1/ In the parable of technology that is The Fly, there are two sides to the technology: controlled teleportation and uncontrolled gene-splicing.
2/ In the beginning, the technology's designed purpose as a teleportation machine is front-and-center, 99% of what the characters are thinking/talking about.
3/ We see the fly entering the machine, unnoticed, with Grundle. It is an ominous foreshadowing of the unintended function: as a gene-splicer.
4/ By the middle, of course, teleportation is entirely forgotten, it is the gene-splicing function that dominates the plot. How do we apply this parable to IT?
5/ By the Carlotta Perez model, we are just at the end of the installation wave of IT transformation. That certainly didn't go as planned.
6/ Traditional IT professionals, schooled in the IBM way and mainframes thought they'd remain in charge, overseeing measured "adoption" of technologies.
7/ What actually happened was that vast public cloud infrastructure, SaaSy reinvention of every IT function, and consumerization of IT reshaped entire sectors.
8/ In the process, corporate IT saw its role shrink drastically, with power shifting to "digital native" disruptor companies, vendors, the CMO office, and other loci.
9/ Still, that wasn't too bad. It was still computer experts doing things with computers to run business-as-usual processes in recognizable ways in recognizable sectors.
10/ Though the infrastructure has changed dramatically, traditional functions like marketing, sales, HR, IT and engineering are still visible in the new topology.
11/ The tech landscape right now is like Seth Grundle at the end of the first act. Still mainly thinking in "teleportation" terms, just getting a clue about the gene-splicing.
12/ We are on the cusp of the deployment wave of technology, where the vast potentialities of the infrastructure laid down in the installation wave are being unleashed.
13/ This is the part of the movie where the "gene splicing" effects start to dominate the "teleportation" effects. Where Seth Grundle's rationalizations start to fail.
14/ Like Grundle, we're clueless. All we know is: powerful institutions have a certain vision of the future, and there's a fly in the machine they think will get them there.
15/ A typical "vision of the future" is like Grundle's teleportation dreams. The key adjective seems to be "smart." Smart cities, smart grids, smart fridges.
16/ Listening to the chatter in the IT commentariat class, you get this sense that a lot of tech watchers are simply projecting what they want to happen onto technology.
17/ The technology set is widely recognized. The Big 4 are machine learning (deep learning in particular), blockchain, VR/AR and IoT (Internet of Things).
18/ But recognition and labels are not the same thing as understanding and control. Just because Grundle named the thing a teleportation machine didn't mean squat.
19/ Most commentators haven't actually looked into the DNA of the Big 4. They just use words with no interest in what they signify. They haven't noticed the fly.
20/ They simply imagine the future they want, and throw on a couple of phoned-in elements based on a superficial gloss of the Big 4 technologies.
21/ They think the Big 4 constitute a teleportation machine that will simply transport them to the specific utopia they want, with the nature of the tech being irrelevant.
22/ Progressive neo-urbanists think the Big 4 will create just, clean, green cities. Libertarians think the Big 4 will create a brave decentralized, anti-urban landscape.
23/ The pessimists are equally bad. To labor pessimists and political reactionaries, the Big 4 are the four horsemen of the neoliberal apocalypse.
24/ For pessimistic cryptoanarchists, an ominous cyber-crypto surveillance state is trying to kill the future, and they'd rather burn it all down than let "The Man" have it.
25/ What they all share is disinterest, bordering on indifference, on the alien nature of the new technology, and a lack of curiosity about what it's actually doing.
26/ The "true nature" of the Big 4 includes a "fly" aspect in the deployment wave transformation "machine" that almost nobody is paying attention to.
27/ In the logic of the "smart city" narrative, the blockchain, for example, is just a word to throw into glossy brochures. It doesn't have to make any sense.
28/ Drivers licenses on the blockchain! VR for public school classrooms! AR for city workers inspecting sewage pipes! Buggy whips with IoT RFID chips!
29/ In the examples above it is fairly obvious why each of the specific ideas is problematic (the last one is a joke). If you can't see why, you haven't thought hard enough.
30/ I'll do one and leave the rest as homework: "drivers licenses on the blockchain" is dubious because driverless cars might make drivers licenses moot.
31/ The point is the Big 4 aren't some sort of passive buffet of individual IT toys you can pick and choose and compose into your chosen utopia.
32/ No, they constitute the DNA of an entire wave of technology, with much of the logic of what they will do being a function of unknown/unpredictable interactions.
