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!?

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.

A Lean Experiment

The Lean Startup is a book, by Eric Ries, which highlights Japanese manufacturing rapid-prototyping methodology as great approach for software development. Rather than doing time consuming market research and then building a finished product that you hope people will like, the Lean approach advocates building an early stage iteration and releasing it immediately for users to comment on and guide it’s development, by quickly releasing updates and monitoring their effect.

Our business has recently launched a new product that is potentially going to be a really useful to it’s target audience. We’re taking a  “lean” approach to it’s production and have put up a very early stage BETA version on the site that people can register (with a wufoo form linked to a mailchimp account) for and download (using dropbox).

From the outset users are made aware that they are downloading a development product. Once they have downloaded it they enter into a chain of 9 mailchimp auto-responder emails ( 1 every 5 days) set up to incentive them to give us feedback. The emails are written very delicately and aim to be fun to read and warm people to us.

In return for giving us feedback, we offer them some very decent incentives: one of our other products completely free, the finished version of this product (they can only currently download the free version, the full version has not been built yet) at a massive discount, the option of buying all of products and getting this product free, and, of course, our eternal gratitude.

The aim of the feedback we receive is to guide our future shaping of the product, in terms of content (it is a learning resource), price (we can vary this to measure uptake), and delivery method.

We will know that the Lean experiment has been a success if we manage to tweak (based on user feedback) the above factors to the point where users are madly sharing the free product around, we have got great feedback that the product achieves its learning objectives, and that people are pre-ordering the full version before it is released.

Can we improve this experiment? Let me know..

Learning Journeys, framing business ideas

Learning Journeys, framing business ideas

The rain guards that protects my legs from dirty puddle water as I ride my bike along Cycle Super Highway on a cold wet December morning, are a marginal gain that turn an awkward journey into a joint fitness and learning opportunity. They are a tool that solves a problem.
My daily ride into Tech Hub from Canary Wharf has become a sacred learning space for me. It used to be an opportunity to just listen to music but now (on the way in at least) it gives me 25 minutes of uninterrupted peddling in which to absorb a podcast on business theory or practise. No matter what the weather, I look forward to that journey.
People often think of business as good ideas to solve problems, but they need to think as much about convenience/ human behaviour. Of ways to make people form habits ideally.
So when thinking about starting your business (on-line), think about the problems you can solve that easily slot into a persons life to give them an easier or better way of doing something? So, what saves people time or money? What gives them something that they need? What gives them peace of mind? No body wants a drill before they buy it, they want to make a hole- start with the problem. Sell the benefits of your solution.
Websites are tools. Especially mobile sites or apps and most people have a smart phone now. The only other thing they are is entertainment. A mix of the 2 is amazing.

The Open Data Revolution

I went for a look Sir Tim Berners Lee’s (the founder of the internet) new brain child: the Open Data Institute, last week.

The ODI (http://www.theodi.org) is a completely new concept based on the opening up of previously inaccessible government data. It will be

“a global first: a collaboration between our leading businesses and entrepreneurs, universities and researchers, government and civil society to unlock enterprise and social value from the vast amount of Open Government Data now being made accessible.

From health and life sciences to education, transport and central government spending data, government is releasing far more data than ever before.”

This means that the information that huge industries run on is exposed and open to anyone to examine.

And then what?

Make disruptive businesses ofcouse! Well, that and feedback into the public sector to put inefficiencies in lights, and make it easy to access and chewable by anyone.

One business we spoke to made a data visulaisation tool called Locatable. This let users select various criteria that was important to them, such as proximity to a school, gym, workplace, transport link .. or bar; and compare these factors against their housing budget to find suitable locations in London for them to live. It’s so fast, easy to use and powerful. I was very impressed.

Another guy made a product called Placr which creates real-time transport data feeds for organisations. On top of this he could use decades worth of transport data to create statistical analysis of what impacts transport flow and look at where huge infrastructure companies were not acting on the best interests of users.

Looking at the big picture, the ODI is creating open data champions and building a world leading advantage in data mining expertise. It’s a shrewd move by the UK government, which will make itself work better through transparency and create a team of experts who can support other countries governments to open up their data.

It was a fascinating place and while in there I even heard the word “revolutionise” on more than one occasion. Watch this space..

