: But we haven’t had a giant big old mess on the internet in a while.
Rich: It’ll be nice — we welcome it at this point.
Paul: Yeah, because the chaos is exciting.
Paul: Things have to happen.
Paul: It’s good for business, but it’s also just good…it’s always good when the web takes things over, because it reduces proprietary control, and it lets entities have more control over their own world.
Paul: So if I’m newspaper X, and I wanna create a really cool app that people can download and experience, right now I have to do that through the App Store, there’s all sorts of, like, built-in points of friction around that app.
Paul: And I have to —
Rich: You have to be approved.
Paul: Plus I have to give Apple 30% of my revenue.
Paul: If I wanna let people buy things.
Paul: Through the store. That goes away. So if you can get me to a position where I can build something that’s deployed through the web, make lots of money, and not give Apple 30%?
Rich: It’s attractive.
Paul: That’s VERY attractive. I want that real bad.
Paul: So it’s coming.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, it’s gonna be a story arc that plays out.
Paul: Yeah, it’s not gonna be January.
Rich: Well it’s not just that. It’s gonna be Apple, Apple’s gonna, Apple does this, you ever buy a book from Amazon on an iPhone.
Rich: It’s the clunkiest thing.
Paul: Oh, you gotta go out to the browser…
Rich: You can’t buy it through the app, and then you have to go back to your Kindle and notice it’s there and then bring it down. It’s a mess, right?
Paul: All these different systems…
Rich: Because it’s like, hey, you’re in my, you’re on my turf here, right?
Paul: Because Amazon doesn’t want to give Apple 30% of its money.
Rich: Correct. And Apple decided well if you’re gonna do that, then we’re gonna make life hard.
Rich: Right. So there’s that dance is gonna play out. But, you know, power tips a lot in technology, so we’ll see.
Paul: Yeah. That’s the thing. It’s…a situation is emerging in which power could tip. It might take two or three years. It might not happen. But the pot’s getting stirred at the lowest level.
Rich: Right. We should talk about bots.
Rich: Bots were supposed to explode in 2016. What happened, Paul?
Paul: They ran out of Bitcoin. [laughter] I mean, look, conversational interfaces were very buzzy. They’re simple, they were riding on the top of Slack and Slack’s growth. But it’s just not that…
Rich: Alexa was actually, if you, now that we’re talking about it, the Alexa might have been, if you had to pick one gadget that was the gadget of 2016, it might be Alexa.
Paul: I think that’s real. I think that speech, bots, chat, conversation, all of that stuff is swirling.
Rich: Can we talk about how they’re all kind of asexual.
Paul: There is that. There’s the fact — well look, the voices themselves are brands. They’re not supposed to turn you on, turn you off, do anything. It’s like Coca Cola.
Paul: It’s supposed to feel good to talk to Alexa. It’s supposed to feel good to talk to Siri. But not —
Rich: What’s Microsoft’s? Microsoft has one.
Rich: Cortana. So it’s…of Latin American origin.
Paul: No, it’s from Halo.
Rich: Is that true?
Paul: I believe so.
Rich: Oh really?
Rich: So Siri, Alexa, and Cortana are the three — oh, there’s a Google one.
Paul: That’s right, that’s just called, “OK, Google.”
Rich: OK Google.
Paul: I guess it has a name. It probably has an internal name.
Rich: I don’t think it does.
Paul: No, there’s an internal name for it.
Rich: Oh, there is an internal name.
Paul: Yeah, it’s probably something really boring.
Paul: I can’t even imagine.
Rich: Out of those four —
Paul: Grace Hopper, that’s probably what they call it.
Rich: Who do you like to talk to?
Paul: I don’t like any of them. I like — I like the Google keyboard. I like searching for GIFs.
Paul: But I don’t find conversational interfaces that interesting.
Rich: Hmmm. OK.
Paul: I think that they’re gonna happen. It’ll happen like anything. It’s like OCR happened. They’ll be part of games and they’ll be part of overall experiences. They might be really good for stuff like VR, where you’re turning your head and hitting buttons and you can say, “Go left!” Just, they’re good —
Rich: You’re not gonna order pizza with it?
