Dirk Knemeyer

AI, Big Data & Brand Loyalty, January 13, 2017

The issue is right now it’s dumb data, so Netflix for example, very intelligently can push to us what we’re going to like to watch, and figure out what things to make to determine what we’ll enjoy. Their ownership of that data isn’t that valuable. If I … It’s convenient that I’ve rated a bajillion things on Netflix, and that is all there, but if I left Netflix tomorrow for some new service, I’m not losing that much. The data for me as the consumer, it doesn’t do much. It helps them maintain their business model of getting $12.99 a month out of me, fine, but beyond that, it doesn’t have a more over-arching value. I’ll say the same thing for Amazon. Amazon purchases. Those are even stupider because I don’t think that Amazon, that’s probably really, I’m naïve. I’m sure Amazon is using those things to figure out how to push things towards me that I would be more likely to buy, but it still is dumb.

There’s going to come a time, and it’s decades away, not years, when a machine can interpret that data and can draw conclusions about me as an individual. Conclusions that would draw me to date better people, draw me to pursue a better career. Draw me to spend my time in ways that are better for me. Draw me to … Plans to work around my weaknesses, or to proactively work with my genomic data to have me doing things or buying things, or behaving in context to make it less likely I die at an early age. That’s when it’s smart and that’s when it’s interesting.

Right now it’s being levered for capital gain which is fine and good, but it’s just not that interesting. If I left Amazon or left Netflix, it really matters very, very little. There’s other places to buy products, and certainly there’s other places to watch shows. Now, if anything, that market is overly saturated with Hulu and Amazon and others. The point I want to make is that yeah, in these ways that allow a company to be successful in capitalism, it’s great, but in terms of doing really meaningful things or things that matter to me where I’d be like “oh my God, I’m going to keep my Netflix for the rest of my life, because leaving it would just be too catastrophic”, it’s just nowhere near that. To me, that’s when this data will become really interesting, is the decades down the road when they understand the human animal well enough to use machine power to translate the choices we make into really, really changing our lives.

Twitter, Business Models & Information Overload, December 8, 2016

At some point, Twitter will get acquired. There’s too much money to be lost to not sell for at least something well below what they hoped and their investors were driving for. Business model, they haven’t found it yet. I’m not seeing an obvious business model in the current sort of Internet technologies stack for Twitter. I mean, look, there’s theoretical business models. They have a business model now, quote-unquote “business model,” with promoted tweets and other rubbish, which is following sort of the old-school commercial approach to attempting to monetize. That is a business model, but it’s not a very successful one.

The question is how will Internet technologies evolve in the years ahead and how could that meta-platform and the platforms within it better enable a product like Twitter based on ease of use, free information, network effects, access to celebrity, among others, not just celebrities, of course, for that to be brought together in a way that it can make money. Right now it can’t, because they’ve given it away for free. Maybe they had to give it away for free in this environment. The reality is if now they yanked it, somebody else would give it away for free. Even if you can’t find a business model around it, the power of the platform is immense. The fact that we are all essentially directly connected to everyone else, except for the very few who don’t opt for Twitter at all, even though they’re famous and would benefit from it or the people who are unknown and not sort of relevant to a networked effects conversation at that level. I mean, we’re connected to everyone, within those exceptions.

Super powerful. Super valuable in non-capitalist ways, but not super valuable relative to the investment, relative to the expectation, relative to the scale of their burn within a normal business structure.

I’m sort of a late Twitter user. I wouldn’t say I really enjoy it, but I do see the value in it. Do we need the news in the way that the news has become accepted as a thing in our lives? Do we need to know that that plane was coming down? Do we need to know that that plane landed on the Hudson River at all? Much less, do we need to know that that plane landed on the Hudson River two minutes within it actually happening? Certainly, the latter is completely unnecessary. I mean, that’s first-world privilege at the max. I would say even the other isn’t necessary. We don’t need that bit of news. That news is not relevant to us. I mean, there are some people in Manhattan or in places where the plane was coming, destinations, very specific people, but for our nation of 300 million-plus people or let’s take the whole world, six billion or whatever the number is now as it continues to spiral upwards, totally unnecessary to know that there was this plane accident on the Hudson River at that time, that it ever happened. It’s unnecessary.