The Big Picture is essential for the small decisions

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Elon Musk is a huge inspiration for me. He has been involved in creating 4 businesses worth over $50 billion. The character of Iron Man is reputedly based on him. He is now launching a project with the aim of commercialising space travel with the bigger goal of supporting life on other planets. What a dude!

Am not sure to what degree he has always claimed it, but now he is all about big picture stuff. He says he doesn’t aim to make a business; he sets out to solve problems. Big problems. From making a reliable way to send money over the internet, to reducing the use of fossil fuels in cars, to making a mass transport that is safe and as fast as Concorde, to exporting human consciousness to other planets- all lofty goals.

As I blogged about here, most people don’t see past the end of their own nose (although I question whether it is a physical rather than selfish issue). The only problems they see are their own. And I have constantly said that that will not lead anywhere for their happiness (unless technology chips in). We need a better awareness of the context for our lives. Today, even the average middle class citizen is living a princely life in terms of health, life expectancy, food options available, security, comfort, technology and freedoms to travel compared to any time known in history. Some people might claim there have been other times- some ancient Chinese societies perhaps- where the average person had a better standard of living, but I think health care, cheap flights and technology swing it for me.

I hope with my commitment to making the history of the world more accessible: the periods of wealth and decline of nations, the natural disasters that are common place, the corruption of powerful leaders, the circumstances that nurture remarkable individuals, the behaviours and decisions made by groups of people under certain pressures, and the whole myriad of complex situations that have spawned from the first human civilisations up to todays world, will help to provide the tools people need to see a bigger picture and understand how they fit into the world.

I dream and work hard everyday to make this a way of me being able to lead an independent life where I am free to work on further projects that can help the world. I am in no short supply of ideas of my next move. But I have much work left to do on TimeMaps first.

I would love to know at what stage Elon Musk let space exploration drive his short term goals and to what extent it helped him in his decisions. And I’d love to hear about the overarching big picture ideas that have sculpted the decisions us “normal” people choose for their own life.
Please send me yours?

Technology will bring happiness and luck

I was part of a group conversation the other day where a couple of quite well known but still thought provoking stories were told.

The first was an experiment in which people were asked to rate themselves as “lucky” or “unlucky”. I instantly engaged with the story because I am known to my friends as being the luckiest lad about. Well there is one guy who trumps me but he wins raffles and lucky dips (he’s Irish), whereas I am always in the right place at the right time. What about yourself, are you lucky?

Anyways, in the experiment they asked each participant to enter a waiting room in a train station or somewhere like that and then they would pick them up in a car. When they had arrived at their destination they were asked if they had found any money. It turns out that a much higher proportion of people who considered themselves as “lucky” had found a £20 note the experimenters had placed in the waiting room.

I find this interesting because it seems to demonstrate some kind of difference in environmental awareness. I have many good friends who consider themselves as unlucky and I’ve always thought they were pessimistic. Now maybe it is because they lack awareness of environmental factors. Conversely, have lucky people got a better sense of opportunity or openness to environmental factors?

The other conversation was about the classic youtube clip which asks you to count the number of passes a basket ball team makes and while they are at it a person in a gorilla suit walks into the middle of the shot and moonwalks off. Your distracted mind does not see this gorilla.

Distraction is very powerful and I think it affects almost every long conversation we have. does it stand to reason that maybe unlucky people are distracted by something so that they don’t notice the money? How easy is it to be distracted away from seeing what is infront of your eyes!?

Try it. I did this. You know a coat stand that is a pole that has a number of hooks at the top.. They’re not big or wide and even with a few coats on they don’t cover you at all. Yet if you are standing behind one and someone walks past they won’t see you. Seriously, try it.

Ever been looking for something and because it is half covered it takes much longer to find it? Ever gone to put the bread in the fridge or the butter in the cupboard? The same thing. It seems to me that we are such simple, distracted creatures that I am able to make the claim that only with technology will we have buck the trend of destroying ourselves over and over again as history shows us. If a computer screen can enhance environmental analysis so that the £20 is always found, the gorilla is always seen, the creep behind the coat stand is always seen and the butter goes in the fridge, then maybe pessimistic people might become a bit more positive about gods rolling of the dice.

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This picture of a horse gimp suit is probably not what the future will look like.