I have found myself drawn into the debate over the recent acquisition of Nest by Google. As Nest is a maker of thermostats it is not a subject I would have paid the slightest attention to if it hadn’t been so extensively covered on the Tektalk podcast; by covered I mean panned, slated, poopooed, belittled, you get the drift. A lot of people seem to be somewhat shocked by the purchase as it cost Google 3.2 billion dollars. When Google itself has just under 60 billion in spendable assets then it makes 3.2 seem like a lot for a company I had never heard of until this week. Playing devil’s advocate I intend to defend the purchase. It seems to me that this is a lynch pin in the Google game plan.
My initial reason for looking deeper is that my wife feels the cold really badly. I mean Really Badly, with capital letters. When I am walking around the house in a Tshirt she will be wearing two cardigans and two blankets with a hot water bottle and the central heating on. The idea of being able to turn the heating on when we are still ten minutes away from home is something that we would want to have asap.
My second thought is that this is a perfect additional tile for Google Now. I have installed Google Now on a couple of occasions but aside from its excellent speech recognition it is of little use to me. I work at home, I don’t drive, immediately a lot of its use disappears. I also feel like an idiot talking to my phone in public and if I did I would find that it couldn’t find a 3g signal so I was wasting my time. Such is the problem of living in the countryside, if I use anything other than an ancient nokia I have no hope of getting 3g. If my heating could learn to control itself according to my motions then I would have a lovely toasty home all the time and my wife would be far more happy.
The best reason for my optimism in the purchase of Nest though is the money it will be able to save consumers. I have heard the opinion that this is an expensive purchase, and wasted money but when your heating can learn how best to save electric in doing your will then you are going to save a lot of money. Nest themselves reckon the saving will be about 20% of your heating bill. This will pay for itself in no time. Aside from the benefit of saving cash for your pocket you will also have the huge benefit of easing a great deal of stress on the environment. Climate change will be reduced, air will be cleaned, customers will save money, which they will probably spend on tablets, phones, and any number of things in the google play store.
The big problem with the whole deal is that everyone expects Google to misuse the information gleaned from these sensors. Everyone thinks that there is a wealth of advertising opportunities to be had from being able to monitor every movement of the owners of these devices. Of course everyone is right about this, but Google have promised not to take any sneaky peeks at this data. Google have said that they will only use the data for purposes in the operation of the devices themselves, heating related, etc. Given the billions spent on heating I am inclined to believe this, why alienate your customers to sell adverts to any other kind of business when you can use your knowledge to influence the sale of contracts that far overwhelm the amounts spent on mobile phones or broadband?
Another key in the puzzle that makes me think that Google will not look at the data is the even more recent news that they are going to be investing in Deepmind AI. They will not need to look at any data, if they take the AI in the right direction they will be able to rely on the devices themselves knowing exactly how to use the data to maximise profit and there will be no human to see any of the data at all. The data could be misused and noone would ever know because it could all happen inside the machines.
3.2 billion is a lot of money but in the long term it is less than most of use realise. Naturally if you or I had this kind of money we would most likely become overwhelmed by the possibilities and disappear off on a long holiday/spending spree that would never end. In multinational business dealing in the kind of devices that everyone can make use of it seems like a smaller amount. All the same it is still a lot. However as stage number one, the opening gambit of a far longer play, it might seem far less.
Nest is run by a team that have Apple pedigree. This is valuable. This is part of the legacy of the insight of Steve Jobs. He may be gone but some of his decisions live on, and his decisions hold a mystique when compared to the decisions of all other CEOs. There are a number of teams doing similar things with sensors and the ‘internet of things’ but they are all unknown quantities. When a company has access to the resources of Google and has a serious game plan then there is no point skimping over the odd billion and risking getting stuck with a bunch of numpties who have been mismanaging the company you are buying. If you buy tried and tested Apple veterans then you know you are getting quality. That is a weight off your mind because the odds severely suggest you have made the right choice. It is probable that there were some key patents involve in the acquisition. Home automation seems like it was the natural next step in Google Now’s design, they could have been balked by the patents held by Nest. There are other companies doing similar ‘internet of things’ tasks, but of them all, the combination of factors in Nest make it a no-brainer.
