DESI GNI NG T HE F UTURE PA RT I I

In an on­go­ing se­ries, Vend and OMG! Tech founder Vaughan Rowsell dis­cusses how we can make New Zealand the i nno­va­tion cen­tre of the world. In part two, he l ooks at how tech­nol­ogy will change the fu­ture.

Idealog - - OPINION -

W el­come back to our metaphor­i­cal BBQ chat about the fu­ture of New Zealand. As it’s win­ter and a bit too chilly to fire up the We­ber, I’ve put on the crock­pot in­stead. It’s a new IoT one, so all I have to do is chop up the in­gre­di­ents, pop them in, sit down on the couch, re­in­stall the app on my phone, re­set my pass­word, re­boot my home au­to­ma­tion server and then press the ‘turn on crock­pot 2000’ but­ton. The fu­ture is awe­some.

In this is­sue, we are look­ing at how tech­nol­ogy will change the fu­ture. The crock­pot 2000 may or may not al­ready ex­ist, but how do we take ad­van­tage of the changes com­ing to in­vent a bet­ter fu­ture?

Here’s an hon­est con­fes­sion. I have no f*#king idea what tech­nol­ogy is go­ing to be like in the fu­ture. If I did, I wouldn’t be writ­ing this col­umn. I would be start­ing a new hi-tech start-up. I do have an idea for a fridge we­b­cam though, you know, so you can see what’s in your fridge when you’re at the su­per­mar­ket? Any­way, smart de­vices and IoT is a def­i­nite trend, so let’s start there.

IoT means the In­ter­net of Things. What things are these and why do they need to surf the in­ter­net? Ba­si­cally all the bits of in­ter­net con­nected hard­ware you use in ev­ery­day life that talk to each other to col­lab­o­rate and make your life eas­ier. A ket­tle or a crock­pot you can au­to­mat­i­cally turn on from your phone has lim­ited ap­peal, un­less it can also fill it­self up with con­tents first, but the lights and heat­ing in your home know­ing when your car pulls up the drive­way and turn­ing them­selves on is more use­ful. This is where we are see­ing IoT first make its im­pact: in home au­to­ma­tion. A bat­tle­ground all the ma­jor tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies are stak­ing their ground on. Video door­bells, home se­cu­rity, light­ing, ther­mostats and smart speak­ers are the first wave. Ama­zon and Google both want you to pick their plat­forms to con­trol your life with and have been busy ac­quir­ing all the gad­gets in this space that do some­thing clever in your home. Google ac­quired Nest for US$3.2 bil­lion a few years back and Ama­zon has just ac­quired video door­bell and se­cu­rity com­pany Ring for US$1 bil­lion, so at those prices, there is clearly a bat­tle­ground emerg­ing in our homes. They both have smart speak­ers you talk to so they can spy on us, Ama­zon’s Alexa and Google’s Google Home. Ap­ple is try­ing to get Siri in on the ac­tion, but so far, their smart speaker can only play mu­sic and burn a small ring on your wooden fur­ni­ture. If you are not sure about the big tech com­pa­nies know­ing your ev­ery move­ment and how of­ten you turn on the toi­let light, there are in­de­pen­dent plat­forms like the open source www.home-as­sis­tant.io that in­te­grates with over 1,000 IoT de­vices you can run your home with. Yes, 1,000 de­vices that au­to­mate some­thing, and re­quire a soft­ware up­date or a re­boot from time to time. I can’t wait.

There are other parts of our lives where IoT will make a use­ful im­pact out­side of the home. The net­work of our fu­ture cities will lever­age new de­vices. Smart park­ing sen­sors that al­lows your GPS to re­serve and guide you to the near­est avail­able park­ing spot in the city. Your re­cy­cling bin that takes it­self out just in time on a Wed­nes­day morn­ing, not Tues­day, be­cause it re­mem­bers it was a long week­end. Smart me­ters that can track the power gen­er­ated from your so­lar pan­els that you feed back into your own vir­tual pri­vate grid you share with your Mum and Un­cle Frank across town us­ing blockchain (no, se­ri­ously, this is a thing). More and more de­vices will be trusted to pro­vide day to day trans­ac­tions on our be­half, like pay­ing for park­ing or pow­er­ing Un­cle Franks bit­coin min­ing rig.

