Tech’s new “Digital Gods:” humans will soon be deeply integrated with tech

I used to joke with friends that Silicon Valley was done disrupting taxi companies and that we were going after God next. On my summer mostly away from social media I’m taking a fresh look at predictions I’ve made for the last two decades in four separate books. This is just a taste of what I’m seeing businesses do.

Now that joke isn’t so funny anymore and it has deep implications on how we view privacy, new products soon to come, and, even how we should regulate big tech companies that soon will have deep access to, and control over literally everything about human life. That life is about to become very integrated with technology.

The 2020 Technology Menu

First, let’s look at some of the technologies that are cooking right now that will radically change nearly every part of human life. This is why Irena Cronin and I said seven industries are about to be radically changed in our latest book “The Infinite Retina.” Have you read it yet? Why not? Qualcomm’s head of AR/VR says not just that it’s a great book (so do dozens of other reviewers on Amazon) but that it’s a “must read” to understand the 2030s and what is about to come next.

Robots and autonomous cars that are not just mapping out every crack in every street, but learning from our behavior there too. All while radically decreasing many transportation costs (wholesale cost of an hour-long taxi ride will go from about $20 down to $5. Same style reductions are coming for product and food shipments).

3D sensors that will soon categorize every object, place, and activity in human life. The ones that are in phones today that in 2020 can see 300,000 points of data, will, by 2030, see 10x that many (and I might be way too conservative in that prediction, some insiders tell me. No matter, as millions of people start using these sensors the databases will have increasingly more and more resolution about everything to work with).

AI that is getting cheaper to train — dramatically so — and far more capable every few months. Particularly important in computer vision.

Glasses that will listen to every breath we take, and watch our health. Oh, and look deeply into our eyes and watch how we perceive every part of our life.

Wireless systems that — in perfect conditions — bring more bandwidth than we can conceive of, or use in today’s homes and businesses.

Databases that will be larger, faster, cheaper per entry, and much smarter than ever before.

Voice technology that will get close to convincing most people they are talking to another human being, not a computer.

Cameras are continuing to fall in cost, while increasing in quality. Soon due to computer vision they will also recognize thousands of objects and dozens of behaviors. Imagine a 16 megapixel camera that knows every object in your home that costs only a buck or two? This is why phones are getting more and more cameras.

More and more products will have exponential learning engines built in. June Ovens, iPhones, and Tesla cars have them in 2020. By 2030 hundreds, if not thousands, or products will have them. Consumers will expect all their products to get better after purchase, like a Tesla car or a June Oven does today.

To underscore some of these changes, look at Apple’s patent disclosure of a head-mounted display that includes eye sensors, heart-rate sensors, etc.

As you read this patent you might see that it will soon not just augment literally every product and surface in your life, but will collect contextual data about you which it will further use to assist your life.

A God of 1,000 Conveniences

I used to be highly religious, praying to God every morning. While that old, analog God is still there, so your faith doesn’t need to be disturbed, human beings are clearly creating new digital dieties. Early versions are named Apple Siri, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Facebook Portal.

These new digital “Gods” have these attributes:

  1. They always are on, always listening for your command.
  2. They always respond, something my analog God rarely did. Heh.
  3. They are increasingly knowledgeable, learning from human behaviors.
  4. They increasingly understand us and are getting more capable at holding a conversation with us.
  5. They increasingly are being built into our lives, now showing up in tons of products from watches to cars to TVs to doorbells to ovens.
  6. While pretty stupid today, they don’t understand when you ask even a simple question about items or behaviors. Ask it “how many calories are in that” while motioning toward a plate of food and none can answer you today because they simply don’t know what you mean by “that.” By 2030 these Gods will know a lot about literally everything in your life and will know what you are looking at, so can answer this kind of question.
  7. While these Gods aren’t good at assisting you with products or problems today, that soon won’t be true.
  8. While these Gods don’t really know your health status today, soon that won’t be true. The Apple patent above lays out how future devices will watch a number of our bodies’ biological functions, by looking inside our eyes, inside our ears, listening to our heart and other biological processes, body temperature, behaviors, and evaluating our breathing patterns too (remember cops can tell if you are inebriated simply by looking inside your eyes). Some experts predict that such devices might even be able to predict someone has COVID before the sufferer even feels a fever coming on.
  9. Elon Musk has been warning people that AI will soon be hyper smart, far faster and smarter than any single human being. What he is warning us about is the development of these new “Gods” that will not just watch one person’s behavior, but potentially billions of people’s connected behaviors. In a previous book about social media I told you that companies like LinkedIn know companies are laying people off before they even report that because their behavior on social media changes. Now these Gods will go deeply into every part of human life, seeing patterns that humans simply can’t. Imagine being a God that could watch everyone’s fear levels while looking at a stock website, for instance, and you get a taste of just how much power such a God would have (it could sell stocks before hundreds of millions of people even click on the sell button).
  10. These Gods will know about your context. Are you in a kitchen cooking a meal? At a street corner about to cross? In a grocery store picking out strawberries? In a classroom trying to absorb new information? In a church trying to improve your mind and your relationships with others? They will switch what they do for you as your context switches. Where Microsoft Windows presents the same user interface no matter where you are or what you are doing, these new Gods will present quite different user interfaces and information to you at these different times.