We’ve become conditioned to thinking that all of this stuff is necessary. Oh my god, there’s a child in a well in Guatemala. Oh my god, this, oh my god, that. 99% of what we get on the news we don’t need and, you could argue, is bad for us in a number of different psychological ways. The sort of meta question over all of this Twitter stuff is this urgency, this notion of how it fits into some view of news in the global world, even relevant? I think no. I think that we’ve been taught it is, we’ve conditioned to it being, but my life would be better if I stopped hearing about the person who sawed somebody’s head off on a bus in Africa or all the crazy rubbish. I mean, it just makes me sad and depressed and fearful and suspicious. It’s not good at all. I don’t know, it’s not good at all.


Design Challenges for AI & Sensor Technologies, November 4, 2016

I think that the imagination runs wilder than the reality. I mean, one of the things like with the health room that we talk about is the possibility, for example, collecting specimens in the drain in the shower, right? I mean, then evaluating those. Well, if there’s sensors in the drain of the shower, how do those sensors get cleaned, right? It’s very exciting to imagine sensors, sensors, sensors in all of these different places but how are they maintained? How do they continue to function? Once you have this distributed network of devices, essentially, all over the place, as different devices in that ecosystem fail, how does that impact the effectiveness of the ecosystem?

It’s neat, and it’s especially neat in theory, like when you talk about, “Oh, it’s so cool, all these different things that can happen,” but in reality, we live in a world governed by the rules of physics and there are requirements, whether they be in terms of power, whether they be in terms of cleanliness from the standpoint of having an electronic device able to function in the intended way, despite being in odd circumstances as well as people’s just tolerance of interest for everything that can happen. It’s interesting, nanotechnology in general is interesting. I mean, smaller means accessibility, smaller means there are more things that you can do, but the potential of nanosensors in the short term, I don’t know. I think it might start to get more interesting in the medium and long term when some of the other related enabling technologies are improved, such as batteries, for example.

Artificial intelligence is the plumbing of our digital future so that’s just the reality, and so now we’re watching and adapting as we see the quality of artificial intelligence increase, so that it is increasingly able to permeate and to influence. Again, it’s going to be slower than we think in a lot of ways, but it is what our digital future will be built around.

It’s just so far away, and again, I’ll use Siri and Alexa as two examples of that. I mean, these are products that have a lot of money from big corporations put behind them, and are designed for consumer use. I find them both to be garbage, and this is years after they’ve been released and had the chance to be optimized, and how far away are those products from being wonderful? It’s years. It’s not decades, but it’s years. We’re just not there yet. It’s clumsy, it’s clunky, but it’s not there.

There are individuals for whom the novelty and the fun of exploring those technologies and growing with them is part of it. I want to live my life. For me, the technology allows me to live my life better, and as soon as you’re clumsy and clunky and stupid, you’re making me live my life worse. It’s just two different ways of looking at it but from a money making standpoint, people better treat me as their consumer as opposed to you. Because it’s my seeing it as good enough for my life, is it at a point where it could go mainstream, whereas you definitely are on that bleeding edge of tech geeks.


Driverless Cars, Ethics & The Flawed Human Animal, September 30, 2016

Tesla with their autopilot feature, they’re explicit to drivers, “Keep your hands on the wheel, keep your foot on the brakes and stay alert the whole time,” right? That’s one of the reasons why when we talked about the technology before I was very critical of it. I was like, “Why bother? Just drive your fricking car,” at that point. This individual was given those warnings, and despite those warnings, presumably through inattention or not having the foot or not having the hands, something didn’t override and keep himself safe, keep himself alive. It’s sort of an over-trust in the technology, like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, those warnings, those are just … They’re being overly careful.” It’s like 10 and 2, we don’t really do 10 and 2, that’s overly careful. The guy’s dead because of it, and that’s really unfortunate.

