Archive for the ‘What if the impossible isn't?’ Category

Snowflakes Effect Hits Financial Models: Snowflakes funding Snowflakes

The evidence that the Snowflake Effect of mass personalization is continuing to build at an exponential rate continues to show up just about everywhere I look. One dimension of the Snowflake Effect that has not received a lot of discussion yet is the financial side if the story; how will the mind boggling numbers of personalized solutions needed every day be funded?  What are the new financial and business models going to be in a Snowflake Effected world?  If as I believe more and more of us are going to become designers and producers and creators by making our own “stuff”, and especially if others are asking us to make and share some for them, how will we pay for this?   Well, why not apply the Snowflake Effect to funding itself?

Microtizing Finance, Credit & Loans

In fact this the Snowflake Effect has already hit funding models already and we are seeing more and more examples and growth of these wild new models.  One of the hallmarks of the Snowflake Effect is breaking things down into very small components whether that be each of us as unique individuals or each unique moment in time or small parts that can be reused and reassembled into infinite numbers of unique new assemblies Lego block style.  This same “microtization” trend is increasingly taking hold of financial models and enabling each of us 7 billion plus snowflakes to not only become designers, creators and producers, we are also becoming financers and funders. 

One example you have likely heard of and many of you are already participating in is that of microloans, microfinance and microcredit.  Essentially this is where once snowflake can loan small amounts of money to another snowflake or individual cause.  As is often the case this is not a new idea or invention but what is new is the scale and reach of these models.  Back in 2006 Kevin Kelly posted this good overview of “Micro-Loans Online” which he introduced by saying:

This year the father of micro-finance and founder of the Grameen Bank won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in inventing and promoting micro-loans in the developing world. A micro-loan is as little as a few hundred dollars invested into a one-person business with minimal qualifications. That tiny borrowed amount can launch a vegetable stand, repair shop, or bicycle taxi — a living in other words. As each micro-loan is repaid (and most are), the effects of that small goodness are amplified and leveraged by being loaned out and invested again and again. Micro-loans are the world’s only perpetual motion machines.

Snowflake Effect Hits in Financial Models in Developed Regions

Most of these micro loans and micro financing have been focused on dealing with poverty and developing regions and they continue to escalate in both numbers and positive effects.  Somewhat newer and greatly increasing the scope of this Snowflaking of financing is their application to the financing of individuals and small businesses in developed regions and markets.  One of the more noteworthy examples is Kickstarter  which has the tag line of “A new way to Fund & Follow Creativity” and bills itself as being “The world’s largest funding platform for creative projects”.  The model is essentially the same where anyone can pledge any amount, typically one to one hundred dollars, towards a specific project that someone has proposed on the site.  As they point out this is not about lending or investing as each project creator maintains complete control and ownership of their work.  Those who pledge money are also protected because no money changes hands unless the project reaches its funding goal within a set time.

You can check out the Kickstarter web site and Kickstarter blog for more information and examples of the enormous range of ideas, products and services being developed which include everything from software applications to games to art to books to home hardware.

How well is this working?  Well Kickstarter recently had a record setting day with two projects exceeding $1M each in pledges and $1.6M being pledged in 24 hours.  All this from individual snowflakes like you and me.  In fact they had quite the day as they also saw New York’s city council endorse the site as a way to highlight community projects that need funding

It was also noteworthy to me how different the two projects were that exceeded the $1M in pledges.  The TechCrunch review of this eventful day highlighted this nicely:

Often Kickstarter is thought of as a venue for people with very limited means but a good idea to execute that idea. The Elevate Dock is a good example of this.

But Double Fine is an established game studio with office space, employees, and many products under its belt? Why should it go to Kickstarter? Well, Tim Schafer explains that in the video, at least for this project: no publisher would go near a point and click adventure game, but they knew at least some people wanted it. Reasonable enough.