So, why do I call these the “Gods of 1,000 conveniences?” Because that is exactly what this new kind of ambient and augmented computing will do for you. Some things I expect soon from future glasses?

  1. See in the dark. God will help you see EVERYTHING better. Including the bicyclist that is coming up fast at night and might not see you. It will predict how likely it is that he will hit you, and will tell you the best path to avoid an accident. The LIDAR on your face can see him even in total darkness.
  2. Find objects like keys. The God in the sky will know every item in your house. I recently needed to buy Olive Oil but I didn’t know my wife’s favorite kind. Hey God, what kind of Olive Oil do I have at home?
  3. Behavior modification (stop smoking, eat fewer donuts, drink less alcohol, et al) by making it more convenient to do less of some things and more of others.
  4. Media everywhere (you can “grab” a video of a baseball game off of a screen at a friend’s house, take it with you while you walk to your car. “Place” it on the dash. Then “grab” it again when you walk in and “place” it on your own TV in your living room). Not to mention, the God in the sky could let you know your favorite team is about to play, or, that another team just had a spectacular play that you should see.
  5. Reading assistance. Ever been reading something on a physical book and you got interested in the topic so you started doing Google searches or looking up words in a dictionary? I still remember my mom yelling at me to “look it up” when asking her about a new word I’d come across. Imagine you saw a new term, like “Spatial Computing,” and an interface to tons of new information would pop off of that word in your glasses. “Hey Google, what is Spatial Computing?”
  6. Reading assistance #2. Ever start reading a book while it is light out, and get so into the topic that you read until it was dark? Imagine if your glasses just let you keep reading. Or, made small text bigger? Or, let you switch from reading a physical book to having an author read it to you? The God in the sky will always be there, watching how tired your eyes are getting and the lighting condition. It could change every font on every page to be more readable.
  7. Work assistance. Ever try to do something and wished you could phone a friend who knows how to do that better? Soon that friend might be an AI teaching you a bunch of things visually in glasses. The God in the sky could be there whether you are trying to do a new kind of weld on a metal piece or design a new kind of building in Autodesk’s software.
  8. Driving assistance. One team told me they could make night into day, or lines on road much clearer, or a variety of other tasks. I answer “my Tesla already drives so I don’t care” and then they switched to “yeah, but we could make it so that you could see out your window and see what daytime looked like, if you wanted.” Yeah, I’ve wanted that from time to time. Look at Apple’s maps. It has great photos of my street and probably yours. The God in the sky could go a lot further and warn you about a bucket in lane number one ahead.
  9. Shopping assistance. Ever wished that a God in the sky could tell you whenever you look at a product whether it is available cheaper on Amazon? Or, whether it has the best reviews? “Hey God, which coffee maker here is best?”
  10. Learning assistance. When I was learning chemistry or calculus, or helping my kids learn Spanish, repetition helps new information stick in your brain. God in the sky could continually play games with you “what is the mass of 2 moles of H2so4?” Google knows already.
  11. Health assistance. I’m riding my mountain bike. It knows a big hill is up ahead on my favorite trail. It could push me to do it faster so that my heart rate will increase to 150 heart beats per minute. When I am pulling into Dunkin Donuts it could say “this will cost you 15 health points.” When I put on my glasses it could note that I have a fever and warns me not to go around other people today since it appears I have the flu (it can tell the difference between that and COVID based on looking at other factors). The God in the sky could even suggest contacting my boss and say “your employee has a fever today so will not be available for meetings or working in your retail store.”
  12. Mental assistance. “Here’s a funny cat photo,” my God might tell me, after it noticed that I’ve been particularly depressed based on my voice and behavior data. The God then could suggest a walk, or phoning a friend. Our Apple Watch already asks us to do breathing exercises, walks, and other things to keep our health good.
  13. Automatic shopping lists. “You are almost out of milk, we’ll add that to your shopping list,” my new digital God will someday tell me.
  14. Stain advice. “We noticed that your shirt has oil on it, and it is recommended that sprinkling baking soda on the fabric and let it sit 24 hours. I can navigate you to your box of baking soda.”
  15. Cooking advice. “Hey God, what could I make for dinner tonight?” Remember, it will know every object in your house, including every spice or pasta or soup can. So, it will know what you could possibly make given the ingredients you have on hand. You could always tell your digital God “I’d rather make lasagna, can you arrange that?” God could answer “yes, your necessary ingredients will arrive in 49 minutes and it will take another two hours to make, so your dinner will be done at 7:30 p.m.”
  16. Navigation in stores. “Follow this pattern to get out of the grocery store with your items faster.” Remember, the digital God in the sky already knows where every item is in the store, and which items are on your shopping list, and can plot the fastest path through the store.
  17. New kinds of things for friends to do. Our digital Gods could notice that four of my friends are bored and available for something fun. It might ask us “hey, Andy, Cassie, and John are available for a blackjack game. You want to join or suggest something else?”
  18. When friends are together it could recommend things: “did you know that it’s Cassie’s birthday next Sunday?” or “your friends look bored, why don’t you suggest watching Top Gun? or one of these other shows?”