I’d be interested to know what’s happening on the litigation side. If the traffic light malfunctions and someone dies in a car crash due to the malfunction, can you sue the … I don’t know how all that is set up, but can you sue the city, or can you sue the engineer, or can you sue the manufacturer? I ask those questions because I think the highways are a great place to talk about all this stuff, because we have this illusion of control. Right now we’re driving our car, we crash, it’s someone else’s fault or it’s our fault. However that’s figured out, humans are blamed. We’re heading towards a future of driverless cars. In that scenario, it’s very likely that cars will be far more safe and less people will die on the highways. A lot of people die on highways, I don’t know what the number is. It’s certainly tens of thousands a year in the United States, maybe in the hundreds.

I don’t know scale, but it’s a lot of people die on the highways right now. If those technologies cut that number in half, objectively safer, objectively better. The people who die in those accidents, now they’re dying because something went wrong with somebody’s technology, it was my car’s software, or your car’s software, or something else other than my agency of me as a driver, you as a driver, and we’re taking responsibility for what’s going on. Now it’s something totally different. I’m really curious on the litigation side how that’s going to pan out. I think there’s going to be a lot of people that hate the technology because they were the unlucky lottery winners of their loved ones being killed. Less people die overall, but my person’s dead. If they were allowed to hold their steering wheel, they wouldn’t be dead.

I think those are knotty legal and ethical things that are going to be great strawmen, great first to the fight in how we’re thinking about all the implications of turning various parts of the world over to artificial intelligence.

We’re going to be in danger, because humans are careless, we are. There was one time, I don’t know, it’s probably been a year or 2 even, so I think it’s worse now most likely. I drove down the road and just said, “How many people are texting or on their device?” I passed 12 people, every 12 of them, every one, 12 out of 12, were on this device. It’s certainly under 100%, but that sample size is a perfect example of it. I say we are careless, because look, I’m on my device sometimes too, unfortunately, on the road. It’s been communicated to us, we know, “Hey dumb dumb, you are much more likely to die whizzing at a high rate of speed in this big, heavy metal thing if you’re doing that,” but we still do it. We make this little calculation based on incomplete understanding, incomplete … really grocking what the danger is. We thrust ourselves into further danger, for what?

For nothing, for the difficulty of being bored, for the draw of the little serotonin rush, of the little thing. That way of behaving is going to continue to haunt us moving forward. It’s why we use easy passwords, it’s why we’re not secure with our online information, while many of us probably, unbeknownst to us, all of our goodies are out there already and people could be using those against us, and leveraging even today if they really wanted to. We’re careless. That carelessness is going to add risk to the future of AI.

Historical Trends & The Future of Embeddables, September 1, 2016

it’s the nascent embeddable future coming to life. It’s an example of why embeddables are the way to go which is convenience, which is integrating the digital interaction into how we move through the world instead of through analog cars of the past or clunky smartphones of the present. I thought it was great that a student was doing it. So often it is the younger people who are seeing the opportunities and putting together solutions because they’re able to see the world from a frame of reference that’s more modern than older people whose frame of reference is just definitionally more dated.

Right now we’re in the clumsy, hacky, start of things. Eventually it will be very integrated and very custom. Our whole society has been shifting towards an acceptance of these things and I’ll talk about a few different things. One of them is frankly the existing, old school, analog tattoos. We’ve seen over the last 15-20 years those move from the realm of lower class/tough drunk guy on a bad night realm of society into many soccer moms running around with tattoos. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago. There’s been a huge social shift to mainstream acceptance of tattooing as something that is done by many parts of society, not just certain and generally more marginalized ones. The trend to tattooing is also a trend to a comfort level with body modification which is greasing the skids for the future for sure.