It is obvious that Google are playing a long game. In a way they are far more able to get away with this than most companies. Most companies have to worry about the next shareholder’s meeting and reporting the maximum amount of profits because they are always in competition with others and therefore need to cut costs all the time. Google is currently free from this rat race and is still able to dream. They have always been a very adventurous company willing to innovate to a massive extent and no matter what happens they can fall back on the massive profits brought in by being the go-to search engine, an actual verb in the dictionary. This allows them freedom from the usual constraints of short term operation that usually control the decisions of companies. Asimov wrote of a mathematician who predicted a thousand years of future in the foundation trilogy. Although a thousand years is excessive it is my belief that Google are focussing on the distant future. They probably have intentions of occupying a particular position in 2035 but in order to get there it is imperative they make this purchase now.
With most companies we all know what they are planning. We might not know the specs and the design of the next Blackberry or Ferrari, or Conran, but we know roughly what they will be doing. We know roughly what they are working on at this very moment. Google is not that kind of company. They could be working on anything. Is it software? Is it a phone, tablet, car, computer? Are they working on giant robots, drones, space craft? Nothing would surprise me with Google and for that reason I think that all the criticism of this purchase is looking at this all from the wrong angle. Nest is an expensive acquisition but it may not be long before it begins to make a lot of sense to the rest of us. The future is always coming and often it takes us by surprise. We ought to keep our eye on Nest to see where the next surprise comes from.
I have been forced to comment on a great hooha spreading across the internet at present that seems to be getting a lot of people unnecessarily upset. Anyone who has read my blogs in the past will know that I do not approve of corporations and they might therefore be surprised to hear I am not against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. I have always been a bit paranoid about the powers over my head ever since the days they were all poised to destroy us with nuclear missiles at any second so I am slightly surprised at my acceptance of the TTIP myself. There are a number of commentators who are riling up the internet as though they were poking a wasps nest with a stick. Of course the internet is quick to anger and there are millions of people who now oppose the TTIP.
I can’t help thinking that such an opposition is a sign of what I shall call farageing. It seems strange to me that people who consider UKIP to be a group of morons have no problem with applying UKIP logic to the idea of an agreement with the States. I can see where they are coming from to an extent. I have no uncertainty that there will be a lot of negative effects from such a partnership. However I am also sure there will be a great many positive effects from the partnership. Such is the nature of change and if we were not able to put up with it then we would all be living in small villages of mud huts eking out a poor existence from what we could forage and farm in the small patches of land around us, with any excess being taken by marauders. Whilst I might like to try such a way of life for a holiday I don’t think I would like to live there. Change will always bring bad things but at the same time it tends to bring more good, that is why the majority of us would not trade our current homes for one a thousand years ago.
When England joined Europe in the early 1970s we felt a great deal of change. Within a few short years there were an overwhelming number of new goods in the shops at ever reducing prices. Admittedly if you want to buy a decent bit of Deutsch Wurst then you still have to pay a massive amount more than you would in Berlin but at least you have the option. To compare what we can now buy in the stores compared to the early 70s you would be forgiven for thinking that the wartime rationing was still in operation at that time. The breaking down of the barriers in Europe and the loss of customs tariffs on European goods allows us to live the colourful lives we have now rather than the grey lives we had then. It also allows the producers of this country to sell with greater ease in Europe and when the pound becomes weak it means that there are far more customers helping to boost it up again. Back then it was the way in which food improved that I was most impressed by. Nowadays the thing that most people are having trouble buying and the thing that most people are coveting is electronics. Our free trade agreement with Europe does not help too much there because in Europe it is England where the prices of Electronics seem to be most affordable on average. If we had a trade agreement with America then we would suddenly gain the benefit of the fact that America has very low prices on Electronics compared to most other places in the world.
