A new article by Taylor Lorenz in the Daily Beast, CES Was Full of Useless Robots and Machines That Don’t Work, by virtue of doing what tech writers are never supposed to do, namely report as opposed to cheerlead, is being buried despite its importance.
Lorenz went to the what is the biggest, most important consumer tech trade show in the US, and arguably the world, and found that tons of the great new gotta-have-them wares in the pipeline don’t work. As in unabashedly, obviously don’t work or are so ludicrously not fit for purpose as to be the functional equivalent of not work.
This inability to even credibly fake next gen products, and worse, not even be embarrassed that they aren’t performing, is proof that the tech industry has gone past an event horizon into a state of obvious collective impotence and not one cares ore even seems to regard it as unusual. Broken companion robots for the elderly? Why not? A “tell you what to wear and how to take care of it” device….that depends on everything you own having RFID chips in them, which isn’t here, many never get here, and in any event excludes all those nice things you own now?
How about an idea that would seem a lot easier to implement: wheelie suitcases that follow you around? Nope:
90Fun’s Puppy 1 self-driving rollaway, which uses Segway technology to roll behind you, couldn’t go 10 feet without falling on its face. A Chinese competitor I observed in action kept losing its owner and was abysmally slow. I couldn’t imagine running late for a flight and trying to keep any of these in tow.
With all the outrages in the world, it may seem hard to get up in arms about a big trade show gone massively pear shaped. But you need to see this as proof of degeneracy and narcissism among our supposed best and brightest. When sports teams are trounced by opponents or score own goals, they have the decency to act upset and mortified. Here we have Silicon Valley exhibiting grotesque loserdom on a large-scale basis…and that’s somehow normal and OK? Did these people all go to schools where everyone got a prize for just showing up? This looks like the result of decades of overprotective parenting, of building self esteem matters more than teaching skills, finally coming home to roost.
It was bad enough a few years back when the Silicon Valley rage was apps, when they were generally trivial to build, trivial in utility, or worse, embodied degradation or sheer idiocy. Remember eShaver, a shaving app that didn’t shave but just made shaver noises? How about Birth Buddy, that allowed pregnant women to time their contractions and e-mail the results to friends and family?
Another anchor fad has been the Internet of Things, otherwise known as the Internet of Shit, or devices that are going to talk to each other and spy on you whether you like it or not. After being told how great it will be to give orders to your thermostat, or direct your oven to turn on remotely (since when are you going to leave food out at room temperature waiting for you to eventually turn cooking devices on), or the supposed killer app, having your fridge order milk when you are running low, which really looked like an excuse to sell people smart locks to let Amazon Man come into your house, we learn that IoT is full of bugs, not secure, will never be secure (that was before factoring in Meltdown and Spectre) and makes you hostage to firmware providers, both in the event of them failing or succeeding. For instance, as Malwarebytes pointed out:
Setting aside poor security design and implementation, “smart” devices like these tend to come with fuzzy legal boundaries surrounding ownership and maintenance. Last year, a home automation hub company called Revolv was shut down during acquisition. Rather than simply failing to provide updates, the devices were disabled.
This was an inconvenience for users, but what if it was your front door? Given the current state of mobile OS fragmentation, would it be that much of a surprise if a lock company simply declined to provide security updates? We couldn’t find any information on the means by which the new Amazon compatible locks are updated, how authorized delivery personnel will interact with the locks, and if any third party has access to data communicated by the lock and/or accompanying phone apps.
So this year, the hot new thing is robots. But while it appears that software engineers can get away with peddling vaporware and buggy products, hardware that does not work is more obvious. But no one seemed to regard that as an impediment.
This episode proves that Silicon Valley is no longer about products. It’s about VC hype and pump and dump. One has to assume that investors don’t bother looking to see whether things work. Offering memoranda, glossy sites, and the ability to foist paper onto greater fools is the dominant business model. How vulnerable is this to the end of QE? To China and the Asian tigers seeing we are going to be their lunch? To all of this crap tech collapsing so quickly that it won’t even last long enough to be called “planned obsolescence” and will lead to consumer revulsion against NewTech? Time will tell, and the implication of CES is that that time is coming sooner rather than later.
Oh the irony of a 2 hour power outage at the CES….the comedy just writes (or tweets) itself these days.
Yes, I should have worked that in but was having enough fun with all product failures.
The apotheosis of crapification.
As for a China and other “tigers” (endangered species, in the real world) eating US, how much of that inopdreck was made in China or Malaya? It’s a global phenom.
What ever happened to cast iron skillets and enameled cups? Oh, in the WilliamsSonoma catalog, for $400… but Very Special…
Yep. This seems to be one of the few areas where the “bottom deciles” do better than the ‘overlords and ladies.’ We see second hand, perfectly good cast iron cookware, (ever see an individual serving sized waffle [cast] iron before,) at cheap prices. One of our sons in law got a set of three cast iron skillets at a thrift we dragged him into, for $10.00 USD. He likes to cook, and was really amazed. “I’m going to have to come in here more often!” Now to wean him off of new clothing…
As for the I.O.S., well, how high up the infrastructure chain does this rot go? When local electric utilities begin to use remote shut off devices, I’ll start to worry. Imagine jokesters turning off the electricity for every household in town whose “Name” begins with a particular letter, for starters. More realistically, a wonderful way to manage rolling blackouts. I hope that I don’t last long enough to see that here. But I might.