The question, really, is why we even question it. If people want to make something, and people want to fund it, why shouldn’t it be on Kickstarter? The easy stuff — cool accessories or small devices that need a little capital to get started — are just the first wave. Why not pothole repair on a neighbourhood street? Why not a new coffee shop? Why not a feature film? Some of these have been tried, no doubt, and perhaps failed — but the principle is sound:

If you want to make it, and others want you to make it, this is a way for you to connect.

Why not indeed!!  What if the impossible isn’t?

Snowflake Effects on Learning

As you can see then, the Snowflake Effect of mass personalization continues its exponential growth and influence on almost all aspects of our world.  For those of us who look at the world from the perspective of learning, my ongoing question and fascination is with how the needs for each of us as individuals and as societies are changing and being changed by the Snowflake Effect.  The personalization of learning itself such that each learning moment is more successfully and deeply personalized is happening at an equally exponential rate with more examples of this showing up every day.  However an even larger and multiplying effect is the need for a whole new set of skills, knowledge and competencies each of us snowflakes are going to require to survive and thrive in the rapidly evolving new snowflaked world we are creating and will live and learn in.

I fully realize that this all continues to sound unimaginably large and impossible.  And yet as the examples of financial models I’ve highlighted above show, we are surrounded daily by more and more examples of how the impossible isn’t.  The oxymoron of typical Snowflake Effect models that are infinitely scalable AND sustainable turns out to be true!  Or as Kevin Kelly put it; “Micro-loans are the world’s only perpetual motion machines.” 

Add enough snowflakes together with these kinds of models and you have a perpetuating avalanche of invention, discovery, creativity, production and happiness.


Rethinking maps, photos and search

MS Adds much more than Bling to Bing Maps

I continue to be impressed by all the great work coming out of Microsoft Research the past year or more and this presentation by Blaise Aguera y Arcas shows some of the most recent examples.  They are certainly providing great answers to my constant asking of “What if the Impossible Isn’t?”

I picked up on Blaise and the work he and his crew were doing over a year ago, initially with their creation of the Seadragon technology which they brought with them when they joined MS research and used it to create Photosynth which continues to amaze and impress me as well.

It seems like much of their research is centered around visual computing and interfaces and in my post a few days ago “Seeing is Believing 2.0?” I mentioned two other MS Research projects in this area, Pivot and SecondLight.  Today this presentation by Blaise is online from the TED 2010 conference where he shows how they are integrating a lot of technology including Flickr, Seadragon and Photosynth along with some Augmented Reality into Bing maps to enable some amazing new capabilities and possibilities.

Watch the video and I think you too will be impressed not only at the technology but with the new level of functionality and value these mashups are driving into maps.  It is really the whole area of using location as the grounding context for a huge array of other information and uses.

The New Frontier?  Going Inside

In one of my original postings on Photosynth I suggested/hoped that what we would see next was an ability a bit like a “cosmic zoom” * where we could zoom either up or down almost infinitely.  Up into the cosmos of space and down onto not only the street but inside of buildings and then below into the sea. 

* If you’ve never seen Cosmic Zoom, or it has been a while since you watched this 1968 video/animation from the National Film Board of Canada, I’ve embedded it at the bottom so you can treat yourself.

As usual change is occurring exponentially so it looks like Microsoft already has my wish!  As you’ve hopefully just seen in the video above Bing maps now provide an inside view capability where we can go from the outside street views into the inside of buildings.  They gain this in part by having dedicated “backpack cams” which can be taken inside public buildings and places to provide detailed inside views.  But my real excitement is about the ability to “go inside” via all the geo tagged photos from “the rest of us” that are posted to Flickr.  This is where the power of Photosynth really shows some promise to me as it stitches together any number of photos by aligning them in 3D space such that we end up with a highly integrated patchwork of all these interrelated photos.  This scales extremely well when you think of how many photos there are in Flickr (5,384 posted in the last MINUTE, 2.2 million geotagged the past month) and the Seadragon technology allows this to all happen extremely fast and with no apparent slowdown no matter how images are involved.  You’ll also see in the demo how they are able to add in video including a live feed that is similarly aligned within the maps and photos.  Imagine when (surely not if) there is the ability to similarly include all the videos up on the web and not “just” photos.

