Image: Bill Selak, Flickr.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

  1. 2013 is on pace to become the first year ever in which the number of US paid TV subscriptions drops. The phenomenon is driven in part by the emergence of “cord nevers,” consumers who have never subscribed to paid television programming via cable, satellite, or a phone provider, instead accessing TV shows and movies through Amazon, Netflix, or broadcaster websites.
  2. Polling by Pew Research finds Chinese optimistic over all but worried about inequality, corruption, pollution, food safety, and a lot of other things.
  3. Adam Elkus examines some issues around simulations and modeling, including ethical issues.
  4. In all but 4 of 23 European countries bicycle sales topped car sales, data from 2011 (the most recent) shows. And since 2000, bike sales across the EU 15 have drastically outpaced car sales. The shift is attributed to the Great Recession.
  5. At Google’s Solve for X conference, a representative from Lockheed’s Skunk Works revealed the research lab would produce a working fusion power plant by 2017. The current iteration is about the size of a semi-trailer and could conceivably power a small city.

Image: Jellaluna, Flickr.

Here are five indicators, observations or articles that caught the eye of FA futurists today.

  1. Disruptive TV technologies like Dish’s “Hopper” and Barry Diller’s “Aereo” are threatening the business models of TV broadcasters. CBS/ABC/FOX/NBC are threatening to pull the plug on their free over-the-air transmissions and become cable-only channels.
  2. Neurologist Robert Burton argues that the current explosion of brain research isn’t asking the right questions — that we can never understand the mind, which is inherently subjective, by studying its wiring. In this interview with, Burton says that what’s needed is an “Einstein of the mind” capable of theoretical breakthroughs around the brain-mind connection.
  3. Early this year, in a special report on inflammation in Science, Ira Tabas of Columbia University and Christopher Glass of UC San Diego summarize the current status and future prospects of anti-inflammatory therapy in the treatment of chronic diseases such as atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. “New advances in understanding inflammatory signaling…together with new drug development, offer promise in this area of translational biomedical research.”
  4. Uruguay has voted to legalize same-sex marriage, replacing gender terms on the marriage license with “contracting partner.” In addition, children of gay parent will be allowed to take either parent’s last name. This is a further continuation of the values shift on gay marriage, and a remarkable one in a Catholic country, where the church vigorously opposed the issue.
  5. PC sales continued their dramatic decline, as as consumers either hold off on purchasing  or opt for other devices such as tablets or larger-screen smartphones. Both Gartner and IDC reported that Q1 2013 PC sales were down double digits over Q1 2012.


Image: Asthma_Helper, Flickr

In May 2008 I gave an interview with TV Week magazine in which I discussed the future of television. In the interview I said:

Eventually, that’s going to be what the TV networks as they exist now are going to have to do. Not just create programming and release it at certain times. Rather than broadcasting 18 episodes of “Lost” over 18 weeks, they’ll release 18 episodes and you can buy it in any way you want. You can buy it and watch on your television, you can buy it and watch on your phone or you’ll be able to buy it on DVD simultaneously with its release as a broadcast. You can have it in a definite form and watch it at your leisure. (Emphasis added.)

So I was intrigued to read in the New York Times a few days ago that not only would Netflix be premiering its first original production, House of Cards, on February 1, 2013, but that  all 13 episodes would be available for streaming at that time.

This all-at-once release reflects another point that I made in the TV Week interview:

Appointment television will still exist, but it will be a lot more finite. The appointment will not be each week or when the new show comes on, but the appointment will be the date that the show is released. It goes from being Thursday being the first new episode from the second half of the season for “Lost,” to Thursday being the release of the fifth season of “Lost.” The appointment becomes a more singular point rather than every week.

How we consume media–on which platform, at which place, during which time–is more in flux today than ever before. Netflix’s move into content producer is just one aspect of this. Traditionally, content producers would lobby established distributors (broadcast and cable networks, movie studios) to buy their content, as these were seen as the only way to reach an audience. No more. The advent of Internet streaming, smartphones and tablets, cheap Wi-Fi and content stores such as iTunes and Amazon means that who distributes the content is no longer a mark of quality or legitimacy. House of Cards demonstrates this: People are interested in this series because of the involvement of Oscar winners such as Kevin Spacey and director/producer David Fincher. It will be the rare viewer who will turn up her nose because it is being released via Netflix and not HBO or ABC.

Or to put it another way, just because there have been broadcast television networks for 70 years does not mean there will always be television networks. And Netflix is betting that this is the future.

Like many other modern knowledge workers today, I work from home. One of the advantages is that I get to watch reruns of Scrubs while I eat my lunch. The other day (June 9, to be precise, for reasons I will shortly make clear), a song I like was playing in the background on Scrubs, so I pulled out my iPhone and fired up the Shazam app. For those not familiar with Shazam, it records a snippet of any song played in its vicinity, then analyzes it and tells you the name and artist. It is handy for just the situation I was in: What is that song and who sings it? In addition to the song title and artist, Shazam shows a picture of the album cover art, if available. And this is what caught my eye—I realized I had seen this cover art before. So I scrolled back through my previous Shazam results and found that I had recorded the same snippet on May 11, 2009. Which tells me two things: 1. I seem to really like that song, and 2. I now know the exact date I previously watched this episode of Scrubs.

The second piece of information may seem trivial, but it is just these kinds of small pieces of info that mobile apps and other programs are picking up daily as we go about our business. As a savvy tech user, I am aware of the various privacy implications of my choices, and while to some it may seem as though I blithely, and too frequently, let third parties into my life, I am fully aware of what I am doing. At least I thought I was, until this incident. It got me thinking about what Shazam could do with this information. What it knows is that I tagged one song on two different occasions. It would not be difficult to comb extant databases and find out how I would have heard that song on those days. And then what? Well, then Shazam would know I like Scrubs, and music featured on Scrubs. If the people behind Shazam ever wanted to expand their business model, they could push recommendations to users about other artists similar to the ones tagged, recommendations about other television shows, or even a reminder that the rerun of Scrubs with the song you like is coming up.

One thing this experience has not seemed to do is encourage me to buy the song. Over a year after tagging it the first time, and weeks since the second, I have still not bought it. Wait—I just did.

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