Aside from all the other benefits that might come from a trade agreement we would quickly find our capability to push our country technologically would become far more affordable. Computers, tablets and phones would be cheaper and all the benefits of them would become more attainable. Education would become cheaper for those who use such technologies to push themselves harder. That education would be more useful with an extra market that wishes to trade with us without barriers. This is only one aspect that would be helped by the agreement. Those in favour would touch upon others. Throughout the whole of Europe it is probably England that is positioned most favourably to benefit from this agreement. We share a very similar language to the Americans. They even name it English as it is so similar. For us the agreement will be far easier to slip into than for the Germans or Greeks.
The one failing of the agreement that is being pointed out by the naysayers and is drawing all the negativity is the rights it gives to corporations to use arbitration to challenge governments that adversely affect their business interests. Ironically the people who seem most alarmed by this are the same people who usually wish they could challenge the same governments themselves for all manner of idiocy. They seek to challenge the governments for the idiocy of allowing corporations to challenge the governments. It is true that we consider ourselves to be living in a democracy and we wish our desires to be adhered to. With this in mind we vote for politicians to represent our wishes. Once politicians are in power they can pretty much do what they want for the next 4 – 5 years. What they do is usually appeal to the readers of the most popular newspapers because whatever rubbish is published in them will determine whether they get to keep their job at the end of the period. Corporations are not one of my favourite forms of institution but at least they do listen to the actual democratic majority. There are so many twists in the way that politics works that almost everyone must now be familiar with Winston Churchill having said democracy is the worst form of government. The fact that he then said, ‘except for all those other forms’ meant that he still favoured democracy but simply felt its execution needed work. The beauty of a corporation is that it will listen to the will of the customer. One thing that many corporations have in common is that when they were not attentive enough and flexible enough to do what the customer wanted they went bust. The thing that all the other corporations have in common is that they were attentive enough to do what the customer wanted and they thrived.
In general the TTIP is unlikely to cause a great deal of arbitration to be focussed against our governments. It is a measure that is put in place in such agreements to protect companies in the worst possible circumstances where governments are using unethical levels of protectionism for their own industries. This does not mean arbitration will be absent. There will undoubtedly be some egregious use of the measures and no doubt we will all tut and blame the TTIP. This will not change the fact that we will gain massive benefits from the TTIP. It will also not change the fact that we are entering a new era of democracy. We are being given a far more direct form of democracy than we had before because if we disagree with the way the corporations abuse such measures we have the ability to stop shopping with those corporations. We have the ability to tell our friends to stop shopping with them. With the internet what it is we have the ability to tell the world to stop shopping with them. If the TTIP affects the web to such a degree that we cannot, and if this is something we dislike then we have the ability to set up meshnets, we have the ability to use usenet. We still have a right to free speech, we have the right to say something about these corporations and they will quickly learn that the TTIP does not give them carte blanche to abuse their positions.
There will be change. I have already said this. But we live in a changing world. Think of it not as change but as adaptation. This will be a time of great empowerment for average people, if we want it to be. Moving the emphasis of control away from government towards corporation really moves the emphasis of control into the hands of the people, and that is where it should be.
Further information can be found at the following URLs and at any to which they link.
You will also find amongst them links to petitions of opposition if you so choose but you will need to find them yourselves.
Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century setting in motion the process of releasing the typewritten word to the general population that eventually developed into webpages such as the one on which you are probably reading this.
Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 setting in motion the process of recording sound that eventually developed into the podcast.
The internet grew from the written word on bulletin boards and in an echo of technological development through the centuries gradually incorporated pictures, sound and video. The podcast was named for the ipod and was one of the best reasons to have an ipod. Podcasts took off. As is so often the way on the internet everyone was talking about podcasts and everywhere you looked there were companies setting up podcasts. The podcast was the future; a way of delivering content to a different audience, the people who listened rather than reading or viewing.
The problem was that everyone read on the internet, especially once the internet became filled with the communications of their friends on social networks. Those who didn’t read wanted something like the television that they were accustomed to watching through the evenings in the pre-internet world. The people who liked to listen to podcasts wasn’t such an attractive audience for whom to produce content, the profit wasn’t there. Gradually the podcasts have begun to disappear. A lot of people who spend time on the web are fans of technology; for these people the disappearance of Stuff magazine’s podcast, followed by Cnet’s main podcast, and most recently by T3 magazine’s podcast has been notable.