Notice I haven’t mentioned VR or AR yet, although a lot of these will use pieces of AR or VR, or the technology that runs such.

What impact will this have on business? Can businesses start planning for this world today? Yes. Already the world’s top consumer products companies are looking to build brands that get better after you buy them, just like a Tesla does today.

They also are doing models of how trends will change due to these new technologies. If you are getting navigated through grocery stores, for instance, where they put the milk and cookies may dramatically change. One such company told me they are already planning on autonomous vehicles changing where and how you buy their products.

Robots will decrease the time and cost of deliveries, making new kinds of experiences possible. New businesses, like car washes and fast food that are designed to cater only to robots and autonomous vehicles, will pop up.

For those who have Amazon Alexa or other voice-first devices in your home (I have several) already note that they already are making homework, shopping, chores, learning, staying up to date, and getting entertainment much easier. These conveniences will continue increasing in both quantity and quality, which will lead to new expectations in consumers.

Remember the time you saw a kid try to touch a TV like an iPhone? Those kids are now in their 20s. Imagine what happens when today’s 10-year-old who is used to having Amazon Alexa, Google, Siri, and Facebook Portal at beck and call joins the workforce in a decade. They will expect everything to be augmented, and computing to be ambient and spatial.

Digital Gods are about to become very powerful forces in human life. For more about how, read our latest book.

Our latest tech book gets five-star Amazon ranking

“The Infinite Retina,” is my fourth book that predicts decade-long trends. This one, written with Irena Cronin, represents a decade of work and is getting the best Amazon reviews of all of them. Qualcomm’s head of AR/VR, Hugo Swart, wrote “it is a must read.”

It is about how seven industries are already seeing radical changes due to Spatial Computing with much more on the way. Buy it on Amazon here.

My dad’s letter to kids of the future

My dad, left, William R. Scoble Jr., and me.

Two weeks ago my dad died.

We had a year warning that day was coming, after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last July. We had more days with him than we expected. Which I was very grateful for.

My dad took our family out of poverty. He grew up in the projects in Brooklyn (which, I believe, are still there). He was the first to go to college and chose engineering almost by accident, which he writes about below. His first job out of college, after earning a PhD in electrical engineering and material science, was as an engineer at Ampex. He moved us across the country to a place none of us had heard of: Cupertino, California. This was in 1971. That move gave me an unbelievable amount of privilege which I’ve been thinking about a lot. Because Silicon Valley grew up around us, literally, I had a front-row seat from a very early age (I got a tour of Apple when it was only a building or two back when I was 13 in 1977. I was in the first computer club at Hyde Jr. High in Cupertino that same year. Apple started a mile away from my house, so close that I stole apricots from where many of its buildings now sit.

Funny, one of the things we actually did like talking about was companies. He watched CNBC right up to his death and enjoyed the stock market. One of his last things he did was put some money into a trust fund for our kids and put it all onto Tesla. That was about a month ago. Since then it has gone up about 40%. He always did do pretty well in the stock market.

I talked about that and him a bit in a video today on Twitter, I was so proud that he got to see my newest book, which definitely is the best one of my career, and explains why autonomous cars, robots, and augmented reality glasses will transform industries. Doing that work let me to believe Tesla would go way up, but it was my brother who convinced him to buy the kids Tesla. My dad always had a golden touch with stocks.

But if there’s one defining thing I remember always taking heat from my dad about it was that he wanted us to get a technical education because he saw just how much that changed his life. He was disappointed I chose journalism and economics to study when I went to University and later in life he turned after he saw how I turned that into a successful career.

