Archive for the ‘Innovation’ Category

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There is a university, its location is not well known, maybe you travel there from platform nine and three quarters at King Cross, but it is called the School of Technology Phobia.   While we don’t know the location, it does seem likely that the University of Luddites is nearby. Graduates from the former of these institutions have been busy during the last few days, pouring their scholarly ideas across the ether. As a result, shares in Apple look like they are on helter-skelter, hurtling towards the earth.

That may be little unkind. That is to say unkind on Apple. It remains the world’s largest company and its shares did not so much as tumble, as reverse some of the stellar gains seen in recent months. But for the ladies and gentlemen whose cynicism led to the shares falls, the words are not all unkind at all.

Shares in Apple fell, and they fell quite sharply this week, as the company revealed truly stunning results. Revenue was up 112 per cent, sales into China doubled.  If the Apple share price falls after results like that, one wonders what might happen if it had an normal set of results

Apple’s problem is that it is the world’s biggest company by market cap. When you are that big it is hard to grow. Apple needs products that command high retail prices and it needs to sell them in droves. That’s why some think it will be turning to cars next, or even into the world of energy generation and storage.  The iPhone did alright in Apple’s latest quarter, in fact sales were up 35 per cent. According to the school of thought most people sign-up to, a 35 per cent rise in sales of any product is considered pretty exceptional. It is just that when it comes to Apple, it seems many analysts and investors went to a different school, the one mentioned above.

One day, but we have no idea when, smart phones will stop selling. Maybe it will occur when Moore’s Law runs out of puff, maybe it will occur when smart phones are replaced by chips that sit inside our heads. So while Apple enjoyed revenue topping £13.2 billion in its latest quarter, and its valuation to projected earnings is nothing alarming, cynics fret that one day it will run out of road.  Contrast that with Exxon Mobil, Apple’s main rival for the tile world’s largest company, it specialises in a product that the world will always want, namely oil, or so goes the argument.

As it happens, with technology advances in renewables, energy storage and synthetic oil there is no guarantee the world will always want Exxon Mobil’s core product. Apple, however, has another advantage. To explain why we need to look at psychology.

When it comes to paying for stuff, our purchases are likely to be greater if there is distance.  It also helps if things are easier.

If you were to tuck into pizza at the local Pizza café, and you were charged by the bite, you might soon get fed up. Setting aside the inconvenience, with each bite you will be thinking about the cost. So you pick you your fork, move the pizza to your mouth, and quickly tap in your pin number authorising another 30 pence. As you munch away, you will be thinking about the cost. Dan Ariely prosed the pizza idea to explain the concept of the ‘pain of paying’.

Other research shows that people who live in apartments in New York spend more on their laundry if they pay by tokens than by coins. The same psychology explains why casinos provide customers with chips – They spend more money that way.

For similar reasons, we spend more when we use a credit card than when we use cash. The lower the ‘pain of paying’, it appears the more we pay.

Now consider Apple Pay. It will be to the ‘pain of paying’, what morphine is to a headache. Apple Pay will make money for retailers, and Apple will be paid handsomely for this by them in return.

Now consider the Apple watch. It’s odd, isn’t it? When was the last time you used a pocket watch.  Wrist watches replaced pocket watches because they were more convenient. Odd then, that critics of the Apple Watch, which is after-all— a computer to sit on your wrist, don’t get why it is had advantages over a pocket smart phone. There is another benefit. As Daniel Kahneman illustrated in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, we can be quite impulsive. If spending money involves touching our wrist, and if that money is then distanced from our bank account by Apple Pay, we are likely to spend more

It is just another reason why we need to listen to graduates from the schools of technology not, technology phobia.

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In their new book entitled iDisrupted by John Straw and Michael Baxter, the two co-authors claim that only 19 of the world’s 100 largest companies in 2012 will still be in that list in 2042. However, it says that even this bold claim may be understating how things will pan out.

Throughout history, new technologies have had a disruptive effect on businesses and the economy, proving fatal to some well-known companies. In the new book, iDisrupted, the authors claim that the rate of fatality is set to increase.