The other trend to talk about is plastic surgery. That one is not as mainstream as tattooing yet but there’s a lot of people who are really comfortable getting their boobs sliced open and having bags of jelly shoved in there, or who are really comfortable having their face chopped up in different ways to look younger or if it doesn’t work out well sometimes it doesn’t look younger. There’s definitely a segment of society that’s super comfortable with everything that goes with plastic surgery. Now we’ve got the digital stuff and the science catching up. The comfort level on that isn’t here yet but it’s going to come and there’s a few examples I’ll use.

One is it was in 2000 that I got lasik surgery. That’s a surgery where you are laid down on an operating table and your eyes are literally carved open and altered. If you had told me in 1990, ten years before, “Oh hey Dirk. There’s going to be this thing you’ll be able to do and they’ll carve your eyes open and you’ll be able to see better.” I would have said, “That’s gross. No way. I would never do that. That’s crazy talk.” In those ensuing ten years, as the technology changed, as the social acceptance changed my view on it changed and it reached a point where scientifically … I use scientifically as if it’s in a lab but this is in a more applied with what eye doctors are doing, they’re saying, “No. This is safe, it’s okay. You can come in and do it. It might be painful, there might be this side effect, that side effect, these bad things. But you’re going to be able to see well and it’s going to cost an affordable amount of money and not take very much time.” I’m like, “Sign me up. Let’s go for it.”

That’s an example of the impact that science has on our perceptions. Just in the last week I read two stories that made me very uncomfortable. One was about a face transplant. I’ve read about face transplants in the past. This one, and again it’s a little too gross so I didn’t’ click into the story, but it was about a firefighter or soldier or someone, and it showed in the little photo caption of the story this photo of this disfigured face, this photo of this face that looked like it was wearing an odd mask, to this third photo of this third face that looked slightly off. That was the face transplant for me. I didn’t want to go deeper into the story, wimpy little me but face transplants are a thing now. That story today is going to make me feel a little weird. At some point in the future I’ll meet someone with a face transplant. It’ll feel a lot less weird once it’s real and it’s a person and not just this thing that seems bizarre.

The other one I read this week was about hand transplants. A child had their hands transplanted, it was talking about how miraculous it is. How life has totally changed and how wonderful a hand transplant is. I’m reading this story and I’m looking down at my hand and I’m like, “I can’t imagine somebody else’s freaking hands on my body. Oh my goodness gracious, lock the front door,” but this is the evolution. Just like in 1990 I would have thought it was nuts to be strapped down and have my eyes cut and try and fix them. Ten years later I was like yeah let’s do it. Sign me up. Right now these things are seeming odd but I’m sure if I was burnt horribly and disfigured and was hideous to look at I might be interested in a face transplant even today. If it’s a necessity forcing it in. I’m trying to throw a lasso around all of these different trends from tattooing to plastic surgery to the beginnings of massive transplanting of the self with faces and hands to where embeddables are going.

It’s just inevitable. In the 2020s that will be the decade of a lot of things. It will be the decade of driverless cars and it will be the decade of embedded digital technology. Again, I’ve probably mentioned this on the show before but when I give talks now around anything in this direction I say to the audience, by 2030 I’m confident I’m going to be a cyborg and probably a lot of you are going to be too. You see their faces like, “No fucking way.” In 2025 it’s going to look a lot different.

The problem right now with embeddables and I think why embeddables seem scary to most is that the stories you read are clumsy. There was one last year about German teenagers who embedded lights into their hands. The lights that they embedded were these big chunky red lights and they had these big scars on their hands. I’m like, “Oh my god, it’s so intrusive and for what? So you can have this novelty thing.” After you’ve done it like the second time to a person you go, “Enough with the lights dude. I get it. It’s not cool anymore.” It’s all about the use cases. The use cases synthesizing with the social readiness, synthesizing with the right technology so it’s not overly intrusive relative to people’s tolerances to alter themselves.