Now that I think about it, as someone on a thread on another post mentioned, Bitcoin relies on electricity for its’ very existence. So does the functionality of all electronics. Even mobile devices have to be recharged at intervals. Electricity supply looks to be the bottleneck for electronics. The status of decentralized electricity production will be very important in the future.
If all your customers have a smartmeter, then rolling blackouts become very easy to operate.
Rolling blackouts all in the name of efficiency, or austerity, or national security, or…the list is endless. Who’s willing to bet that gated communities begin to install back up electric generators, all under the supervision of the H.O.A. of course. [No deadbeats need apply. /s]
Unfortunately, the thrifts and so on are getting cleaned out. Cast iron and real, solid stainless steel are like gold.
Hmm. Do we have a metric for this? Does anybody track what’s sold in thrift stores? That’s the sort of statistic a Maine bear would like!
This store which caters to the Amish might serve as something of an antidote:
They carry quite a number of items “made in the USA,” but also a tremendous amount of inexpensive merchandise made in China. Nevertheless, I’ve been to Lehman’s and can vouch for the fact that the Amish do shop there.
Been to Lehman’s too! Neat place. We went on what must have been buggy wheeling and dealing day in the back parking lot, which was wild to see – row after row of identical-looking black buggies, with a large group of young Amish men following an auctioneer selling each and moving to the next one by one.
What caught my eye at Lehman’s were all the propane-powered fridges and washing machines, and the beautiful enameled cast iron wood-fired kitchen stoves. Those stoves were extremely expensive. The in-laws shared that the Amish make bank with their top-notch construction and carpentry work. I suppose they aren’t spending on iPads either.
Yes. Most Amish communities (at least where I live in PA) have lots of small businesses and have even expanded to a number of light manufacturing businesses (e.g., metal fabrication, food processing, etc) as well.
Amish communities eschew from avoiding large amounts of debt and use community-funding for necessary loans generally.
Almost all of the wood furniture in my house was custom built to spec from an Amish guy my uncle has done business with for 30+ years. I also take a number of other things to get repaired by Amish-owned shops as well including my bike and any leather items to a shop that repairs all kind of leather even if they mainly do harnesses for horses.
Shirk’s Bike Shop is one of the better kept secrets in Lancaster County.
It is in the middle of nowhere located off Route 322. Great prices, great service, and a few members of the US cycling team who train at Trexlertown get their bikes serviced here.
> even expanded to a number of light manufacturing businesses
Including rock and roll stages for large tours, amazingly enough.
Thought they solved the tin whiskers problem but my oven stopped working 1 month after the warranty was up.
Maybe, they aren’t using lead in their solder mix?
This article reminds me of the term ‘firm’ which is used in NC from time to time. In my youth it was not the faintly anachronistic noun that it has become. Companies went bust of course, but firms were just that; they were institutions in best meaning of the word.
Nowadays companies are infirm until the length of their existence and product support proves otherwise.
What about “firmware”? Software that has to be fixed every 3 months…
Scepter and Meltdown are BIOS breaks.
(Sorry – couldn’t resist)
Here we have Silicon Valley exhibiting grotesque loserdom on a large-scale basis
You tell ’em, Yves! The above turn of phrase made me smile. Thanks. FWIW I agree completely and have nothing to add (for the moment, at least).
Yeah, and where is my participation trophy?
Here’s a gift certificate to ‘Shakeys Pizza’ dude.
Hey, don’t knock on Shakey’s Pizza! After High School basketball games in Reseda CA in 1972, we would really enjoy unwinding with Pepperoni Pizza at Shakey’s!
Sorry, it was a lame reference to a South Park episode.
Not to rain on the parade raining, but aren’t most trade fairs a bit like this. At the Agricultural ones I go to there are a bunch of usless or needlessly complicated things (nobody needs a gate that hydraulically transforms into a cattle grid). There are also some good products in amongst the chaff. I’m just wondering if this is actually an inflection point or just a more honest than usual article exposing the usual.
I went to Macintosh trade shows for years as an extremely dedicated user. Every trade show has its share of bad ideas, but nothing on this scale (or as stupid as iPads stuck on the front of “robots.” Dear Lord).
Lambert, I think that the percentage of the really terrible ideas is going up, while the percent of the viable and genuinely ingenious ideas are going down.
Most of these products at this new CES are hardly worth looking at, save to know to avoid buying them.
I was going to ask the same.
And most likely, as mentioned immediately above, by several people, there are more bad ideas now.
There would also be competing versions of the same idea; PageMaker — anyone remember? — was the best, but there were at least two others whose names I have now forgotten.
It may be that the same thing was happening at this CES, but if so, the author doesn’t mention it.
I wish it were possible to create a Crapification Ratio; in the above example, the ratio would be 2:1. At CES, the ratio would seem to have been 10:1 or even 100:1.