That said, he wrote down just how important he sees education being and he wanted me to share that with everyone here. The rest of the story is that he went into the Army, learned all sorts of things including how radiation worked (which led him to 25 years of work on military satellites where he designed microelectronic circuits that were radiation resistant for Lockheed Missiles and Space Company) and he used the GI Bill which got him the support to go to college and, eventually, Rutgers University where he earned his PhD. I believe strongly that we need a new GI Bill to help retrain Americans and get them to go to University to learn the skills they need to support their families and our nation. Here’s his words about how a few small changes can make a huge change in one’s life:

I think attending college is such a potential life changing event that everyone who wants to go (and is mentally able) should be able to go although I would suggest Junior or Community Colleges as most students who don’t finish college drop out the first or second year. Two of my sons dropped out and enlisted in the service from 2 year colleges.

I considered how people get to college who are both poor and not motivated by family. No one in my family discussed the need or possibility of going to college nor even what kind of job I might go for. I realize that where you live has a tremendous effect on  ones decision to go to college.

My parents were both the children of coal miners from the Pittston, PA, area who married and moved to New York City in 1935-6 for work. My father dropped out of school in the 8th grade and my mom graduated from high school.

My dad didn’t have a trade and so had odd jobs including cooking. I was born in 37 and my parents applied for an apartment at the new low income Red Hook Housing Project in Brooklyn. At the time they were the largest housing project in the US with room for thousands of residents. We moved into our apartment in 1939 (our building was 6 stories high with 5 entrances holding 30 families per entrance). It was a safe place to live and I used to frequently wander away and get lost (I was 3-4) and one time was found lying on a nearby shore sleeping. The police recommended putting my name/address on my clothes which solved the getting lost phase. 

During the war my dad was trained and got a job as a machinist. My parents knew nothing about education or the educational system in NYC so I was enrolled at the local elementary school, PS27, where I spent 8-1/2 years, kindergarten through 8th grade (around 2nd grade, the NYC education system switched from starting classes in January and September to starting all classes in September and, thus, I skipped ahead a half year). I was not a great or serious student and I estimate that I was usually rated in the 3rd quartile and cannot remember ever failing a subject.

In 7th and 8th grade students who were taking the entrance exam for advanced high schools were given algebra on a voluntary basis after school. Since my parents and I didn’t have a clue about these schools, I didn’t volunteer. At the end of 8th grade, we were given a booklet containing all of the public high schools in NYC with the curriculum, subjects and general information about each. We were told which academic high school we would be sent to unless we selected another school. There were 64 public high schools in NYC in 1950 which included the special high schools requiring an entrance exam, vocational high schools and academic high schools.

After the war, my dad obtained a regular job as a machinist in Jersey City where he had to work nights. None of his coworkers wanted to be the union steward so my dad accepted it. This meant that although he was the most junior member of his group, he was immune from layoffs which really helped us financially.

I went to my assigned high school (called Manual Training HS although it was an academic high school) and took the classes I was assigned. A Puerto Rican friend who lived in the same building entrance as me, who started high school a year before me, talked me into joining the swimming team. This was one of those life changing moments as virtually everyone on the swim team became a life guard at one of the city’s pools or beaches. This was significant because every single lifeguard I worked with was planning on attending college and some were talking of attending that fall. Some of the classes I took required that I take a statewide test called the NY State Regents Exam. Test/Answer booklets were available which contained the tests given over the past 10 years. These interested me for some reason and I studied them for the 4 classes I took (biology, geometry, earth science and intermediate algebra) and did very well on these exams averaging 95%. 

As I said we lived in low income public housing which had the requirement that you had to move if your income exceeded a certain amount. My parents income exceeded this amount and they were put on a waiting list for intermediate income housing. This list was not moving quickly enough for the housing authority and so we were given a 30 day notice to move or be evicted in June 1953, just prior to going into my senior year. We couldn’t find a satisfactory place in Brooklyn and so my parents decided to move to Jersey City since my dad’s job was there. 

I was enrolled at Lincoln HS for my senior year and joined the swim team. New Jersey required an extra year of history to graduate so I had a full schedule with no optional classes. I quickly made some friends and had no difficulty passing the classes. I was unable to take Physics or Chemistry in high school due to my lack of knowledge of what might be important for the future and did not know about the College Board exams. The extraordinary thing about my high school is that Jersey City Junior College occupied the building at night, starting at 4pm and accepted any high school graduate from Jersey City, tuition free. In March of my senior year I finally figured out that I had essentially no salable skills and so decided to go to JCJC. I selected Pre Engineering as my field of study and started in September 1954.