Look Up!

As if this wasn’t all more than enough to continue my fascination, it looks like they are also addressing my cosmic zoom up wish as well.  At the very end of the video Blaise was out of time but managed to demo an upcoming integration of Worldwide Telescope into Bing maps.  I what i thought was a very intuitive implementation you can simply look up into the sky to start seeing the imagery and data of the night sky from wherever you are standing (on the map). 

Location as Context

As I mentioned at the beginning I think we need to start thinking less about these as “maps” or at least redefine what maps are as we evolve more ways to use location as a central form of context within which we work with an view data, especially visual data.  Time is another bit of context and while it is not shown in the video above, because all the photos and imagery is time stamped you can go back and forth in time as well to see what things looked like in the past and then by adding layers on top, Augmented Reality, we can also see future scenarios such as buildings and reconstruction for example.  Blaise mentioned in the early part of his demo that they have found examples where Photosynth has included some very old photos and by setting the time back they are able to see the streets of Seatlle with horses and carriages. 

Rethinking & Redefining

So as you are thinking about all these new capabilities start to think how this is all part of fundamentally redefining or notion of maps and more so of search, (think spatial) and how we are quickly transfoming from consumer to creators.  These and other changes are also tranforming how we find, discover and learn just the right people, things, locations at just the right time.

PS.  FWIW, keep your eyes on both what’s coming out of MS Research as well as what lies ahead for the increased amount of collaboration between Microsoft, Yahoo, Flickr and Facebook.

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Snowflake Mirrors?

Japanese augmented reality mirror lets you try on makeup virtually

Japanese augmented reality mirror lets you try on makeup virtually

Now I’m no expert in the ways of makeup, but I can see how it could be an expensive and frustrating exercise to try something new only to discover it looks terrible once you’ve gotten home. If only there was a way to try it out before you buy!

Well, the Digital Cosmetic Mirror at the Takashimaya department store in Tokyo lets you do just that. It’s got a camera on the front that scans your face. It then gives you personal recommendations and lets you put makeup on this virtual version of you. When you’re satisfied, you can buy the real makeup and put it on your real face, confident in the fact that it’ll look good. Finally!

See What if the Impossible Isn’t? in action

I believe it is now clear that the rate of most change is exponential and this certainly includes how technology is almost always on dual exponential curves of decreasing price and increasing performance.  We can therefore often see the future quite literally by looking towards the high end of the market where new products and technology are typically introduced.  Think for example of how much sooner we could have seen, especially when illuminated by the brilliance of hindsight, the coming of telephones, personal computers, mobile phones and most other innovations by looking at the first versions when they were introduced as very high priced products, with limited functionality and for limited markets. 

As the rate of change continues to increase exponentially we need to become better and better at not just seeing these as innovative technologies or products but to begin to imagine the impact, both positive and negative, on our lives, our behaviors, our learning and our society by getting better at imagining the impossible.  This is why I continue to wonder and ponder about WITII? “What if the impossible isn’t?”

It is in this light that I recommend you read the Singularity Hub blog for stories such as “Z Corp – The Lamborghini of 3D Color Printing and Scanning (Videos)”  Here is the lead in to the article:

While Z Corporation products are out of the price range for most individual users, they represent amazing technology that is commercially available to anyone. I doubt the average person even knows that 3D printing technology can produce color models in just hours. Likewise, 3D scanning an object is probably outside of the everyday citizen’s concerns. These products are still in the early generation paradigm: expensive and used almost exclusively in industry. But they won’t stay there. Technology gets cheaper and more democratic as it is improved, so we should look forward to a time when the kind of 3D printing and scanning we see in these videos would fit in anyone’s budget.