These 3 big companies of technology have decided that podcasting is not worth the effort involved. In times of austerity the natural way to save money is to cut back on those expenses that are not profitable enough. Is this the best plan.
Companies are ruled by their shareholders and at regular points they must release details of their profits. The problem with this is that if they do not continually try to save money and build up good dividends then they will lose value in the shareholder’s eyes with the result that funding will become harder, expansion will become harder, even staying afloat will be harder. Lose too much value and you risk being bought out and liquidated.
However the internet has been with us for a while and there are many people who are beginning to feel swamped by the intensity of information that is delivered. A short while ago Facebook was developing into something massive. It was so massive that when it made its initial public offering on the stock market its value ballooned to ridiculous levels that were totally disproportionate to its ability to earn money. Even though this has now died back Facebook is still left with having to sell a lot of advertising to create the necessary profit to maintain its value. The result for Facebook users is that newsfeeds are filled with sponsored posts. Chosen pages are having their posts suppressed if they don’t pay to promote them. Facebook has become chaotic and time consuming to read. Those who love facebook are finding that it is eating up too much time to justify its place in their life.
Facebook is only one example but in general the web demands too much of those who live there. 200 years ago the average reader would own a few books in their lifetime which they would read and reread, eventually memorising them. There is now more information uploaded to the internet everyday than any one individual could hope to read in a lifetime. A lot of it is tripe but a lot of it is stuff that we want to read, in fact most of it is designed specifically to pull all the strings that make us want to read it.
A lot of us spend our working lives sitting at desks interacting with computers; we carry phones which have the same functions; it is possible to spend hours conducting a social life under exactly the same conditions. For the first few years of the internet it was an intriguing mystery. When the world wide web was created it started to become something that ordinary people would use. As more people have begun to use it the web has become a potential target for corporate profit. The result has been the explosion of exciting and enticing content crying out to be seen. If television was ever the drug of the nation then the web is the crack cocaine that was even more addictive.
I am not saying we should all become Amish and reject modern technology but when we find it stealing our lives we have to take something back for the sake of our health. However we can learn from the internet and besides, we enjoy the information. The beauty of a podcast is that we can run in the woods while we listen to them; we can go shopping; we can travel to work or to visit friends; we can sew and paint. All those things that we have lost to the internet can be given back to us by the podcast. As people start to become disillusioned with the theft of their time they can take it back but still enjoy the benefits of news, reviews and opinion.
It seems to me that we are just reaching the point at which the podcast is going to be the solution many of us are looking for. The demand for profit of corporations is going to drive us away from the internet that we have been enjoying for the last few years, but ironically the demand for profit is what is taking away the refuge that the podcast offers. There is a future for the podcast but the companies are throwing it away ahead of time. Like so many things that have come before it, the podcast was invented a little bit ahead of time. With the right approach the podcast could make a comeback with a vengeance.
Having lost three of my favourite podcasts, Stuff, Cnet and T3, I am glad to say that when the Times newspaper decided to shut down its hilarious Bugle podcast the presenters thankfully took matters into their own hands to seek sponsorship and create merchandise to keep it running. The people who will profit when podcasting again attains a height of popularity will be those people like this who do it because they enjoy it and because it is who they are. The companies that were only doing it because they smelled a profit may all have ducked out by that point. There is still a future of great content to be developed and it will be developed by the real enthusiasts, and perhaps that is the best way it should be.
With the economic downturn a lot of people have been thinking it might be time to save a bit of cash so they have something for a rainy day. I have recently come to the conclusion that this is the last thing you want to be doing. I remember a while ago when talking about personal debt David Cameron had told people to simply spend less and pay their debts off. It was not long before he retracted this when someone deep in Whitehall had presumably explained to him that a British public that was not spending money was a recipe for economic stagnation. It is pretty evident that the government do not want the public to save their money and stop supporting business with their custom. All the same, a lot of people might disagree with the government point of view and decide that now is the time to begin thinking about holding something back for the future.
