Land Wiki enters the Hub Westminster Launchpad Accelerator Scheme

My new venture is now fully embedded in the Hub Launchpad Accelerator Program!

This means we have taken a round of seed funding, have a super cool new office on Haymarket, just off Piccadilly Circus, and have undertaken our first week of an intensive 14 week program. land wiki logo

The name of the project is: Land Wiki ( subject to change). Land Wiki is trying to achieve two goals with one website:

  1. Make it easier for residents to discuss and change land in their local area that has the potential for better use.
  2. Provide a comprehensive database of available land for individuals, community groups and property developers that are searching for land.

Its been a fun but gruelling first week where we’ve been stretched and tested, repeatedly challenged our assumptions, we’ve pitched, been mentored, we’ve ‘got out the building’, we’ve designed products for people with disabilities, and we’ve met a lot of cool people.

Watch this space for an update and our first publicly available demo!

Should we be allowed to 3D print humans?

When Oscar Pistorius sprang in to the scene in the para-Olympics, the materials used to repair his legs went beyond simply corrective measures and enhanced his ability to sprint up to a level comparable with able bodied athletes.

In fact, the likelihood is ( well, was before be started killing people) that his adaptations could have been modified so that he could of run faster than the standard speeds professional sprinters reach.

But to a modern bio-engineer, Pistorious’s legs enhancements would look like cavemen’s tools. In the near future, we will be able to 3D print out body parts that operate in the same way as our current parts. But why would we stop there? Technologically, it would be possible to advance these body parts beyond our current capacity. Eyes with better than 20:20 vision; or, like a bird of prey, that could see beyond the light spectrum. Expect them within 10 years. Already new tracheas, kidneys, and bones are in use. Don’t expect the technology to stop advancing.

Legislation and moral debates may hold off the implementation before the technology makes it possible. Moral debates such as: should we be able to ‘make completely new people?’, ‘what should we limit our enhancements to?’, ‘should we be allowed to create entirely new species of animal?’.

These debates should be engaged with now, as once the technology is there, it will probably find a way to happen with or without the public awareness. Just think GM vegetables and cloned meat that we regularly consume without really realising. We slept walked through these debates.

The next phase of evolution is happening in the laboratory and it is incredibly exciting. I would love it if I could slow down ageing or effortlessly stay fit. But the difficult moral debate doesn’t seem to be anywhere. People think I’m making up the breakthrough technology I read about in New Scientist each week.

As so many potential benefits may arise, touching everyone we know, will the debate be swept aside for the sake of foreseen human benefit? It shouldn’t be- it is more important than ever! Who do you think will be able to afford the enhancements? Certainly not those who can’t afford clean water or enough food for their families.

If the last 5 years have taught us anything, it is that technological change is speeding up at a rapid pace. Students are now being taught to code but are they being taught to wrestle with the big moral debates they need to be having about the future of our species? I lead an Education Technology group aiming to enhance the skills of students in the tech world but rarely hear about the moralistic aide of the teaching. But it is happening, right!?

Free health care for the ghetto

Right now I am thoroughly enjoying reading The Corner by David Simon and Ed Burns; the book The Wire was based on. It is all encompassing depiction of life in the ghetto of Baltimore. It covers everything from how the area developed into a mass of drug fiends, the inner workings of industry built up around these people, the personal stories of various participants, the children involved, all the way through to the state wide systems that fall flat in dealing with the situation. Its Dickensian in the level of detail it provides and the clarity of insight into the mind of the poor people who call it ‘home’. The whole area is fuelled by addiction. Addiction to drugs, refuting of anything but the corner lifestyle, complete rejection by people outside of it and gaining a sense of belonging from being in a place where you can exist among others in this way.

It is a big, powerful book and it has made me think a lot about culture recently. How powerful it can be. Almost any behaviour can be accepted if you are in a place where other people participate in similar kinds of behaviour. Once you realise that, you see patterns all around you. Actually, another one of my blogs covers another example of how cultures develop here: (example 2).

