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From LeWeb Paris : Wearable tech – a melding of technology and the loss of privacy (with a little neuroscience thrown in)

December 15th, 2014 |  Published in LeWeb Paris 2014


LeWEB large



LeWeb 2014 logo


Gregory P. Bufithis, Esq., CEO
(with assistance from Eric De Grasse, CTO)


14 December 2014 –  Each year I end my technology conference schedule with LeWeb here in Paris. Now in its 11th year, it is a gathering of the brightest technological innovators, visionaries, startups, tech companies, brands and leading media to explore today’s hottest trends and to define the future of internet-driven business.

Numerous market segments are analyzed (mobile, hardware, social, etc.) and their current and potential trajectories, as well as technology-as-a-whole.

This year there was a candid discussion on Uber with venture capitalist Fred Wilson, Web founder Tim Berners-Lee spoke on everything from robots to net neutrality to Europe’s “right to be forgottten” laws, and the first day session focused on wearable technology.


LeWeb is Europe’s most established tech conference, the brainchild of French serial entrepreneur Loic Le Meur.  Le Web has been the primus inter pares for internet technology. It runs for three days and there were about 3,900 of us (I have not seen final numbers) and 50+ exhibitors who came mostly from across Europe but a good number from the U.S.  It is a brilliant range of speakers and presentations.  But the real reason to attend: to network. It is a networking bonanza.


And there were so many out-of-the-ordinary learning experiences. To note just one, Christopher deCharms (Founder & CEO, OMNeuron and Brainful) gave a fascinating talk about chronic pain and how simple exercises can decrease pain by 25-40% without the use of drugs. Mindfullness is a big trend not only in the technology world, but in some unlikely places too. Super Bowl winners the Seattle Seahawks were taught yoga and sitting meditation as a part of their training. What happens when we all just slow down for a minute? What is the human mind really capable of? Neuroscientists are focused on the development of effective approaches to enhance brain function and cognition in both healthy and impaired individuals. There are some exciting developments on the horizon. His presentation:


I have so many “take-aways” from this year and so many points to make. But there are numerous excellent LeWeb wrap-up pieces that appeared over the weekend that do it better (for instance Gloria Lombardi on her excellent blog Marginalia on Engagement), giving you a great taste of this year’s event, with more posts coming next week.

So let me make a few points general observations and then a few detailed points on wearable technology:

1. Technology revolutions tend to come in waves.  Personal computers.  The Internet.  Search engines.  When pathbreaking new ideas first arrive, they set the tech world afire, but mostly bore and confuse everybody else, who go on with their lives much as before, mostly oblivious to the change around them. In an excellent piece over the summer, Gartner called it the Hype Cycle.  There is an initial technology trigger that leads to inflated expectations, then disillusionment as high-flying startups fail and initiatives sputter.  Eventually the technology gets back on course and real productivity is unleashed.


2. And so it has been with mobile technology. If there was a leitmotif at LeWeb this year it was as 21st century business has become globalized, we are in the age of mobile working. Our mobile phones and tablets are more powerful than entire corporate IT systems used to be, with server farms that can be accessed by anyone, from anywhere.

Our flexibility has led to mobile and personal technological innovation in all areas, with an enormous boom in mobile technologies. I spend a lot of time in the e-discovery world and I see it with such companies as Logikull. But also with companies like IBM and its new Watson Analytics initiative that uses the Watson system’s capacity to understand and interpret millions of documents as well as the ability to take questions in a natural language rather than tech-speak to tackle far more pedestrian tasks. I will be using it in a legal project this coming year.


3. I heard more use of the phrase “rich data” rather than “big data”, rich data being qualitative, that is information which has a lot of descriptive detail. Its best example is in the medical information sector which has technology to collect and navigate vast amounts of complex information … using virtual reality and wearable sensors and embedded sensor that track brain waves, heart rate and other responses … so that “big data” is tamed in effect to yield fabulous visualizations. “Rich data” enables the detection of patterns and meaningful signals.


4. And so it was with “the internet of things” which seems to have graduated to “the internet of everything”, or the more used “the data of everything”. I do not think it is just an attempt at rebranding. Because the “Internet of Things” is not going away but is just one of four dimensions – people, process, data, and things. If we take a closer look at each of these dimensions and how they work together we see it is not the next smart devise du jour but the enormous amount of data that is being collected on each device, right now the dominant “thing” being the mobile phone.


Wearable tech: a melding of technology and the loss of privacy. With a little neuroscience thrown in.