Of the top 100 global companies identified in 1912, 29 companies had experienced bankruptcy or similar; and 48 had disappeared by 1995. Eastman Kodak was one of just 19 companies that stayed in the list during these years, yet at the start of the 21st century, with the onset of digital cameras, home printing and photo sharing websites, it too fell victim to the rise of new technologies.

In iDisrupted, co-authors John Straw and Michael Baxter claim that many of the industries we currently see as strong, such as oil, car manufacturers, banks and energy companies, could also be heading for the corporate graveyard within the next few decades.  They say that only 19 of the world’s 100 largest companies in 2012 will be in that list in 2042. However, even this may be an understatement.

Straw states: “The big corporate success story of the 20 century related to oil companies, but  just because they flourished in the 20th century, this does not necessarily mean they will flourish in the 21st century.” The rise in electric cars, self-driving cars and advances in solar power and energy storage, will all play a part in the energy industry as we currently understand it

Baxter, aka The Money Spy adds: “In our book, we try to explain why it is that technology is set to change the world like it has never been changed before. This is exciting, but it is also scary. There will be winners and losers, and some of the world’s largest companies will be amongst the losers.”

iDisrupted is a book about disruptive technology, how it will affect business, jobs, the economy and even what it is to be human.

iDisrupted –  Disruptive technology: changing the human race forever – will be available in all good bookshops and online from November 2014 or visit www.idisrupted.com for more details.

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A new book entitled iDisrupted: Disruptive technology, changing the human race forever looks at how technology will change the economy, business and even the human race. One of the technologies it cites that will have a huge impact on the world is Virtual Reality. Despite it first appearing in the 1980s, we are now on the cusp of seeing Virtual Reality’s existence and use in our daily lives in a way that will change us forever.

Hype has been building about Virtual Reality since its conception, but with high prices, small screens, cumbersome technology, and initial disappointment in the technology, many individuals have had their doubts about its impact. However, a new book written by John Straw and Michael Baxter, iDisrupted claims that, thanks to recent evolution in this technology, we will soon be holding face-to-face meetings in Virtual Reality as well as viewing holiday destinations, carrying out online shopping, and watching movies, and of course playing video games.

Combine the improvements in video, sound and computer graphics  with other advances, such as Leap Motion, which enables users to control their computers by the wave of their hand, with technologies that can fool our brains into perceiving smell, touch and taste, and the original dream of Virtual Reality is set to become reality.

Co-author Baxter, aka The Money Spy, says: “In our view, there are three stages in the story of new technology and how it is received by the market. There is the hype phase, the sceptical phase (as we react to what appear to have been unrealistic promises of the previous phase), and then the transformational phase, as previous innovations converge, create wealth, and – in the case of the period we are set to enter – lead to an acceleration in innovation. We are poised to enter the greatest transformational phase ever.”

John Straw added: “With the massive changes in technology that are about to occur, iDisrupted is a book that seeks to open a debate on what is surely the most important topic of the age, but which is barely discussed. Technology threatens society, but could be hugely beneficial. It is time we laid down plans to ensure it affects us in a positive way.”

Now available to purchase via Amazon, iDisrupted is a book about disruptive technology, how it will affect business, jobs, the economy, and even what it is to be human.

For more information about iDisrupted visit www.idisrupted.com

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Wearable technology: they say it is the next big thing. What are you going to wear today? Oh I think I will don my T-shirt that helps my breathing, my pants that make me more virile, and my new shoes that count how many miles I have walked in a day. What about you? Oh I am planning to wear my new suit. Samsung has made its first big move, and it seems as revolutionary as a new TV for the 21st Century that can show colour images. If this is the latest example of technology that is set to change the world, and turn some of the world’s biggest companies into something much bigger, then I have this new concept you will love; it is called sliced bread. Yet for Apple – the company that for a very short while was the biggest firm in the world last year – we can draw a quite different conclusion. Samsung’s half-hearted step into the world of smart watches shows that once again a spectacular opportunity awaits its US rival.