In the culture of the Baltimore city ghetto, the ability for destruction is necessary in order to survive. Castigation or a less well placed position in the corner game hierarchy result from showing normal human emotions such as compassion or optimism. From theft, to fighting, from capitalising on the needs of a self-destructing addict, through to giving up of families and children. It is part of the human mind ( innate or learned I don’t know) to be able to make good relative assessments of similar things. How you adhere to the cultural norms of an society is normally fairly obvious. For the residents of people who’s lives revolve around the corner, you fit in or die. What hope of leaving there is vanishes from a young age.

So how does this relate to free health care? First of all, I will say that I am not at all familiar with the kind of free health services that a drug fiend from a Baltimore ghetto could currently expect, or any standard US citizen for that matter. But I am listening to the news and debate around Obamacare attempting to create much more readily accessible insurance for poorer families. And I think that this is a very good idea. First of all, we have it in the UK and has always served me well- taking in numerous sports related injuries along the way.

My main thought, however, is based on a book I read called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. One of its stories was a real life example of a multinational corporation that was way past its best days, appointing a new CEO who came in and behaved differently than any of their past leaders. His background was also not the same as the usual corporate bod and his appointment sent company stock plummeting.

From the outset, rather than talking about metrics and future growth of the company, he spoke of improving the health and safety of the workers. There was a very high injury and death rate in the factories which had been stable for years. At first people were aghast but in time his genius became apparent.

All accidents had to be rigorously recorded and safety measures put in place to avoid them. This led to a fall in the death rate. But not only that, it led to a more secure workforce that did not fear death and it led to a much deeper understanding of what was causing the accidents in the first place which meant that a much clearer idea of operational processes was made. The company became much more efficient and profitable.

The more understanding the better. More inroads into how to fix broken neighbourhoods, the better. If doctors and health workers can record the injuries and illnesses being reported, then better processes can be put in place to reduce them. The aim is not to fix the problems of the neighbourhood but might well find ways to offer a tiny bit more healthiness. From that point, more benefits might happen.

So I am looking at the situation from a data point of view. Giving more accessible health care to poor people will mean more data and more understanding of what to offer and provide to offer better support.

AI and 3D printing in the future

Image Bertha – the original 3D printer

I haven’t written a post in a while as I got caught in limbo between both focussing hard on my work and 2 blog posts that got a bit epic: one on how platforms like Quora will form the basis of AI, and the other about the kind of 3D digital sculpting environment necessary for 3D printing. Both turned into essays and needed more research to cover the holes in my arguments.

Think of this though:

Leap Motion type sculpting in 3D where someone can just reach in manipulate an object, like you would on CAD but in real-time with your hands. Various tools would be available for it. You could change the materials being used, to say: graphene, plastic, different metals or woods or whatever. You could change the surfaces of the objects to be rough, or smooth aerodynamic, or flexible or soft. You could change the internal weight ratios. You could change the atmosphere that it is in, to say: turn on wind, up the pressure like your underwater, go into space or on to Mars. And then – ok this is the hardest bit – you could print it out. That must be where we are heading.

As for the AI thing, well, people are asking so many questions on Yahoo Answers and Quora type platforms, that it just makes me think that we might be looking at AI the wrong way. Why not have a crowd-sourced, up-voted human answer coming out of a machine, than a synthesised artificial answer? 

Hopefully one day I will get around to publishing expanded versions of these ideas.


The Decoy Option

Adapted from Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely.

After years of wanting to go to both, you have been presented the option of either taking a city break in Rome or one in Paris for the first time in your life. Both have a romantic ambience, culture, history, art, fabulous restaurants, and great shopping. The options are very comparable: stay in a nice hotel with breakfast each morning.

So, assuming there were no other overriding factors in your decision, how would you chose which one to go to? Probably not an easy call.

Well, what if another option was thrown in. This option is a decoy. It is comparable in every way but it does not include the option of breakfast on the Rome trip.