Paul: Sure, well, I don’t care.
Rich: Will you?
Paul: Why not?
Rich: Are you gonna get your Uber with it?
Rich: Uber kind of continued its ascent, too. But we can get to that —
Paul: Well it’s a fantastic app.
Paul: I mean, it’s breaking my heart, but yes.
Rich: OK. I mean, I don’t know. The killer bot, the killer chat experience, I don’t think has materialized. I don’t know what it is yet.
Paul: Here’s what I would say is, we have entered this zone where all of the things that were promised about technology are becoming utterly real and normal and it forms a substrate of every interaction and transaction that occurs in our human existence. And it’s just sort of all come and do, and everything’s happening, and you get your car to come with an app, and you get your pizza ordered by talking to Alexa, and you have access to every song ever and you have access to enormous libraries of content.
Paul: And we’re still human beings, which means that very often we’re pretty horrible and we use this stuff for bad things.
Paul: We use it to poison people against each other. We use it to get too much pepperoni into our bodies.
Paul: There’s no great transformational, exciting experience that occurs because of all this technology. And one was promised.
Rich: Yeah. Right. A better life was promised, but it’s a mixed bag, isn’t it?
Paul: I kind of wanting to get back to asking for that better life.
Paul: I want to actually spend 2017 looking technology in the eye and saying, “Hey. Thanks. I hope you had a nice visit to Trump Tower. But could you please do something really cool and good? You have lots of money. You have lots of time. Could you make something pretty? Could you make something weird? Could you challenge me?”
Rich: Yeah. I gotta do this. I don’t know, this is gonna air in a little bit, but yesterday, some of the biggest names in technology had this summit meeting at Trump Tower.
Paul: Trump Tower.
Rich: And I couldn’t stop staring at it. It was incredible to see. First off, Tim Cook looked like he was gonna die.
Paul: CEO of Apple.
Rich: CEO of Apple. Looked like he was utterly suffering.
Paul: Jeff Bezos looked very confused.
Rich: Bezos looked drugged and confused.
Paul: Yeah, they gave him pills to bring him down.
Paul: Before he went in there.
Paul: They didn’t, obviously. Please don’t sue me.
Rich: It was a pretty crazy scene, and you know, it speaks to, I guess, the balance of your, you know, probably their own belief systems and the fiduciary responsibilities of being a CEO of a company such that you don’t wanna piss off the next president.
Paul: Yeah, if you’re Apple, you’re a nation-state, you need to have ambassadorial-style relations with the president of the United States.
Rich: You gotta be nice, right. Yeah, exactly. But it was a sight. And so I don’t know how that plays into the next few years, because the responsibility of technology is actually really interesting, in the whole context of things these days, right?
Paul: I mean, technology in a broad sense, not just including internet technology, but TV and just general analysis of voter patterns and statistics, absolutely was instrumental of the election of this president. So you’ve got that, like, you just have, that’s been going on for a 150 years. And technology is, it’s just so, everything’s built-in, now.
Rich: Yeah. I think one of the things that’s happening here is that with technology sort of seeping into my TV and into my light switch and into my phone and everywhere, really, and it’s talking to me —
Paul: That’s just technology.
Rich: It’s answering me when I’m in the kitchen.
Paul: Not just technology, like, internet technology connected to giant mega-computer platforms.
Rich: Correct. Should we trust it less and be more skeptical rather than just sort of give in and say, “Gosh, that’s convenient. I’m good to go.” Because that’s the tradeoff we’re making, right? We’re making a deal every time we say something.
Paul: I think the reality is that not only is that always a good idea, but the number of organizations that are trying to get you to use their thing has hit such a fever pitch that you need frameworks for evaluating what you’re gonna let into your life.
Paul: Because everything gets so cheap. Alexa will be $20 or $10 in the next couple years.
Rich: I’ll take it even further: Alexa will just be in the TV.
Paul: Yes. And it will be essentially free, like the TV will be $200, and the phone will be subsidized and so on.
Rich: Right. And it’s worth mentioning why that is. Because the real value is in the information that’s flying over, back and forth, out of me and back towards me.