Did you ever read Douglas Adams? You may recall that some of the regular jokes in his ‘Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’ series were those that described humans as so primitive that they still thought digital watches were a smart idea. For a while, back in the late 1970s and early 1980s digital watches seemed like a step towards a future envisaged by Isaac Asimov and Aldus Huxley. As an aside, if you took an exam in the early 1980s – and yours truly took many – and you shared the examination hall with engineering students, then every hour, on the hour, beeps rang out across the room. That was in the days when engineering was on its way out, and James Dyson’s dream of creating an engineering-led revolution seemed as likely as the idea that one day our digital watches might be replaced by telephones.

The new Samsung watch was released yesterday. It looked as elegant as a brick tied to a wrist, as useful as a spare appendix. It can make phones calls if you lift your arm up, it can take pictures, check emails and receive texts, but it can only do these things if you have your Samsung smart phone with you.

In other words it can do some of the things a smart phone, can do, though presumably not as well, but only if you have your smart phone to hand. This begs the question, of course: why not get your smart phone out of your pocket? Are the timesaving benefits of being able to look at your wrist over taking a phone out of your pocket so significant that it is worth spending all that extra money on a smart watch?

But that does not mean smart watches are not a good idea. They need to be better. For one thing they need to be standalone. Sure, they should be connected to the Internet or indeed the Internet of things, but if it needs a control box on your person to make the smart watch work, it does rather defeat the purpose. For another thing, if you are going to wear one of these things, they need to look smart not merely be smart.

They say first move advantage is crucial. Well, not if the first mover move is like this. The only thing likely to be moved as a result is profits turning to losses. This is why design is so crucial. And this is why getting the user interface and the functionality right is so vital.

Samsung’s launch yesterday does not show that it has caught up with Apple. It does not show that the company is more than a follower. What it does show is that no one can yet do it like Apple has done it before.

Maybe the next Samsung watch will be a big improvement. Maybe the Apple watch will be as exciting as wearing a damp squib on your wrist; there is no way of saying for sure. But there is no reason, no reason at all, to think Apple has been knocked off its perch as the greatest innovator in consumer electronics. There are plenty of reasons to think, however, that Apple’s growth has merely hit a temporary lull.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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The World Economic Forum has picked out 36 start-ups which it sees as technology pioneers. The companies and their offerings are indeed impressive, and lend more support to the idea often suggested here that we are in the midst of the greatest industrial/technological revolution to date. There is one problem with the list however: none of the companies is British. It is not practical to describe every one of the 36 companies here. For the full list go to: Technology Pioneers 2014

But here is some of the companies picked out by ‘Investment and Business News’ which seem especially interesting.

A number on the list are working on cures – or at least treatments – in the medical sector. Amongst them are three firms based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Aghios Pharmaceuticals says: “Cancer cells not only consume more nutrients than other cells, they also process them differently.” Agios believes there could be 50 to 100 metabolic enzymes on which various cancers depend for their survival, from which a new wave of cancer therapies could emerge. Another company, BIND, is working on specifically-designed nanoparticles called Accurins, which are programmed to pass through openings in blood vessels at disease sites and bind to specific types of cells and tissues, such as cancer cells, while avoiding detection and attacks by the immune system. And finally there is Bluebird Bio, which is pioneering a way to correct aberrant sections of DNA that cause disease and are passed from generation to generation. The company has identified a way to harness the natural ability of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – a lentivirus – to insert a modified gene into a patient’s own cells. Bluebird uses its lentiviral vectors to transfer functional genes into a patient’s own stem cells, which are capable of changing into multiple cell types, providing the company with the opportunity of treating a wide range of genetic diseases. Er… so that is using the science behind AIDS to manipulate DNA.

Alphabet Energy (California) has developed technology that generates electricity from heat, in the same way that solar panels generate electricity from light. That is wow(ish) idea, but so is this: Cyberdyne Inc (Japan) has developed a robot suit it calls HAL, which is strapped to one or both legs and is designed to support disabled people, who are learning to walk again.

