Software still needs hardware. And hardware still needs to be manufactured by someone…

My father-in-law just fell out of our hammock. He landed on the balcony terrace with a smile that slowly went sour.

Because the flat above us is empty, a family of birds recently moved into the balcony above to raise their chicks. The parents fly in and out of the balcony drainage pipe all day, depositing food on the terrace above us and deposits on ours. And so my father-in-law’s landing was not a clean one.

It’s a reminder of the state of modern technology – how many problems we still haven’t solved.

I don’t know how many years hammocks have existed, but my guess is that people have been falling out of them for thousands of years. And getting bird poo on you is an even older problem. But solutions to these problems?

Only yesterday I was watching some sort of bird of prey on the horizon. It was circling above a building.

After a few minutes I realised the bird is in fact a kite. The sort that’s suspended on the end of a string. You might call it a kite kite.

This kite kite’s purpose is presumably to stop birds from doing what they do on our balcony. What ended up on my father-in-law’s hands.

So, at least we’re making progress on that bird dropping problem… Alas, the kite kite was too far away to save my father-in-law though. And hammocks haven’t changed a bit.

It’s surprising how badly technology fails us, right? How many basic ancient problems it still hasn’t resolved.

I’ll stick with our building for another example.

Our letterbox is located at the opposite end of our building, in front of the wrong front door. When deliveries arrive, there’s no way of knowing where the delivery fellow is – which front door. A desperate game of cat and mouse usually ensues between us and the delivery man.

It’s bizarre that, in today’s age, our intercom doesn’t work well enough to talk to the delivery guy and that the letterbox is in the wrong place. Not to mention that the lifts have been broken for so many months now. And the place was only built in 2015.

It’s all so pathetic. So ridiculous. So unnecessary.

No doubt you can think of thousands of unnecessary problems you face each day. Things that take longer than they should, are harder than need be, should never happen, or could be done in a better way.

In my experience, unless you are Spanish, this is deeply irritating.

Why Spanish? I don’t know. But Spanish people seem to delight in inefficiency.

My Spanish auntie likes to walk past an identical supermarket on her way to buy groceries at the supermarket. She couldn’t explain why she does this when I asked her about it.

Use an automated ticket machine in front of a queue of Spanish bus goers and you’ll get looks of confusion from the passengers and the teller they’re all waiting for. It’s as if you’ve just skipped the queue by going to the available machine, while they all wait to chat about their children with the teller for minutes each.

But enough about the Spanish. It’s everyone else’s desire to make life more efficient that I want to focus on today. Because, in the end, all those inefficiencies will vanish. We’ll find ways to eliminate them. Even in Spain.

And our quest to eliminate the systemic nincompoopery all around us is about to hit an entirely new level. One simple tech innovation will radically alter what’s possible.

Imagine if all your devices could talk to each other. And react to the information they’d be giving each other.

Not just our devices, but many things that are currently classed as “inanimate objects” could suddenly become part of a network designed to make your life more convenient.

The groceries you buy, for example. It’s tough to manage use-by dates in the fridge. At least, I’m not very good at it. But what if my fridge warned me about them? In no uncertain terms, by suggesting what I should cook to avoid having to bin anything.

That tech already exists, sort of. But it’s not in our lives yet. Unless you’re a Silicon Valley tech genius willing to back untested tech. In which case you probably eat out.

Have you noticed that many new laptops don’t have ethernet cables? I found out the hard way.

Computer manufacturers simply assume you’ll connect to wireless networks now. They’re fast enough, after all.

For now, this has caused more of a problem than a solution for me. But once everything goes wireless and wireless works properly, it’s going to be a huge efficiency gain. Even health and safety will approve.

What if your rubbish bins took themselves out each week? Now I’ve got your attention!

The Covid-19 lockdown has highlighted just how plausible it is for many of us to work from home. The younger staff at Southbank Investment Research are especially convinced. This could solve transport problems by making them irrelevant.

Last summer we discovered a radiator behind a chest of drawers in our flat. It had been on all summer… If only it had told us – asked us whether it should be on given it was summer.

Consider the various savings if everyone in our building got their groceries delivered in the same batch. The carbon emissions, the time, the energy, the effort, the shopping trolley rage avoided.

What if our water meters could detect leaky taps and transmit alerts to plumbers to come and fix them? Well, I’ve seen the meters that can do all that.

What if those plumbers could gain access to our building with our transmitted permission instead of having to be there?

The efficiency gains for all these things could be immense. A serious improvement to our quality of life.  

Of course, they come with risks and learning curves. A few months ago, the electronic locks on our building locked us in when the exit buttons stopped working…

But all of the innovations I mentioned above are already possible. We just haven’t figured out how to co-ordinate them to make them happen in our day-to-day life. Or they’re still expensive and untested for wide rollouts.

But we will get them. They will happen.

Nick Hubble
Editor, Southbank Investment Research

Category: Technology

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