I’m catching a whiff of a pattern we know from the GFC. There a securitization machine was build to pump capital into mortgages, but at a certain point the capital exceeded the number of decent mortgages possible, so new, crapified mortgages were created with NINJA loans etc. The securitization monster created a big sucking effect that managed to pull a lot of fraudulent assets out of the ether.
Now a machine has been built to pump VC capital into new ideas, and the pressure of capital looking for a place to rest is sucking bad ideas out of the ether, and funding them into the Consumer Electronics Scam du jour.
Soon we will look back on Juicero as a pretty good product… All it really needed was a blockchain in the cloud.
Anyways, I do think we are at an inflection point. Remember, the faustian deal we made was that we had to put up with Capitalism, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to get the goodies like this. Well with goodies like this, who needs Capitalism?
Unless of course, the real value of capitalism is not to pump out goods, but rather to pump out assets – including debt-based assets that are pledged by the human beings that we pump out.
It’s a bit curious, that in today’s security obsessed culture; people will buy all kinds of pathways into their private lives.
Apparently the shiny is just too irresistable…
Bought myself a connected thermostat for my cottage to be able to warm it up before I got there on the weekend. Seems like a viable use case, right?
Internet goes down for two weeks. No way to adjust the thermostat without a connection. I had to just splice in a 10$ old mechanical one just to get the furnace on.
Please, don’t think this is a personal attack on you but I think we still have to change our mind on our confort requirements and put emphasis on energy saving rather than instant comfort. To have a connected thermostat means that you must have power swithched on all the time on your cottage, whether you are there or not and the iddle thermostat as well as the connecting router will be wasting, lets say, 20 watts every second, or 0.5 kwh every day you aren’t there for just nothing. Technology helps us to waste more and more energy…
But… but… I do it because I can AFFORD to!
The problem starts with indoor plumbing…
“The problem starts with indoor plumbing…”
That it does, Once you have water pipes in your house, you have to keep them from freezing!
Indoor plumbing including reliable access to safe drinking water and safe disposal of human waste has been the single biggest increase in human life span during the late 19th century/early 20th century in the US and Western Europe.
Indoor plumbing for the clean water, I will grant you…Although it may be worth asking just how clean the provided supply really is!
But using potable water for waste is plain stupid.
… actually, the only time you should add water to waste is if the slurry is going into a biodigester to create methane. Composting is a far superior strategy. But people like their instant disposal with minimal involvement.
I wonder if building codes in cities and towns even permit this.
Not in general. Composting requires a direct involvement by the “end consumer.” People are lazy. Give them too many moving parts, or processes, to monitor and the general degree of commitment falls off. Plus, if it could be implemented to a great degree, that would take away some of the justification for large municipal power bases, or influence points. Can’t have those ‘deplorables’ taking charge of their own micro-infra-structurs now, can we? Next would be popular sovereignty! [Clutches pearls as stumbles towards fainting couch.]
That is actually a case of “bought the wrong thermostat.” Key to remember: Silicon Valley may in fact come up with an interesting and seemingly useful IoT device (Nest thermostat comes to mind), but even if they get the web service part of the device right there’s no guarantee they’ll get the core functionality of the device right (being a thermostat). There are other web thermostats made by thermostat companies that aren’t quite as slick on the web side but do quite well as a thermostat.
Another example is the Ring doorbell: Fantastically useful device (if you don’t care about being spied on), but good luck finding a traditional indoor chime that works with it and keeps the Ring’s battery charged.
Interestingly, there are tech companies that do very well at both the core function and the tech component. Tesla being one, after a bit of time to get the build quality of the car sorted. But it’s impossible to do that unless the company staff really know what they’re doing in both the software aspect and the physical world, and I suppose the robot luggage people just weren’t savvy enough to make it work.
Ah yes. After our “smart” thermostat “learned” our heating and cooling patterns, I came home after work to an oven – the heat had been on for hours at 88 degrees. We immediately turned off all smart functions and wifi connections and now use it simply as a manual thermostat.
I am still baffled about why I want to allow a bored teenager in Moscow to play games with my house over the Internet. I haven’t seen any evidence that Corporate America is paying enough attention to Internet security for me to do anything other than minimize its use.
At this point in time, for anything other than a smartphone/tablet, computer, or TV streaming device, I avoid anything that purports to be “smart”. It cuts the costs of the products down significantly at the physical cost of having to press an on-off switch. In most cases, we actually physically turn power bars off, so that things are not drawing power at all and there is no way they can turn on themselves.
Mind you, despite having worked on and off with computers since the late 70s, I still don’t have a Facebook account, so I am clearly a step out of time. But I view these things purely as tools and focus on trying to select the right tool for my purpose at hand. Power saws are very useful tools, but they are very dangerous and have to be handled with care or you won’t have a hand anymore. I view the Internet as similar to a power saw.
> paying enough attention to Internet security
I don’t think “security” is a priority at all in the ruling class, whether at the executive level in corporations and government or the 0.01% ownership level; it never has been. There’s too much power to be had from surveillance, and too much money to be had from using big data + algos to manipulate human nervous tissue.
Thanks – a revealing perspective.
I’m not surprised – never considered the tech industry immune to what seems to be nearly ubiqutious crapification.
Where the tech industry differs from other industries seems to be in its well-developed ability to create & sell things which nobody needs. Now, that’s not to say it sells only superfluous products – my desktop pc & landline phone are well-functioning necessities (as far as I can tell, no Meltdown/Spectre problems – yet). That said, I’m sure that some high-tech products/services are actually useful/good/worth paying for. Overall, though, the industry’s main focus seems to have the same goal as the most successful social media sites: distraction, i.e. stealing your attention away from what’s actually important in your life.
I wonder whether this CES report is yet another example of something rather more serious than crapification: a whole system geared towards swindling.
Because since approximately year 2000, the principle “let us fake it and find some suckers” seems to have taken hold.
Enron and its price-boosting artificial scarcity; the accounting falsifications of Worldcom, Parmalat, Equitable Life, Arthur Andersen, Tesco, Computer Associates…; the fraudulent banking operations of Wells Fargo, the LIBOR scandal, the entire FIRE system that crashed in 2008, the metastazing web of letterbox companies extensively described in NC, the numerous Ponzi-schemers big like Madoff or Allen, and small like those guys who shake people with falsified debt claims in the USA; the firms defrauding their customers and authorities with deliberately defective products — Volkswagen, Kobe Steel, the horse-meat lasagna and fipronil-laced eggs in Europe, or the donkey-meat hamburgers in South Africa.
Not to mention the shameless indifference to actual performance exhibited by political appointees or governmental organizations — among others, the FEMA scandal during Katrina, the Obamacare website that did not work, the lack of action in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Maria, the OPM data breach because of sheer lack of concern for basic IT security (and the same at Equifax), or the F35 and LCS that are approved despite knowledge that these pieces of weaponry simply do not work and do not fulfill basic requirements.
And now at CES the much-touted technology sector too is just faking it.
What kind of society is this where faking it and swindling prospective customers, users, or citizens, instead of carrying out actual work with some honesty is becoming a way of life?
I believe it´s known as Neocapitalism/Neoliberalism. Profit by any means.
It’s not all bad: I actually quite liked the horse-meat lasagna.
Only after the collapse of “Liberal Capitalism” it will eventually be recognised that it was not Communism that killed the USSR, it was rampant Fraud and Corruption. The difference is that “The West” started from far higher up than the Soviet Empire so our fall takes correspondingly longer.
The problem wasn’t the Czars, it was people who wanted to live like Czars.
> I actually quite liked the horse-meat lasagna
Especially when accompanied by Victory Gin.
“Let us fake it and find some suckers” does seem to be the preferred business plan.
Nowadays products just need to have the appearance of the real thing so that they look good on a store shelf or in an ad — for example a pair of socks or a comforter for your bed. It doesn’t matter if they start falling apart immediately. As long as they lasted long enough to ship to the store or your house, that’s all the manufacturer plans for.
Durable goods or digital products just need to function long enough on the display floor so they can be demo’d to prospects. No matter if they start fizzling out and breaking down a month or three after you take it home. All that matters is that the product simulates the real thing long enough to get you to spend your money.
So instead of sturdy Craftsman crescent wrenches with a lifetime warranty, we have Dollar Store wrenches made of cheap Chinese steel that bend like warm taffy when you apply some torque.
Welcome to the age of performance manufacturing.
In the 80s that was called “Quality Engineering” which meant engineering as much quality out of the product as possible so it was as cheap as possible while still getting the job done for awhile—barely!
What kind of society is this where faking it and swindling prospective customers, users, or citizens, instead of carrying out actual work with some honesty is becoming a way of life?
I’ve noticed incompetence and faking performance are also facets of narcissism, to Yves’ point about the crapification being a facet of narcissism in the culture. Maybe narcissism is pandemic and we’ve misidentified it as grandioseness a la Trump instead of just wishing to be seen as competent or powerful or smart or whatever (to the exclusion of actually being those things).
Where the tech industry differs from other industries seems to be in its well-developed ability to create & sell things which nobody needs.
Here sporble, let me fix that sentence for you:
Where [capitalism] differs from other [economic ideologies] seems to be in its well-developed ability to create & sell things which nobody needs.
Why do you think the snake oil salesmen flock to AM talk radio?
As long as people gullible enough to believe that the ills of their life can be cured by a stranger who is trying to make money off of them exist, the ability to create and sell them things they don’t need will exist.
All you need are people who want to believe.
Making, improving and selling high quality affordable anything from apps to toasters is so last century. (Maaaasive eyeroll)
So true. After our 5-year-old clothes’ iron crapped out, we dusted off our back-up — grandma’s fifty-year-old iron. That thing is built like a tank and it just keeps on working. How many of today’s appliances will still work in four or five decades?
The Bakelite coffee grinder my father bought for us in France still works brilliantly; I foolishly bought a Braun to replace it and it crapped out after a year.