Suddenly it appears that the option of taking breakfast on the Rome trip is a lot more special. If it is possible to directly compare Rome without breakfast to Paris with breakfast; Rome with breakfast seems like a very attractive option.

Using techniques like this is common by salesmen. It is used by websites to create pricing options. How offers in supermarkets are made.

The concept behind this is that, people struggle to know the value of something, but they are good at seeing the comparative advantage of one offer over another. When using decoys, you can artificially weight particular options more heavily than others. The author gave many examples of this and the evidence is very strong.

How to reach mass audiences

The more I think about the book “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore, the more I think it is an accurate and fundamental book to any software developer. It makes so much sense and I think surmises the position of my own company nicely. I’m not saying he brings anything new to the table but it was certainly the first time I had been introduced to the software product life cycle curve and how to traverse it to the point of reaching the majority groups of users – mostly where the real money is.

product life cycle curve

To summarise the product life cycle curve it is the introduction, growth, maturity and decline of a product in a market. It actually makes a good comparison between it and world views. If you lined everyone up in the world, you would find  that most people had a moderate political view and then at either end of the line the views would become more extreme. To draw this as a graph it would be a bell curve, bulging in the middle with moderate world views.

The same can be said about people’s adoption of new technology: you have some people loving to use a new product immediately and have the newest stuff (innovators); others may see its potential and so wish to gain competitive advantage quickly by using it (early adopters); but most people want to wait until it is fully complete, glitch free, robust product (early majority); or that it’s too hard to ignore because everyone else is using it (late majority). It’s easy to see this with popular products now such as Twitter. There were millions of people using Twitter – using it to form communities, share resources, self promoting- before it really became huge – and then its potential for communicating with existing and potential customers, creating a human side to a brand, following their favourite celebs. Now even my mum is on it- to follow anything at all she wants, as everyone is on it (@Jonnybritton BTW :) ).

When a software product is being developed, it is usually far from the finished article until it had been thoroughly tested against the vast majority of use cases. It is almost impossible to market, sell and gain feedback about the product to everyone at once. Therefore a particular market must be targeted initially. This market place will have common features, be well connected with each other and ideally have a product they currently use that can be displaced by your superior product- you use the existing product in the market to position yourself against eg, brand x is like brand y but I’d better because x,y,z. It saves having to educate the market. Anyhow, by selling into this market place a product can be refined and made more complete before moving onto new markets.

So, within the initial market place chosen to launch a tech (is it only tech following this model?) product into you have to consider this graph of people. First of all the innovators and early adopters need to be reached out to, with messages that speak particularly to them. These users become your best friends and help you hone the product into a more complete thing to use by the masses.

There is a big difference between your early sets of users and your majority groups. It is the skill of a team to enhance the product, change the marketing messages, price points etc to attract in these different types of customer.

I think this tells the story of our product nicely. When we launched people were just buying it because it was new and cool. When we asked what they liked about it that’s what they said: it’s cool. Not that useful to us but nice to know (and also made an inelastic price which was nice). Our next set of customers would buy in bulk at big discount on behalf of institutions, seeing the early phase of the product and wanting to come on our journey as we improved it but having got in early with a good price. Then we started to reach more discerning audiences and they were not buying so much, they wanted more from it. This has been a very hard stage of our business- selling to a “standard customer” and enhancing our product so its more like they want. It seems we are in the “Chasm” talked about in the book- the gap between different types of customer. However, it does give us great hope that we will soon be reaching large audiences and with a better product.

I actually think that it is this part of a software development process that the government should help out more. In order to reach our larger market places, and build the teams we need to get there, we are almost expected to go for VC funding or get into huge amounts of debt. Crowdfunding is a more recent option. But more support could be offered. Understanding of the Product Life Cycle graph and the types of customers you will meet along the way could significantly help umbrella organisations to support entrepreneurs move faster or fail less. Teams are needed and well skilled or trained purple to help software companies properly add to the economy without just getting lucky.

The Crossing the Chasm book does an amazing job of guiding you through how to market and sell along the full product life cycle curve. I believe it is a must read for start up companies.