As this technology becomes more widespread and powerful, the ways we purchase and exchange goods are going to be different. When you shop online for a coffee mug, the vendor could just send you the CAD file, allowing you to print the mug rather than have it shipped. Free information (like open source design specs) will translate to free objects.

Even more than reading the article I would strongly encourage you to watch all the the videos embedded within (see but one example below) as they will truly open your eyes as to what is already possible and available to commercial business in the form of 3D printers and 3D scanners for use in the office and the field.  It will only be a matter of months before these levels of accuracy, color and materials are available at prices for the rest of us.  The question is will YOU be ready?  How will these types of capabilities affect you?  How will you take advantage of them?  How will these enablers help us all to find and release the promise within ourselves? 

Just keep asking and imagining “What if the impossible isn’t?”

3D Printing now in Stainless Steel

As I’ve noted previously one of the current limitations of 3D printing is the limited materials that can be used to print with, mostly plastic, paper, wax and others up to now.  The ability to create molds which can then be used to create castings of metals and other materials expands the range considerably but the ideal of course is to be able to create objects of any material.  And in keeping with what seems to be the norm where the rate of change is exponential, we are now much closer to this ideal now that 3D printing can be done in stainless steel.  The big news and change is not just that 3D printing can be done in stainless steel but that YOU can do it!  The article below will give you more details.

I’d also recommend reading this article for the note about how Shapeways has done such an admiral job of being very up front and clear about their service.  Read for example the Shapeways stainless steel page titled “expectation management.” I want to join Aaron in pointing this out as a great example that all companies and organizations would do well to emulate.  As Aaron put it:

I would like to take a moment and applaud Shapeways for having both guts and common sense. Listen up Internet, if you want to sell us something cool, put the limitations right up front.”

I can’t help but like a company with the tag line: “Passionate about creating”

Shapeways also has some excellent tutorials on their site (one included below) which are very instructive and well worth watching if you are as fascinated by this rapid evolution of 3D printing and DIY manufacturing. 

Overall I see these developments as some of the most compelling evidence of The Snowflake Effect and how we are headed for a future where we can increasingly realize the promise within us all as unique snowflakes by increasingly being the designers and creators of our the manufactured part of the world we live in.

Stainless Steel Printing from Shapeways

August 6th, 2009 by Aaron Saenz

As if 3D printing wasn’t cool enough, you can now “print” objects in stainless steel. That’s right, dust off your old Transformers designs, make room in the Monopoly box for a new piece, and get ready for the model budget at your office to sky-rocket. Shapeways, an European 3D printing website that has traditionally worked in plastics and resins, has upped its game by giving you the option to take your airy artistic concepts and fashion them into cold hard steel. Except for some reasonable constraints on size and detail there are no limits to what you can create. Even if you’re not a model enthusiast, stainless steel printing holds the promise of machines that can replicate themselves and build anything.

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10 Profoundly Personal Future Innovations

Here’s a list of innovations that really caught my attention as this list takes a refreshingly human and personal look at the future and also manages to live up to this headline of being both profound and innovative.  Well worth your time to read though I’ll warn you in advance that there are lots of links and each one is worth following and using up even more of your valuable time and attention.

Notice how many of the innovations featured in this list are already happening and add to my What if the impossible isn’t? list.  As you reflect upon what you read here I think you will see how this adds to my conviction around The Snowflake Effect and that our future is a giant snowstorm of extreme mass customization for every person every day by making everything deeply personal and unique.  Read on and see what you think?

10 Profound Innovations Ahead

By Jeremy Hsu TechNewsDaily
29 January 2010 1:11 PM ET

Space plane flying over Earth

Today’s world looks increasingly like the future. Robots work factory assembly lines and fight alongside human warriors on the battlefield, while tiny computers assist in everything from driving cars to flying airplanes. Surgeons use the latest technological tools to accomplish incredible feats, and researchers push the frontiers of medicine with bioengineering. Science fiction stories about cloning and resurrecting extinct animals look increasingly like relevant cautionary tales.