I have a vague memory that one reason things weren’t even worse in Russia, after the neoliberals from Harvard did their “reduce life expectancy” thing, was that their consumer goods didn’t wear out. They could still preserve food, for example, because Russian refrigerator were built like tanks. Sure, they weren’t sold in avocado….
Carry-on luggage. Remove the wheels. Remove the frame. It now weighs half as much and will fit under the seat in front of you. Pick it up and carry it.
At “Auto Shows” the display “concept” vehicles are hand painted, hand trimmed, and hand polished. Most of them are rolled and pushed into their displays. No one gives ANY thought to driving them or mass producing them! They are mockups.
Silicon Valley in its infantile need for adulation continues to operate as if all it has to do is mock reality. Consumer goods such as toilet paper have to be the lowest cost method of doing their intended job, mass producable, and marketable.
Car show mockups aren’t meant to be produceable and everyone knows it. They’re to demonstrate design language, potential features, ambitions, and so forth. It’s not like tech crapification at all, except perhaps the autonomous driving but even that will come eventually. Some concept cars do end up fairly similar in production, with changes to accommodate required safety equipment (ex mirrors) or practical functions. The BMW i3 comes to mind as one example.
I would like to see a “Train Show” someday.
That’s why I like the Solar Decathlon. 2018 somewhere in Mid-East and China, next in US in 2019.
I’m a firmware engineer and one of the terms that has sadly become common in our industry is MVP. No, not Most Valuable Player. Minimum Viable Product. If it can squeak through QA (or the goalposts conveniently moved) and can be marketed, ship it! Sometimes there are stock option incentives for management for shipping by a certain date. As an engineer, I want to design/architect the best possible solution based on requirements that are solidly researched (honestly, we all do – we didn’t get into it to impress anyone). I’ve worked at companies that genuinely cared top-down to make the best, it’s just less much common now and really depends on the upper level leadership. I’m just going to wait for 5+ years until the decent products go through enough iterations to be worthwhile to buy. Hell, I’d rather get a bunch of Pi Zeros and do it myself.
> Minimum Viable Product. If it can squeak through QA (or the goalposts conveniently moved) and can be marketed, ship it!
A fine example of the Minimum Viable Product in the political sphere: Kamala Harris.
At some point, if we all do not go gentle into the “good” night of falling for all the unnecessary created “needs,” we may have to decide what is is that we humans exist for. Will we be content being divorced from our natural world, from meaningful personal and societal relationships, and relegated to systems built upon the profit motive, a systems that ignores common needs and the common good; or will we mindlessly accept the category capitalism has created for us that did not exist as a social value a couple of centuries ago, that identifying category that sees us solely as “consumers.” More and more, it seems to me that capitalism itself is at root the cause of all of our problems, and until we decide to find a new system built on different values, we will slouch toward extinction. Oh, that made me feel better. Let me help make Bezos another buck and go shopping.
Usually hardware prototypes are held to a higher standard than software prototypes, once we get to market. Permanent beta-ware is endemic to the software business. Compared to “get it out the door now, as-is” properly tested and documented software takes 3 times as much money, and is 3 times last-to-market. Commercial hardware is usually by necessity, much better tested and documented (blue prints). Because we will never have “really” good software, is one reason why I don’t believe that AI or smart robots are viable in ordinary settings.
‘minimally viable product’ is the silly con golden phrase…
Science and technology need to undergo another revolution. A revolution of durability and sustainability- but that would take reorienting and reimagining the economic system. Such a vision offers as much, if not more inspiration than any techno-utopia on the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The old narratives have not died yet, but as this post clearly demonstrates, are well on their way.
Political economy and human psychology are two branches of human knowledge that need to be integrated to improve the conditions of social life, not trap it into an endless, meaningless struggle. Crapification is the end result of this failed vision.
The next revolution will embrace limits, not pretend they don’t exist or obfuscate them with techno fantasies. In the end, is this not how nature and evolution work? Evolving to be best suited to the environment at hand. Without adaption to the environment in a sustainable way, extinction is the only future.
A true futurist vision is not one where a traveler has a robot suitcase following them around, that problem was solved more efficiently and simply by having a slave or personal “assistant” carrying it for the elite traveler. A better solution would be to not need the suitcase in the first place. Mass production technology combined with a social psychology that promoted an access economy instead of individual consumption. Democracy leading to billions of people having personal suitcases is also a failed utopian vision.
All that brainpower headed in the wrong direction. Without a new vision, the future will be a slow, relentless deterioration. As Jared Diamond pointed out, is such social situations, the elite just gain themselves the right to die last.
I have to admit that reading Yves’s article as well as the article that it was based on, I did feel a hefty amount of schadenfreude. It is like watching a series of fad fashions – apps, wearable tech, robots, etc. – and they just can’t find the secret sauce for the next “big thing”. They should institute a rule at CES. If your gear does not work, it gets the sledgehammer treatment. Just to encourage people to bring things that only work you understand. If this keeps on, I may just attend next year’s CES with a tablet duct-taped to my old vacuum cleaner and tell everybody that it will be fully integrated into the IoT. I should have unicorn investors lining up around the booths throwing money & hookers at me left, right and center.