However the economic situation in many of our nations is really too far gone to take this very obvious and traditional way of ensuring our future prosperity. Many of our nations are experiencing levels of debt that have in the past presaged wars, revolutions and other detrimental situations. In living memory many of us have grown used to a very comfortable and stable way of life, but looking at history shows that good times always come to an end. Tropical eras are followed by ice ages; empires are followed by dark ages; boom is followed by bust; even day is followed by night and summer is followed by winter. Of course there is always the possibility that the complexity of our modern technology might present ways in which we can avoid most of the possible deterioration of society that might have occurred in a previous age, but nevertheless there will always be change.
It is possible that many of the disastrous scenarios I am privately fearing may never come to pass, but even so, it is highly probable given the modern world we now live in that none of our ancestors ever experienced, that the way in which we might wish to use our spare cash will be far more likely to change.
Those in the social stratosphere descended from medieval gentry have typically used their cash very wisely. It is easy to invest wisely when you have so much wealth that you could buy the rest of your lifetime’s meals and still be left with vast sums weighing you down. For the rest of us investment gets a little trickier. It is all very well taking investment advice that tells you to store your wealth in gold or perhaps buy stocks in a foreign power, but if all the gold you can afford will fit in your pocket then it is not going to do you a lot of good when you can’t pay the bills at the end of the month. For most of us there are two main ways in which we will use our extra wealth; we will spend it on shiny things, or we will put it into an ISA/pension/etc.
There seems little wisdom in either of these paths. Our own mothers would be the first to explain why it is not wise to spend it on shiny things. Maybe a few shiny things might be nice but when we are living on a shoe string but have a 50″ 3D TV then we should realise for ourselves that we are losing our sense of proportion. The second path of saving is something that we are encouraged to do with all kinds of tax advantages. It is nice to know that we have that little bit of tax free benefit in an ISA; the same goes for the incentives we are offered to put our money into a pension pot. It is a necessity to incentivise this sort of behaviour to encourage a few people not to spend their money on shiny things. For those who would have done so the pension or ISA are probably an improvement. However it is also an incentive that can prevent those who would have spent their money more wisely from doing so. Those who have their eye on the future might be discouraged from spending their money getting to that future in favour of putting it into an accumulating account that they might access when they arrive.
The returns to be had by such savings are pitiful. Those figures might have looked favourable when we were taking out our pension but considering the inflation of the last generation it is likely that we would reach our retirement to discover that our cash had been doing the fiscal equivalent of treading water and trying to keep its nose above the surface. Any money put into savings of any sort may well be there to spend in the future but what use is spending money at an age where we might possibly have had a heart attack and died many years before.
Those with a fair amount of wealth know exactly what to do. When you have enough wealth it is only a tiny percentage that need be spent on getting the kind of advice that will allow investments to double in a matter of years or even months. The figure for such advice is more likely to be several hundred per cent of whatever we might be able to afford to put away. That is why we stick it into various tempting schemes, but the problem is we can not even afford the level of advice that will tell us which of these schemes might offer the best return.
Where should a person with almost no money invest the few pennies they have. Considering the level of financial woe that recent years have given us, the first answer many people will think of is investing it in beer, wine and spirits. Drowning our sorrows has been one of the ways in which the British public has long sought to support the noble efforts of the brewers and publicans. The way in which it might be more practical to invest money is in the things that are so evidently going to be needed in the probable future. If money is tight then it makes sense to invest our money in ways of avoiding that problem. D.I.Y., tools, sugru, solar panels, allotment gardening, sustainable transport, repair networks, recyclables, thread, needles, yarn, education. These are the things that green movements have been trying to talk us into for the sake of the planet for a long time. It is ironic that what may ultimately push us in that direction is the selfishness of preserving our immediate comfort that has kept us away from that lifestyle for all these years.
Spending money is what the economists want us to do to keep things moving. Forgetting economics for a while, it is spending money that we need to do to prepare for the failings of the economists. At present we are spending plenty but it is not sustainable spending. DVDs, TVs, PS3s the list of things that we buy to take our minds off our woes is extensive but if things do get worse then we will need to be developing practical skills, we will need to be buying useful items, we will need the materials and infrastructure of creators and fixers, not consumers. The market will adjust to supplying these different desires and our confidence will grow. Those industries might also be the best places for the greater investment of setting up businesses.