The ways we connect to the Internet have changed in the last three decades – from dumb terminals to desktop computers and a variety of mobile devices, including laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

But that’s nothing compared to the wave of transformation we are now entering. Google Glass (is it really dead? that was the mantra this year) and smart watches are just the beginning of an array of wearable technologies that will radically change the ways we consume and share information.

We already have self-monitoring devices such as Fitbit and the Nike FuelBand that enable us to track exercise, monitor heart rates, and even monitor the quality of our sleep. In the next few years, these capabilities will grow profoundly. We’ll be able to swallow a pill that can monitor our digestive tract and intelligently send relevant information to our doctors at the right time and in the context of what we’re doing. Expectant mothers will wear “smart tattoos” to monitor the health and activity of their babies, and send the doctor an early alert when labor begins. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of how wearable technology will transform our lives.

Next year I will begin a new series titled Brace yourself! Apple wants to colonize your body: thoughts on digital robber barons, the digital onslaught, mobile ecosystems, and data privacy to discuss all of these issues.

But for now a few points from LeWeb:

James McQuivey of Forrester Research led a roundtable on wearable technology, and David Rose (CEO of Ditto Labs and author of the book Enchanted Objects) gave a keynote ran us through the whole topic of wearables. Plus there was a contingent of other experts/presenters on the wearable tech industry.

A lot to cover on just this one topic but here goes (basically an amalgamation of the points made by James McQuivey and JP Gownder of Forrester, plus David Rose):


1. Fashion is going to matter more than ever. Simple neuroscience. The things you wear have always been signifiers of who you are and what you want from life. Fashion brands have long capitalized on this. Fashion brands sell billions’ worth of wearables every day. It is why Apple brought on board a contingent of fashion experts when designing their Watch. And if the fashion industry don’t step up to transform wearables into technology-aided objects, someone else will.

 LeWeb 2014 wearables

(click on image to enlarge)




2. People want technology benefits, not technology. This is a long-running theme in Forrester’s research, Gartner’s research. Ok, everybody’s research. The sooner companies can make the technology a means to a beneficial end, the sooner more people will do it.Side note: it is why so many companies are working on the burden of recharging your devices.  There is even a company developing a pair of pants with a recharging mobile phone pocket.


3. Boy, Apple sure knows how to cause a stir!! At the end of McQuivey’s session he predicted that a year from now at least 10 million people worldwide will own an Apple watch. His note bounced around the Twitterverse like crazy. And the Twitterverse screamed “analysts always inflate things to be sensational”.

But just look for a moment look at McQuivey’s numbers: at least 100 million people will have an iPhone 5 or 6 that is capable of connecting to Apple Watch. All Apple needs is a 10% conversion rate to sell 10 million units. He pointed out that Microsoft’s launch of the Kinect camera in 2010 actually earned Microsoft an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for fastest selling consumer electronics device launch. In that case, Microsoft sold 8 million units in just two months. Importantly, that was a 12% conversion rate of Xbox 360 owners around the world. Can Apple match that? Yes, he says. Perhaps even exceed it.


4. David Rose has been breaking new ground in the field of “enchanted objects”: everyday items that have extraordinary abilities. He is an instructor and researcher at the MIT Media Lab and the author of a very cool book Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things. He was recently featured in a New York Times profile.


5. Rose’s points were pretty simple: enchanted objects are ordinary things that have the same functionality that they had before, except now they can “talk”. They’re connected. These are ordinary things that have extraordinary capabilities. The history of computers has mostly been about efficiency and he thinks one of the things that’s changing is that enchanted objects can be about adding emotion and magic to the fabric of our everyday lives and experiences. Our devices can be a lot simpler, and our interactions to them can be a lot simpler. The internet-connected umbrella can just be an umbrella that only shows whether it’s going to rain. You don’t need to tap on an icon, or do anything that seems sort of artificial.


6. But, is there such a thing as too connected? Rose’s point: some people might think that a connected home is overwhelming, that there’ll be so much information in the connected home that it’s just a cacophonous environment and you wouldn’t want to live there. But he thinks about how we decorate our homes today: we put photographs everywhere, we put paintings up, we put post-it notes up. There’s a lot of decoration and adornment in the home, and if enchanted objects can be designed in the right way, we’re going to want hundreds of them around us.


Ah, but the dark side: the collection of all that data …

To hear it from the speakers, the tremendous amount of data we’re all creating is not necessarily evil. People shouldn’t assume that data is just shared by everyone in the world. In many cases, having this digital portrait of yourself is a really powerful tool for reflection and change.

But to many attendees the talk was disturbing, and the following slide (used by a digital marketing presenter) showing marketing intent by accessing and analyzing all that data out there freaked out many people:


LeWeb marketing





To many at the conference it was “Orwellian”.