33/ Fred Pohl: "A good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam." It's a line I've quoted before in these newsletters.
34/ The Fly is a perfect example of a complex "traffic jam", which is why it is a good sci-fi story. Much better than a lot of the more stylish and famous 80s movies.
35/ The "traffic jam" was the gene-splicing aspect of the tech running into the teleport aspect. The result was an unrecognizable new kind of entity.
36/ What happens when "blockchain" runs into IoT (driverless cars being a piece of IoT)? The incoherence of "drivers licenses on the blockchain" is just the beginning.
37/ This is one reason I don't play the prediction game with technology, though I do track it and keep up fairly closely. By the time prediction is useful, it is too late.
38/ So what can you do instead? The trick, I believe, is to scan and collect "traffic jams" that might be important from each new glimpse of the future.
39/ Take the Pokemon Go experience. A "traffic jam" I noted was its interaction with self-segregated topographies of urban environments.
40/ In the US, white and black people wandered where they wouldn't normally go, into each others' neighborhoods. Groups of women went where they wouldn't venture.
41/ Urban microcultures and moods collided. Fun-seekers disturbed mourners at funerals. Tourists ignored local attractions to seek out local Pokemon.
42/ My nephew visited me in Seattle for the first time last year. As far as I am concerned, he barely saw Seattle. He did collect a lot of rare Pokemon though.
43/ The point of this is, you may not be able to predict the future, but you can file away one potential "traffic jam" to validate in the future: "AR causes geo-cultural mixing/churn conflicts"
44/ Another thing to look for is what I like to call "found design fiction" (by analogy to found art), where you notice little combinations and patterns of deployment.
45/ Design fiction is an imagined piece of the future, like say a bicycle in 2075 that tries to embody ideas about the future implicitly rather than explicitly.
46/ For example, if you think 2075 will be a post-climate-change hellscape, your design fiction bicycle might be a 4-wheel climate controlled vehicle.
47/ If you think 2075 will be a post-scarcity utopia where material possessions are obsolete, your 2075 bicycle might be an unsecured/unlocked piece of public property.
48/ What I call "found design fiction" is stuff already lying around ("the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed" ==> some future stuff is lying around).
49/ An example is cryptocurrency. It is fashionable among tech watchers to signal their sophistication by saying they are more into "blockchain" than cryptocurrencies.
50/ It may well be the case that blockchains, conceptualized as distributed general ledgers for all sorts of contracts and weird things, are bigger than just "currencies."
51/ Yet, the fact that the possibilities of distributed computing, cryptography and proof-of-work first came together to form a "currency" is not insignificant.
52/ So one found-design-fiction hypothesis might be: "every innovation in cryptographic distributed computing will first be used to develop a currency-like instrument."
53/ This sort of thing is always the case. For example, it is widely recognized that one of the first uses of any technology is usually pornography.
54/ Narrative "traffic jam" and "collision" fragments and found design fiction form a fragmentary base layer that should underlie your thinking about the future.
55/ Bad futurists tend to stay focused on "big" future scenario narratives like "Brave new world of city states." Bad artists tend to stay focused on the fragment level.
56/ Good futurists and artists tend to switch back and forth between the big scenario narratives and the base layer of little collision fragments and "found design fictions.
57/ Going back to The Fly as parable, all technological change is always gene-splicing. It is never a simple "teleportation" to your utopia.
58/ Gene-splicing is a great metaphor because it underlines the fact that technology change is a chicken-egg loop between micro and macro. Scenarios and fragments.
59/ (Aside: iirc, "narrative fragment" is a term of art in Dave Snowden's Cynefin model, which is one of the better frameworks for thinking about the future)
60/ What good trend and context navigation mental models, such as Cynefin, Wardley Maps, and "superforecasting" do, is really force you to think at both levels.
61/ In a way the specifics of the tools don't matter. Pick your favorite tools, make up your own, or mash some up. The key is to swing between fragments and wholes.
62/ Gall's law is a good guide to this swinging: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.
63/ The reason swinging back and forth from fragments to wholes is a good idea is that is the only way you can watch Gall's law's effects unfolding in real-time.
64/ The found design fiction and traffic jams are the "working simple systems". The "working complex system" is your iteratively refined description of the emerging future.
65/ That way, you won't be entirely future shocked by the FutureFly as it takes shape, and have a few things to bet on, even if you can't predict the shape of the whole.