EcoNation from Belgium produces the LightCatcher, which is a solar-powered sensor system that tracks the lightest point in the sky and controls a mirror that optimizes the amount of daylight coming in. The LightCatcher also diffuses light and reflects heat. It claims energy and cost savings typically range from 50 to 70 per cent.

Then there is one that could be straight out of ‘Star Trek’. Second Sight (based in California) has developed an implant which is surgically inserted onto the retina. The patient wears glasses containing a camera; a small computer, worn on a belt, processes signals from the camera, and an antenna on the side of the glasses transmits them wirelessly to the implant. The implant sends electrical impulses to the brain, causing the patient to perceive patterns of light.

Finally, unPartner, from Aix-en-Provence, France, has developed an ultra-thin, 90 per cent transparent photovoltaic cell. It is designed to enable telephones, tablets, building and vehicle windows, billboards and greenhouses to generate electricity from any natural or artificial light source.

It is an impressive line-up., Maybe it is unfair to point at the lack of UK companies; there is no shortage of innovation in UK, including the discovery of graphene. But unfair or not, let’s ask the question: where, oh where, are the Brits on the list? Let’s hope for better things next year.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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Technology is not always a good thing, it depends. Technology can kill jobs. As a result, fewer jobs may mean less demand, which may lead to less output. Innovation can lead to recession. This may have happened in 1930s. After all, the US Great Depression followed (with a time a lag of 16 years) the greatest 50 year period in innovation that has ever been known. Innovation is back in vogue. Now a company which specialises in finding jobs for young people has warned that automation is killing jobs. Is it right?

Will Davies, is the managing director of aspect.co.uk, a company which claims to be a pioneer in providing job training for young people.

Mr Davies said: “The growing number of unemployed young people in Britain is a major problem but, unfortunately, its causes run deeper than any short-term cause, such as a recession.” Almost one million people aged 16 to 24, 20.9 per cent, are unemployed across the UK, which is one of the highest rates since record keeping began in 1992, and Mr Davies says: “Automation is displacing traditional jobs – whether or not we are coming out of economic crisis.”

The Davies remedy is for the government: “to incentivise the private sector to develop new industries that have a need for manual labour.” He also says: “Young people’s minds are being cluttered by the Internet and their attention spans shortened. Many of them simply are not equipped to take the jobs that do remain out there.”

He makes good points.

But be careful not to view the future from the very narrow perspective of a country coming out of a very deep downturn. There is evidence that companies are re-shoring – that is to say, returning their manufacturing to home territories. That will help.

The government can also help by trying to create a more entrepreneurial minded country. New businesses create jobs. At least some unemployed people have skills and hobbies that could be translated into business ideas. But the money available is pitiful. It is odd that the Bank of England and UK government are willing to take the risk of creating a recovery from rising household debt, and house prices, but say using QE to fund investment into entrepreneurs is too risky.

It was also told today how there is evidence that graduates are good for the economy. See: We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control, well actually it appears we do. If nothing elsea good education, and especially an education to degree level, can help to overcome the problem Mr Davies alluded to – that of the internet shortening attention span.

And yet for all that, the problems and opportunities of innovation is not being grasped by economists. It does not help that they don’t seem to realise we are in the midst of a quite remarkable new technological revolution; one that may easily surpass the greatest era of innovation seen to date. See: Age of Symmetry

Economists are busy denying that innovation is having much impact, busy ignoring what’s staring them in the face because their faces are averted and they are immersed in theory. Consequently they miss the remarkable revolution that is occurring. They are letting us down. The near one million young Brits who are unemployed are among their victims.

© Investment & Business News 2013

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Braille is a good idea, so are guide dogs. But that does not mean people are likely to choose to be blind. Yet economists seem to have chosen this very approach when it comes to practising their so-called science. It is a shame because in so doing, they are rendered pretty useless; their theories are about as relevant as an English/Elvish dictionary. The truth is that we are in the midst of a new revolution, one that may yet make the industrial revolution look like a dry rehearsal for what we about to witness. Make sure you are strapped in, and make sure you are au fait with what’s going on.