I am reminded of another industry here and that is of Hollywood. No, seriously. Think about it. Hollywood throws billions at a series of films that mostly seem to be reboots of old TV shows or movies or just things like Transformers # 42. There are plenty of original ideas and thinkers around but they are constantly choked out by Hollywood’s studios and its focus groups and always trying to play it safe or trying to win audiences with glitzy digital effects. It is of course not working as less and less people go to the cinema but that is not stopping them. Maybe the same is true of the tech industry. That the ideas are out there but the tech industry is trying focus groups (composed of people who live in Silicon Valley) and quick fixes and do not want the hard work of building stuff that actually works (like Apple did once upon a time). For that you need discipline and vision and focus. Yeah, so not happening.
Part of this may have to do with the fact that how much innovation is taking place these days which is very little. My grandfather’s generation grew up at a time when new inventions were coming in constantly like radio, cars, flying machines, electrical lighting, refrigerators, etc. I think that it was John Michael Greer that pointed out that this is not happening anymore. Don’t say mobiles as they are basically walky-talkies with onboard computers and don’t say the internet as they are just an extension of computers and networks which have been around since the forties. If innovation has mostly come to a halt as experienced by most people, wouldn’t it be logical that this would show up at places like the CES?
I still think that the primary benefit of Twitter is to inform diners where the food trucks are located and what their specials are. Everything else is just speeded up dissemination of BS.
Instead of marching together shoulder-to-shoulder toward an overarching goal, humanity is milling about aimlessly, looking for ways to pay the rent. There is no consensus on what this world is all about. Should we consume the planet quickly and die, or work together to make Earth habitable forever?
Currently, the overarching purpose of this economy is to generate money. Raw material is extracted from Earth, employed to pay the cost of living for many, generate wealth for a few, and then it goes back into Earth as landfill.
If the overarching purpose of our economy were to make Earth habitable forever, any tendency toward crapification would be squelched immediately upon identification. As we begin to share a common purpose, our relationships with each other and with the natural world will change, almost certainly for the better.
The way it is now, with money as the only common goal, and no sense of urgency to address exigent circumstances (gun and opioid death pandemics, climate change, etc), ubiquitous crapification seems almost inevitable. The quality won’t return until we know we are building for the long run.
++++ @citizendave great observations. I wholeheartedly agree!
“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” Oscar Wilde
Always really resonated with me but more so lately the last decade especially as an American.
Upvotes galore!!! The Political/Economic Revolution needs to organize and recruit around your idea. People with extra rooms/food for others could offer these in exchange for work done building a new cooperative/sustainable future.
Ding ding ding! Give that man a cigar for excellent insight into the zeitgeist.
Going back a few decades, Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth crowd tried to counter the throwaway ethic, but it didn’t take off except in small enclaves.
Is it the fault of the producers of the non working tech that idiots desperately want to buy things with their hard earned money though?
Its like cable TV , would there be horrible shows like the real housewives of whatevia , or vanderpump rules or keeping up with the kardashians if there was no money in it?
Americans lust for the chance to waste money and time on complete garbage so why swim against the tide?
A huge swath of the population has nothing to do that is of any use to anyone and on some level they know it and its affecting our society .
For somewhat creepy things (uncanny valley), that does actually work and exist, one should take a look at what the automation industry is doing. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHn6sgbOb_cq_oGtyGv9E8g
This industry used to be very boring, conservative and quite behind the curve, then in about the mid-1990’s they started hiring high-grade talent to work with them and became creative. Now I think they are driving developments, not the “consumer side”, which is mostly just cheap tat and shiny-shiny that creates more trouble than it saves, basically.
The programming environment for LEGO MindStorm and National Instruments LabVIEW comes straight from MIT’s work on Subsumption Architectures, ABB is working heavily with RWTH, Aachen and there is FESTO’s “Bionic Learning Network” – https://www.festo.com/group/en/cms/10156.htm – it really shows in a tool when serious and proper research is baked into the design from the beginning.
FESTO’s concept robots are really something to see, they usually have the most interesting stand on any industrial automation fair.
If the CES ever moves to Japan, with the help of FESTO, they can have robot-strippers with tentacles rather than just plain robot-strippers.
Is it Silicon Valley that is broken or a financial system that has so much ready money sloshing around that people will invest in almost anything? It could be that the priorities of the VC types skew the process toward the next new thing (monopoly rents) rather than improving the old thing.
I dunno, monopoly rents on suitcases that miss your flight because they’ve fallen over? Meh. (OK, there’s Terry Pratchett, but his Luggage worked transcendentally well.) But if the real customers at CES were the next-stage investors .. if the consumers were just there to form cheering crowds to make the devices look good ..
Money these days is made by telling great stories. Wolf Richter pointed that out about Kodak’s blockchain move.
My personal test is to consider “need” vs “want”
I do not need Moar devices.
My spouse is a specialist in “want to look good” and she does it well.