Personal Computing Ecosystem, May 25, 2016

Right now, there’s too many devices in the personal computing ecosystem. We’ve got our laptop or desktop main machine. We’ve got our iPad tablet device. We’ve got our smartphone. Now they’re proposing to bring watches in at a little different level but still in that ecosystem where things like the Fitbit or these sort of complimentary IoT devices. Brass tacks, there should be no more than two personal computing devices that cover all of the use cases that people need within their ecosystem. There may be other accessories off that. I have my laptop. I also have a big monitor that the laptop plugs into. At the end of the day, the laptop is the computing device. Right? Right now, the market is trying to make four different devices fit in. Again, the personal computer, the tablet device, the smartphone device, and the watch-like device, and that’s two devices too many. It’s why watches are flailing.

I think there’s a great opportunity for innovation for the company that really nails what are the two devices. In the long term, it’s one device because the nanotechnology, the miniaturization will get to such a point that we have one thing that is the personal computing thing with accessories coming off it. Pushing that onto the farther out shelf, in the nearer term, the company that can solve for here are the correct two computing devices in people’s ecosystem to solve these use case in sort of the best hybrid way, that’s what we really need. Trying to solve at the watch level is putting one more unnecessary device into the stream. It’s just strategically wrong.

The State of Virtual Reality,

You know Jon, no, but I think that [Google] Daydream’s on the right track. VR is still at a stage where bleeding edge early adopters might find it exciting and interesting but it’s not particularly practical or sustainable or something that can be like a core part of a normal person’s lifestyle. It ain’t there yet. Google is starting to move it closer with Daydream by virtue of usability and simplicity and integration.

That goes back to the Google roots of the company. Certainly Google wasn’t the first search engine by a mile but what they did is they took the idea of search engine as sort of the powerful central point of a giant platform of crap. They removed the crap and so the search engine is the important part.

What they’re doing with Daydream is moving down the path of having the technology be more usable, more accessible, and more able to be integrated into someone’s daily life and environment instead of being some gigantic thing strapped to their head. Which is how the most popular VR technologies have been manifesting so far.

I’m heartened and optimistic about Daydream as the Google foray into VR but for me VR technology ain’t there yet. I’m happy to sit on the sidelines and let other people burn a lot of money and energy dallying with the latest and greatest stuff that thirty years ago would have been in a Sharper Image store. Then when it gets to be something really practical and interesting, I’ll get into it more in my own life. Daydream is a path down VR as integrated part of a digital life and that’s great. It shows that Google’s thinking about the problems in the right way as they generally do.

Higher Fidelity Media Consumption, January 7, 2016

When I’m home I’m often relegated to watching something on my phone or my laptop screen. My iPad is now broken but previously my iPad screen would have been a common one. Now during this break I had some times when the family was gone, I could stream on Chromecast to the giant TV, work and have it on the giant TV. I was happy. It was a much richer and more enjoyable experience than trying to work on my laptop with my iPhone with this tiny screen with the movie going or something. It was much more humane, it just felt good instead of feeling forced and broken. There’s that balance.

The realities of how our homes are designed today, the realities of how our computer ecosystems are designed today are such that in order to satisfy out different content desirements we’re locked into the small screens and these hobbled experiential moments. Those aren’t the best ways for consuming that content. I expect as more time goes on we’ll gravitate away from the strictly utilitarian personal desires being met to something that’s far more experientially rich, even while leveraging allowing us to see what we want to see as opposed to the whole family watching some compromised thing that no one wants to watch.