Maybe one of the interesting things about the great beef burger experiment that hit the headlines this week was the revelation of who was backing it. You probably heard about it. In a laboratory in Maastricht, Dr Mark Post has developed a way of growing beef in a petrie dish, and earlier this week he cooked a beef burger on live TV for critics to eat. It’s doubtful whether the ingredients provided by Dr Post, or indeed his cooking prowess will get an airing on Master Chef any time soon. Many find the whole idea of beef created from stem cell research a tad frightening. Not even Douglas Adams thought of this. In his book ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ a pig that wanted to be eaten was featured, but pork grown in a lab? Well that seems like an idea that is too farfetched for the man who thought of an infinite improbability spaceship.

The point about meat is that it is not very efficient. So we get these beef processing factories, otherwise known as cows, or pigs, that eat lots of grass, drink lots of water – most of which comes out of the back end as waste – take up a lot of space, and then, after a long time interval, they are eaten, in a practise some people think is barbaric. Beef created the Dr Post way is kinder on the environment, uses less resources, is more humane, and it offers another benefit… what is it now, it is quite important. Oh yes that’s right, it may end world hunger.

And that brings us to the really interesting bit. The man who bankrolled Dr Post’s project was none other than a chap called Sergey Brin, a Russian-born immigrant to the USA, who – among other things – co-founded Google. When it comes to innovation Google is a rather interesting company. These days we have all heard of Google Glasses, and most of us have heard of its self-driving car. Did you know it has been looking at wind turbines that fly above the ground like kites? If it is the case that we are in the midst of a new industrial revolution, from an investment point of view picking the winners is a tad difficult.

But some companies – that’s companies with very substantial resources – are good at experimenting, and trying lots of ideas. Google and IBM are good examples. They may well be among the big winners from this revolution. Others, such as some of the giant pharmaceuticals, are like venture capital firms that specialise in an industry and in addition to money can offer distribution and marketing expertise. They are good firms to watch too.

Returning to recent innovations, there is also talk of a new ultra-thin integrated circuit, which may evolve to become a little bit like robotic skin that can monitor your health? This product was developed by Martin Kaltenbrunner at the University of Tokyo. It is perhaps the most interesting idea to emerge so far in this new brave world of wearable devices.

Then there is the world of medicine, and pharmaceuticals. Take, as an example, a company called Immunocore, which may have developed a cure for cancer. See: Exclusive: Cancer – A cure just got closer thanks to a tiny British company – and the result could change lives of millions

Immunocore, by the way, according to the ‘Independent’ article has attracted the attention of Genentech in California, which is owned by the Swiss giant Roche and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline.

And finally, or finally for today, there is Hyperloop. We don’t know much about this product yet, other than it is an idea developed by Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, who says it will be able to transport people at 700 miles per hour, cannot crash, is immune to bad weather, and is self-powered, via the aid of solar energy – oh and, by the way, it is supposed to be much cheaper than other forms of transport. Mr Musk has this idea for Hyperloop to be able to transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 30 minutes. See: How does Elon Musk’s SF-to-LA-in-30-minutes Hyperloop work?

Who knows whether any of the products described here have traction, and indeed for that matter whether Hyperloop uses traction as the means of transporting people?

But they illustrate a point. There are some incredibly interesting radical ideas afoot at the moment.

Computers and the Internet must surely lie behind the new revolution. The latest generation of computers are now so fast they have made it possible to develop ideas in a way that was once impossible. The Internet enables the flow of ideas, and cross fertilisation as brains across the world communicate and share.

But economists still don’t get it. Some still deny that recent innovations have created wreath, and implicitly they are cynical about the next batch – that is assuming they know there is a next batch.

They make a catastrophic error.

Innovation can create wealth, and end poverty; it can lead to mass unemployment and inequality. How we ensure that innovations benefit all, is the big challenge of the 21st century.

Let’s finish by quoting Douglas Adams and drawing a parallel with economists. “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as ‘a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be first against the wall when the revolution comes’, with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.”

“Curiously enough,” continued Adams in his book ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’, “an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as ‘a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came’.” Do you think economists will be the first against the wall come the new industrial revolution? Or will it be just some of them?

© Investment & Business News 2013