A timeline of commercial innovation over the last few decades might better highlight our shocking lack of recent innovation:
Manned Space Flight, Satellites sent to other Planets, Man on the Moon
Internet Precursor ( Arpanet )
First Lung, Liver, and Heart Transplants
Vaccines for Polio, Measles, Mumps, & Rubella
Beta Blockers ( First High Blood Pressure Medication )
First Commercially available Microprocessor Computer Chips
Gene Splicing / Recombinant DNA ( the Central Technology behind Genetic Modification & Genetic Engineering )
CT, MRI, and PET Medical Imaging Devices
Fiber Optic Telecommunications
Hand Held Electronic Calculators
Color Photocopiers & Laser Printing
Home PC Computers
Computer Software Companies
Computer Gaming Companies
Consumer Handheld Video Cameras
Home Video Cassette Recorders
MiR Space Station
Thin / Flat Screen Television and Video Monitors
CDs / DVDs
Commercial Release of Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Batteries
International Space Station
Mapping the Human Genome
First Cloned Sheep
2000 – 2010
Film-Less Digital Cameras
Touch Screen Computers and Telephones
Handheld Computers ( Smartphones, iPad, iPod )
USB Flash / Thumb Storage Drives
Wireless Data Networks and Technology ( Cordless Internet & File Sharing )
Digital Vido Recorders ( DVR / Tivo )
2011 – Now
2011 – Now
I doubt any will be around in their current form in the next decade.
Productivity growth since 2008 has been very low.
It is why the narrative of robots taking over is highly questionable.
I think that one of the reasons why this is happening is because Moore’s Law has ended. Dennard scaling ended around 2005 and now it is looking like adding more transistors to a chip for a given cost due to a transistor node shrink may no longer be possible. Instead newer nodes will cost more per transistor or have extremely difficult physics challenges.
@JimTan your timeline is great… coincident with my own lifespan. We also enjoyed the fruits of the Golden Era of American manufacturing, like toasters that lasted for two generations and cars that can be kept running indefinitely. Kids These Days really don’t have any idea what a functional industrial society looks like.
The quality of American cars that rolled off the line in the 1960s and 1970s compared to what rolls off today were vastly inferior in every aspect especially from a safety aspect.
The only reason that the MPG hasn’t vastly improved is because today’s cars are so much heavier in general due to the additional weight and electronics in the car. Engines today are vastly more efficient and cleaner too from an emissions standpoint.
True, but you can get into a restored 1915 Stutz Bearcat and drive it right now. How many people will try to restore say a Ford Focus or an Honda Civic a century from now? To be fair, you make some very valid points. Thing is, you mentioned about how MPG has not gone up much and the newer engines. Maybe the real question is whether it might not have been smarter to move away from internal combustion engines decades ago. I have no idea what the MPG would have been in this world (probably the same by now) but I think that it may have been a better option to choose.
Safety is in the hands of the driver.
Today, the cars are so fragile with their seven and eight speed automatics and electronic crapola at the end of every wire. Batteries for BMW’s are about a thousand bucks, and have to be bought from them and registered with the electronics in the car. No going to NAPA for a new one, or getting a non dealer to fix it because, moohlah.
BMW = Beat My Wallet
Getting a used high end car that is off warranty is financial suicide.
To boot, new cars are f-ugly. Ever look at a recent Lexus, Toyota or Mercedes? Mercedes has a mini SUV where the styling inspiration is an ugly frog. And driving them with A pillars the size of 100 year old oak trees, to hide the air bag in them, becomes a hazard when you don’t see the Mack truck hiding in plain sight.
Oh yeah, the ridiculous rims with rubber bands for tires, meets pothole and there goes another grand or two.
What is there to like about new cars? I drive old beaters, love them, and can fix them. One has nearly 280 thousand miles, original clutch, smooth as silk on the highway, a pleasure to drive and invisible to the police. And if it gets a new scratch, I don’t care.
Crapification is the guiding principle of the automotive industry, just like “high tech” and Silly-con Valley.
Current innovation is focused less on actual hardware/software that people can use to enrich their lives, and more on complex speculative financial products that can enrich the banker class.
silicon-based quantum computer
Reusable rocket boosters
another area of crapification related to any of these proof-of-concept products are their likely integration with cloud platforms at the data layer. Depending on which cloud and which platform the expected product lifespan could be limited drastically (now you have at least 3 separate base requirements for the robot needing to remain in coordinated maintenance etc: the hardware, the cloud, and the platform for the robot hosted on the cloud).
Smart appliances have been around for awhile now, so I ask. How many have been sold? Do people still use the “smart” part? Can they still connect o their propietary servers? When the smart part fails, do they still work as a normal applicance? Lastly, how many have been hacked?
I’d like to know not only how many have been sold, but how many sold deliberately? I don’t knowingly own any Internet of Shit (aka “smart”) devices, but it’s possible some might sneak their way in eventually. With the phony ‘we’re just giving consumers what they want’ mantra, it’s quite possible that soon it will be difficult to find certain items that aren’t IoS-connected. For example, is it even possible to buy a TV that doesn’t spy on you anymore?