Future Leadership in the Design of Personal Computing Devices, November 19, 2015

Mobile is a whole different beast, we have less than a decade now of mobile. We’re still, we collectively meaning the whole, everybody is still figuring it out. Mobile doesn’t lend itself to the point-and-click paradigm that desktop personal computing lent itself to. I’m not going to make the case that the things Apple is doing or any of the manufacturers are doing are correct, but I think it’s just a new animal.< They’re saying “Here’s all these best practices, why aren’t they there?” Those are old practices and we need to really reinvent what mobile computing looks like, taking lessons where they’re appropriate but... I don’t know man, the point and click, that whole frame isn’t relevant and you have a tiny bit of pixels when you’re dealing in direct manipulation. Even on the hardware side, the whole Apple Watch thing now, to me that is just one of the many gyrations of what does mobile computing truly look like? Because I don’t think the form factor is correct of a mobile phone. I also don’t think the watch form factor is correct. We’re trying to figure all of this out on the hardware and the software side. In terms of Google, yeah, if there’s a mainstream consumer tech company that I’m going to buy the stock of it’s going to be Google. I’m very bullish on Google for a lot of different reasons but on the design side I don’t know. They’ve never been great at design, they’re really engineering-driven. Their newest Nexus phone just came out and it was produced by a different hardware manufacturer. Whereas Apple controls their hardware, controls their software, the design that emanates for that Apple takes credit for. Google can’t take credit for those. The phone is really beautiful but it’s not Google, it’s this other hardware manufacturer. The degree to which Google’s going to be a design leader and/or practice exceptional design, I’m not sure. It’s never been a staple or a hallmark. A big picture of what’s happened is that the decay of Apple over the last 5 years has just brought them back to the pack. Now, who’s the design leader? I don’t know. I don’t know that there is a leader, they’re all kind of similar-ish. Nobody is this perfect … Apple used to be this clear cut above. There ain’t the clear cut above anymore.

The Future of Personal Computing Ecosystems, August 20, 2015

Look at the history of corporations, they all die, they all go away. None of them make it. If you look at the biggest companies, like an Andrew Carnegie, they don’t exist anymore. They die, despite being, at certain points, the biggest and most successful companies in the world. That’s because they’re born of a certain time and place, with a certain vision, carving out a certain space in the world. As time passes, the impact of that space, the degree to which people desire that space waxes and wanes. The more time that passes, the more it’s on the wane side.

Apple is a company that I don’t remember their initial mission statement, but it boiled down to putting computers in everyones living room. Taking these giant machines for processing and make them a personal and part of peoples everyday lives, that’s a mission that’s been addressed a long time ago. Whereas Google, their mission of organizing the worlds information … information applies to DNA, information applies to all kinds of different things. Even though Google’s first manifestation was in the context of a search engine, from the very beginning their vision for what they were trying to achieve in the world was much bigger.

I think there are still exciting things for Apple to do. It would be great if Apple could solve the personal computing ecosystem. There’s a gap right now where we’ve got the watch, we’ve got the iPhone, we’ve got the iPad, we’ve got the laptop or desktop computer, we’ve got the devices in our cars and in other places, wearables that are all part of this. It’s really clumsy. There’s too many devices, they don’t work that well together. There’s still a lot to be done in that space, and I do think Apple’s the right company to do it. The question is, do they have the leadership vision present to do that? I think the Jony Ive fan boys would say yes. I’m not so sure though. I’d like to see them do it because I own Apple devices, I’ve invested a lot of money in the iTunes store. I’d like this ecosystem to continue. There’s a big opportunity for it to really up level. I hope Apple does it.

I increasingly think it’s more likely that it’s going to be some kind of disruptor. I don’t necessarily think Google’s the one to do it, because Google’s excellence is not in design ecosystems, Google’s excellence is in engineering. On the design side, more simple, straightforward, not from a design perspective, but from an overall business model prospective, in ways that are more open but don’t necessarily result in a great user experience. It may be another company entirely. Going back to Amazon, it might be Amazon, although I don’t think it will be them either. I don’t know who it will be. There’s a big opportunity here, and it is one Apple can take advantage of. The question is will they? Your guess is as good as mine.