The next par­a­digm shift is au­to­ma­tion. As the de­vices make more de­ci­sions for us, the more we need

to con­sider the im­pact on our lives. Au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles are the ob­vi­ous start­ing point. Sure, there is a gap to close be­tween an au­topi­lot fea­ture in your Tesla that you al­most trust not to kill any­one and a fully au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle that has no steer­ing col­umn and ped­als at all. Would we even call them cars when we get to this point? Per­haps they are just glass domes we ride in, or sleep in even. Per­haps you can in­stall a spa pool in yours. When we can del­e­gate the get­ting from A to B to au­to­ma­tion, it changes how we use com­mut­ing time com­pletely. Per­haps our homes have de­tach­able au­ton­o­mous rooms that move about like camper­vans in­stead. You kiss good­bye to the fam­ily as they kids trun­dle off to school in one room while you head off to Whangarei for a meet­ing, show­er­ing on the way in an­other.

Au­to­ma­tion and ro­bot­ics be­com­ing cheaper will take par­a­digm shift­ing through a whole new par­a­digm shift. Yes­ter­day’s Roomba is re­placed with a more mo­bile ro­bot that can vac­uum and fling a brush around a toi­let rim, as well as chop up the veg­gies for the crock­pot 2000 (wash­ing its ro­botic hands first, I hope). Man­ual repet­i­tive tasks are per­fect for the next gen­er­a­tion of ro­bots. Drones will clean win­dows. Ro­bots will pull weeds from the gar­den and the wash­ing out of the ma­chine to dry and fold. These ideas al­most sound silly, but these will be as nor­mal as a mi­crowave oven was in the 80s. The big­gest im­pact will be in any in­dus­try when ro­bots are cheaper than us. Any­thing that in­volves mov­ing stuff, build­ing stuff and do­ing things with pre­ci­sion at speed will be done by ro­bots. With AI mak­ing all these ac­tiv­i­ties smarter and mak­ing bet­ter de­ci­sions, this will mas­sively dis­rupt how we work. We’ll cover the fu­ture of work in our next is­sue.

But for now, what about the next wave of tech­nol­ogy we just haven’t in­vented yet? This is where the crazy cool stuff is go­ing to hap­pen, and we are just start­ing to imag­ine it, and is the big­gest op­por­tu­nity for New Zealand. Some of it is be­ing imag­ined and cre­ated as we speak. While you are pon­der­ing self-driv­ing cars, fly­ing cars are be­ing tri­alled in our own back­yard. Google’s Larry Page and his com­pany Kitty Hawk are test­ing au­ton­o­mous fly­ing ve­hi­cles in New Zealand to­day. We even have our own fly­ing car start-up, Vick­ers Wave EVTOL which not only flies, but is am­phibi­ous too. Handy for the trips to the Coro­man­del.

We have a per­fect test mar­ket with a small pop­u­la­tion, great in­fra­struc­ture, low lev­els of cor­rup­tion and re­ally clever de­sign­ers and en­gi­neers. The fu­ture

tech­nolo­gies have not been in­vented yet, and we shouldn’t wait for all the Val­ley’s bil­lion­aires to in­vent them. The ideas are out there and they will need clever peo­ple who are good at get­ting stuff done in in­no­va­tive new ways to make them come to re­al­ity. Co­in­ci­den­tally, this is some­thing New Zealan­ders and our home­grown brand of in­no­va­tion is re­ally great at. It’s pos­si­bly why we have a space pro­gramme and fly­ing cars al­ready – take that Aus­tralia.

The real op­por­tu­nity is to at­tract more big ideas to our shores and be ready to greet them with our smart in­no­va­tors. But we don’t need to wait, we have big ideas too like the crock­pot 2000! Okay, so there are bet­ter ideas, but the sen­sors are get­ting smaller, the AI is get­ting smarter, the cost of pro­duc­tion is even cheaper and we have heaps of bright sparks here to piece it all to­gether. The fu­ture of tech­nol­ogy in New Zealand is us in­vent­ing it.

Grab an­other help­ing from the crock­pot be­fore it starts its self-clean­ing rou­tine, and then let’s start mak­ing the ideas be­come a re­al­ity.

Vaughan is the founder of Vend, a New Zealand high-growth tech suc­cess story, and founder of OMGTech! a char­i­ta­ble ini­tia­tive to help kids into ca­reers with fu­ture tech­nol­ogy. He was EY's Tech En­tre­pre­neur of the Year in 2014 and is vice-chair of the NZ Hi-Tech Trust, which cel­e­brates the NZ hi-tech in­dus­try through awards and ed­u­ca­tion.

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