We need not spend less to save money for the future, we can spend as much as the economists hope we do but lets spend that money on the things that will enable us to create better lives rather than allowing the possibility of failing markets to leave us with lives that no one would want.
I have heard it said that the greatest trick that Satan ever played is convincing the world that he did not exist. My thoughts today resonate with that idea. A particularly gruesome prediction of the end of times might read that demons would walk the earth. Soulless, faceless beings that know only greed and avarice, they desire nothing other than to achieve their own ends leaving the ruined lives of human beings behind them as they battle each other to control more and more, seizing wealth and taking happiness away from all those that they use. The greatest trick they played was to convince men that they were completely innocent of harm and even beneficial agents, seeking nothing other than the betterment of mankind.
I am not going to make any end of days predictions. Such things are always viewed as the words of crackpots and lunatics. At any rate I have no belief that there is going to be any sudden cataclysm that will wipe mankind out. I have little doubt that there will be events at some point in the future that could in the past have wiped out mankind. I shan’t say that we have placed ourselves beyond such harm now. If the dinosaurs can be wiped out then it is certain that events could easily lead to a future where the only memory of us could be that there were once an awful lot of monkeys on the planet. We have done extraordinarily well to survive for as long as we have. Particularly in the light of how much effort we have been putting into trying to kill each other off.
I will however, state that these faceless, soulless demons do indeed walk the earth at this point in time. They are behemoths exerting huge control over mankind and they are also small and harmless creatures that simply exist. They are legion. Before you dismiss me out of hand bear in mind that according to companies legislation, a company is a legal personality. In order that it is able to enter contracts it must hold legal standard as a corporate being. Corporate being related to corporeal – of the body; companies are animate corpses. They are hives, their elements made up of the life they absorb into their being; individuals who must relinquish personal concerns and interests. The people who make up a company’s employees and agents must forget about themselves and consider only the welfare of the monstrous creature itself.
Bees in a hive act as constituents of a whole. Our own bodies are made up of single cells working in concert together; in a symbiosis that has evolved over time. Millions of years ago single celled organisms were the dominant inhabitants of the planet. They learnt to work together and gradually became dependant on each other to such an extent that their connection became coded in DNA and they could pass on their constitution to future forms that would evolve to ensure their interactions were more effective. Some of them became human and some of them became the bees who learnt the same trick to create the hives, a form of intelligence to which they all contributed. In the modern day we see the same trick being pulled off with humanity. The companies try to absorb us into their being so that we become nothing more than constituents of this soulless juggernaut, working to assimilate wealth and maximise profit at the cost of all individuality and happiness within.
A little over 100 years ago the dominant form of business was the co-operative. People were members of friendly societies and they would work together for the benefit of all. A company only seeks to work for the benefit of its shareholders. It will have regard for the welfare of its employees but only to the extent that it serves the interests of the shareholders. If the employees fail to serve the interests of the shareholders then they are expelled like dead tissue – the excrement of the company alongside its other waste products. When this doesn’t happen the company can become ill and the shareholders can sue the board for failing to maximise their benefit.
The time of the co-operatives was ended by the rise of companies as workers developed a faith that by forming unions they could protect themselves. The manner in which all personal welfare of the workers was neglected if it conflicted with the prime directive of assimilation of profit meant that profit could be maximised and power could grow so that the friendly societies could be crushed underfoot to make way for these new ‘unfriendly’ societies.
These legal personalities now control most of the face of the Earth. They have their own agenda. They have no concern for people as was proved recently by the popular coffee chain that refused to supply coffee to troops due to the way it might conflict with future trade among the combatants. With the development of intelligent machines you will see that people will not even be needed to run the companies at all. People will no longer be paid because they will no longer be needed. Companies will rule the earth and humanity will be a type of vermin except for the few descendants of the original investors in the companies. They will think that it is they who rule the Earth but really they will be the slaves of soulless demons ruling over a world of poverty and want.