Since the smart appliances tend to be top of the line it will be folks that have money spare, for example to buy a 3 door 27 cubic foot fridge for 3000 or more. When an old fashioned side by side with out all the add ons can be had on sale for less than 1100. (plus the more fancy ones have more things to go wrong). As to turning on the oven remotely, time bake has been a thing on ovens since 1948 at least i.e. a clock based timer, so you put the roast in the oven frozen, let it thaw a while and then the oven turns on. So the fancy stuff is designed for people who can’t possibly plan ahead. (but this really awaits when the household robot takes the roast out of the freezer and puts in the oven. ) Or you could just cook the roast at 250 which is essentially what barbecue places do and let it cook for 12 hours.
Another point–the Silicon Valley hype machine is highly dependent on youthful labor. Part of it is pure exploitation of people too naïve to know they are being hosed, but a lot of it is reliance on labor that doesn’t have prior experience building high quality products and therefore believes that the definition of “disruptive” allows for something that is some combination poorly designed, poorly manufactured, or low utility.
I remember a work conversation with an old-timer engineer 25 years ago, where I suggested taking a shortcut. He snapped back at me, “I’ve put equipment on the Moon.” I took that as a statement that he only knew one way to do his job, which was to build things that had a high degree of reliability. He’s retired now.
Youthful labor AND deceptive old timers. Don’t forget the second part. After all who’s showing the way unless you equate youth with deceit which is 99.9% not true.
.I was looking at JimTan’s post above that gave a quickie invention rundown by decade and “loss of experience” and monopolization came to mind.
And yet … people are hyping this self-driving car stuff.
I’ve talked with people who reject my notion that a self driving car would have to be actually much better than a human at driving before widespread adoption would be feasible.
The tech just isn’t there yet. And, that notion too is roundly rejected by some people I talk with. But when a self driving car encounters an unexpected situation on a freeway (like a deer on the road) and makes a decision that gets a lot of people killed, how exactly is that going to play out legally?
Noting all these broken, not working consumer electronics, how exactly are people to have faith that self-driving car systems won’t be equally broken?
‘zactly. I wonder who in their right mind would actually want a car that can be remotely hacked… you get in, thinking you’re going to work, but the doors lock and you are taken to an “undisclosed location”… or the car decides to run rampant at the school crossing… people put up with all kinds of software failures on a daily basis, yet will they trust their lives to a robot car?
Plenty of modern cars are already hackable…google it…and you will find proof of concept attacks on moving vehicles…
Among the pitches at last week’s San Francisco “WinterTech“ conference was that of an app purporting to generate a dynamic “FICO Score for Your Health” that draws inputs from, among other sources, biometric “sensors,” and “lifestyle data” (e.g., social media).
Okie Dokeee, then. What could possibly go wrong?
How to enlighten a tribe of materialistic monkeys?
I remember reading this story about the attitudes on Wall Street after the Great Recession and the bailouts, that these i-bankers were considering themselves successful and meritorious, because they made more money that year. Never mind that it was entirely due to the federal government floating them, in their minds, as long as numbers were up and their bonuses were bigger, it meant they did better.
This right here is the Silicon Valley equivalent. Doesn’t matter if your product works, as long as you’ve got the hype and the VC funds rolling in. It’s a culture that’s deluded itself into thinking that they must be the best and the brightest because they know SQL, that regardless of how inane their product or service is they must be changing the fundamental nature of society, so all turds are treated as paradigm shifters simply because they came out of the Valley. And if everyone is releasing half-baked products (most PC games these days are bug-ridden at launch and aren’t fully functional until a few patches in), then it doesn’t strike anyone as odd that their own device is non-functional.
The job of recessions and market crashes is to compost the BS and leave behind a small percentage of the original mass as something useful. We saw that process work in 2000-2003 when the dot.coms largely vanished into the ether and only the usable survived and are now the market leaders (Google, Amazon, etc.).
2008-2009 had so much BS and the composting process was so violent that the politicians and regulators stepped in and stopped the process, leaving behind a lot of uncomposted BS, mainly in the financial sector. This excess soon started slopping into other areas like tech, crypto-currency etc.
I am hoping that we get a 2000-2003 process instead of 2008-2009 in the next round, cleaning up the useless and leaving behind the useful. Hopefully, the financial sector is stable enough this go around that the composting process can proceed without too much interference. I think a lot of people who thought they were brilliant after the last round will drop by the wayside.
Perhaps the author is pointing the finger at the wrong people. When consumers buy crap and don’t care, then producers will supply them with crap every time. Overpriced crap that is cheap and easy to make. More money will be spent on advertising than on production and research.
This is hardly new. People are dumb and that makes businesses lazy. Not all, of course. A business that innovates will clean up, but many that are already established and bloated will say, “why bother,” and keep churning out crap.
And don’t forget, cost of advertising is tax deductible. It’s a win-win.
Our economy is based on consumerism — borrow, buy, dispose-of, then borrow and buy again. There are no incentives for companies to build products which will last a long time, or which are made easy to repair. Apple devices are a great example of this. Just make everyone believe they need your crap, then sell it to them — and make a short product life cycle and repeat.