And that was perfect. Because this year marks three decades since 1984, the titular year of George Orwell’s classic novel.

Among the many events marking this anniversary, I was able to attend a number in both Europe and the U.S. My favorite was in London which was a panel consisting not of historians and/or politicians but scientists and engineers.

And it made sense. Because Orwell’s book was not just a social commentary, but a technical one, too. In Orwell’s dystopia, the ruling class squanders the unprecedented productivity of technology on endless war, to avoid ceding wealth and power to the lower class. They also construct a (vaguely familiar) surveillance state enabled by a diffuse and deeply embedded communications technology. In technology as in culture, Orwell suggests that we are caught in the long, inevitable sweep of history. Are we in control of our technology, he asks, or is it in control of us? This question bangs loudly in our world of mobile phones, monitors and scores of “talking bits”.

But I was more reminded of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (it’s the neuroscientist in me) ruled by a supposedly benevolent dictatorship whose subjects have been programmed to enjoy their subjugation through conditioning and the use of a narcotic drug – soma – that is less damaging and more pleasurable than any narcotic known to us. The rulers of Brave New World had solved the problem of making people love their servitude.

We have forgotten about Huxley’s intuition. We failed to notice that our runaway infatuation with the sleek toys produced by the likes of Apple and Samsung – allied to our apparently insatiable appetite for Facebook, Google and other companies that provide us with “free” services in exchange for the intimate details of our daily lives – might well turn out to be as powerful a narcotic as soma was for the inhabitants ofBrave New World.

Surely Dave Eggar’s marvelous novel The Circle and its dystopian message has come through – in keeping with Huxley – that we are willing to shed privacy in the name of digital connections and convenience.

Yes, our “convenience economy”: enabled by smartphones, apps, the location-based web, the cloud … ok, pretty much every device in our possession. It’s lighting every moment of our lives. Immediate access to messaging, e-mail, media, and other online functionality through smartphones has generated a sense of entitlement to fast, simple, and efficient experiences.

In nearly every aspect of our lives, from work to parenting to play to eating, we are demanding quicker, faster, now. Worse, our technologies – the very products and services we build for our own good – are forcing this upon us. Even worse: we seem to have no idea, no plan, no counter to this offensive. Convenience and productivity are just two of the many human desires we hold dear. So where are the devices, the apps, the advances that satisfy our longing for peace, calm, reflection? Surely there is an app for that.


It all reminded me of the famous “Marshmallow Test” which we learned in neuroscience class. If you don’t recall it (or don’t want to Google it) it runs something like this: in the 1960s, the marshmallow test validated the idea that children who could push aside a minor reward now … in this case, a marshmallow … for a greater reward … many marshmallows in the near future … enjoyed greater success in life. So what happened. Why then, are the products of our best companies designed to reward us all instantly?

Well, according to the Harvard Business Review :

“as adults we face a version of the marshmallow test nearly every waking minute of every day. We’re not tempted by sugary treats, but by our browser tabs, phones, tablets, and (soon) our watches – all the devices that connect us to the global delivery system for those blips of information that do to us what marshmallows do to preschoolers.  Have we grown fat on convenience?

As we’ve reshaped the world around us, radically diminishing the cost and effort involved in obtaining calories, we still have the same brains we evolved thousands of years ago, and this mismatch is at the heart of why so many of us struggle to resist tempting foods that we know we shouldn’t eat. A similar process is at work in our response to information. Just as with food, the problem will almost certainly not be solved by self control, which was always a lie, an easy way to blame others and ignore reality.”


My point: compared to the robber barons of the early 20th century, whose fortunes were circumscribed by the scale of their industries, today’s mobile/internet elite is just starting out. The impact of their technologies have barely begun to be felt. Rivals and bystanders, including industries that have yet to feel the digital onslaught, are understandably anxious. Many individuals, drawn into the enticing new world of mobile devices and cloud services, are starting to ponder what it means to hand control of their digital lives to such powerful corporations.

Indeed, in many respects, our economic system now indulges our desires with such speed and efficiency and personalized precision that it’s getting harder to know where we stop and the market begins.

And I don’t merely mean that clever marketers have gotten inside our heads or that our smartphones now feel like body parts-although both are true. I mean that our preferences, attitudes, and identities have become so intertwined with the offerings of the marketplace that we have internalized many of the market’s values and reflexes-particularly the market’s relentless drive for ever greater, ever faster, more efficient returns. Put another way, the marketplace and the self, our economy and our psychology, are fusing in ways we’ve never before experienced.


Oh, and can you please pass the soma when you are done?


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"The mind that lies fallow but a single day sprouts up follies that are only to be killed by a constant and assiduous culture."
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