Paul: That’s the thing, and there’s no, like, Schoolhouse Rock-style of explanation for this.
Rich: No. The middle man has taken hold, right? If I get to stand and take 10% of that transaction between me and the pizza place, right, you can have the TV.
Paul: Oh, that’s right.
Rich: That’s what’s at play here.
Paul: And actually that’s what disruption is.
Paul: Disruption isn’t radically changing your life for the better. Disruption is, I get to stand there instead of this older, more non-digital human being.
Rich: Correct. And that’s, that’s a deal we’re making, and most people don’t know they’re making that sort of deal.
Paul: I wonder, though. That’s true. Maybe 2017 will be a year where people start to consume more intelligently as they learn that all of their data is up for grabs.
Paul: Can be stolen by foreign powers.
Paul: That self-driving cars run red lights, and that their kids are having sex on Pokémon.
Paul: Yeah. There’s bad, you know, it’s confusing out there.
Rich: Yeah. Yeah, you gotta wonder if we’re gonna, we’re gonna better understand the deal we’re making, right?
Rich: I don’t want to end a looking back and looking forward with “sex with Pokémon,” but…
Paul: No, we should probably take out “sex with Pokémon.”
Rich: No, no, no, I was saying that as a joke.
Rich: We can keep it in. Well, an not overly optimistic look back and look forward.
Paul: No, here’s the thing, here’s the thing: this is a rough year. It was a rough year. It was a year where everybody felt that some of their values were getting tested, or all of them, and it was a year where a blind cheerful faith in technology was deeply tested.
Paul: It was a bad year for optimists overall.
Rich: Yes. All challenging year.
Paul: At the same time, I love the thing that happens. I love that I can still publish a piece and thousands of people will read it.
Paul: I love that I can do this podcast with you and people opt-in to it and they listen to it and they send us emails and they ask us questions, and that this exists in collaboration with our business enterprise.
Paul: I love the work that we’re doing. I love that there are new frameworks. I like to see how fast and cheap things are getting. I can’t wait to see, you know, dollar mobile phones. I can’t wait to see all the stuff that’s coming down the pike, it’s just that 2016 was one of those years — and 2017 probably will be, too — we are learning, as a species, to deal with this. To deal with the information. To deal with the technology. And I think that you and me, we’re people who’ve been able to kind of look at and have opinions about it for 20-plus years, and feel a little proprietary. It’s our internet.
Paul: It was our understanding, and now we’re seeing everything that we’re doing not just become pop, but become mass. Become absolutely part of —
Rich: Matter-of-fact, in fact.
Paul: It’s just a given that people have computers in their world from the minute they wake up to the minute they go to sleep. And often they are never away from a digital experience of some kind.
Paul: No one knows how to deal with that.
Paul: No one knows how to think about that.
Rich: We’re not gonna predict that, no one’s gonna really…draw that out in terms of how it plays out.
Paul: What we’re gonna do in 2017 is we’re gonna learn more about what that’s like.
Paul: We’re gonna experience it, we’re gonna analyze it, we’re gonna push back against it, and we’re gonna criticize where we see people doing it, in ways that may not be good for people.
Rich: And until that gets sorted out, we’re gonna turn Postlight into a soft taco shop.
Paul: I think that’s a good strategy. I think that we serve great soft tacos. Lot of tofu.
Paul: And we get ready for global warming.
Rich: Let’s do it.
Paul: All right.
Rich: Everyone, have a great new year.
Paul: Happy New Year! Thank you.
Rich: And safe new year.
Paul: Thank you for ever — to everyone for participating in our first year of Track Changes.
Rich: It’s been great, and it will continue to be great. I feel confident in that.
Paul: I like doing this. You and I challenge each other, the audience challenges us, we get lots of feedback, good and bad, and we’ve been able to talk to some really, really interesting people.
Rich: Great. It was great.
Paul: So if somebody wants to send us a New Year’s greeting, email@example.com.
Rich: Mmmm hmmm.
Paul: Let’s leave it there. Thank you everyone for a great year.
Rich: Thanks, everyone.
Paul: And we will talk to you in 2017.
Rich: Take care.