"Remember before the internet?" asks Joi Ito. "Remember when people used to try to predict the future?" In this engaging talk, the head of the MIT Media Lab skips the future predictions and instead shares a new approach to creating in the moment: building quickly and improving constantly, without waiting for permission or for proof that you have the right idea. This kind of bottom-up innovation is seen in the most fascinating, futuristic projects emerging today, and it starts, he says, with being open and alert to what's going on around you right now. Don't be a futurist, he suggests: be a now-ist.
MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte takes you on a journey through the last 30 years of tech. The consummate predictor highlights interfaces and innovations he foresaw in the 1970s and 1980s that were scoffed at then but are ubiquitous today. And he leaves you with one last (absurd? brilliant?) prediction for the coming 30 years. If you haven't yet, you should read (or re-read) his classic "Being Digital."
Pentland might be credited as the grandfather of wearable tech, but he does have a few predecessors: more than a decade before he arrived at MIT, mathematician Edward Thorp and computational theorist Claude Shannon devised an intricate contraption with the admirable goal of cheating at the roulette table. The device, which was the size of a cigarette case and captured speed data on both the wheel and the ball, relied on two switches in the wearer’s shoes: one press turned on the computer, the other press initiated the timing. A musical tone would sound in the bettor’s ear to signal when the ball had three or four revolutions left — he would (naturally) be wearing a hearing-aid-like device, attached to the computer by wires camouflaged to match his skin and hair.
Though Thorp and Shannon’s invention was ingenious, it remained unwieldy, capable of performing only a single task. It would take much more to make wearable technology both widely functional and widely usable. And that "more" came from the first place dedicated exclusively to the creation of wearables: the Wearable Computing Project, inaugurated by Pentland upon returning to MIT in 1986, and then formally launched as its own entity in 1998 under the auspices of Pentland’s lab.
The first wearable prototypes that looked anything like those of today emerged from the lab in the early 1990s. And by 1998, Pentland’s "wearables closet" had grown, he recalls, to include "glasses with a private, full-resolution computer display; a health monitor in a watch that records my temperature, heart rate and blood pressure; a computer-in-a-belt with a wireless internet connection; a lapel pin that doubles as a camera and microphone; and a touchpad or keyboard literally sewn into a jacket."
All the recent talk about wearables continues to intensify as the various developer conferences happen and we see (or not) what the main players are thinking in this area. I still believe that the key to this market is going to be the company or product that utilizes software and hardware to actually encourage behavior change. Many reports indicate people start using wearables and within months seize to wear them. It's all in the name, if you are not wearing them they don't really help you. And the best wearable is a good habit.
More broadly, just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.
Demand for our time is increasingly exceeding our capacity — draining us of the energy we need to bring our skill and talent fully to life. Increased competitiveness and a leaner, post-recession work force add to the pressures. The rise of digital technology is perhaps the biggest influence, exposing us to an unprecedented flood of information and requests that we feel compelled to read and respond to at all hours of the day and night.
Curious to understand what most influences people’s engagement and productivity at work, we partnered with the Harvard Business Review last fall to conduct a survey of more than 12,000 mostly white-collar employees across a broad range of companies and industries. We also gave the survey to employees at two of The Energy Project’s clients — one a manufacturing company with 6,000 employees, the other a financial services company with 2,500 employees. The results were remarkably similar across all three populations.
Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.
Discover the extraordinary in just about everything ordinary. Join best-selling author Steven Johnson for a 6-part series that explores the power and the legacy of great ideas. Hear the stories behind the remarkable ideas that made modern life possible, the unsung heroes who brought them about and the unexpected and bizarre consequences each of these innovations triggered.
I am a big fan of Steven Johnson's writing. Pick one of his books and you'll be hooked. He has a fascinating way of translating technological stories to something everyone can understand and relate to. I'm looking forward to it. The series premieres in October on PBS and BBC and will have an accompanying book to go with it. Here is a taste of the first episode: