Monthly Archives: November 2010

The future of school meals: top 10 changes

Future school meals will probably have much in common with today’s, sadly, and I am not going into great detail in this entry about menus or nutrition and will make no attempt at all to be comprehensive. I will just list a few fun changes that lie ahead that result (mainly) from technology changes.

1 Augmented reality canteens

The world of tomorrow will be visually different, augmented reality playing a large part, with head up displays, video visors or even active contact lenses, allowing computer generated video and graphics to be put into the real word field of view. The canteen of today looks the same every day, but tomorrow, each day could be a new experience, with different themes of architecture, computer generated characters running around, and integration of games into the environment, to make lunchtime an exciting and stimulating experience

2 Multimedia food presentation

This will also allow school meals to become a full multimedia experience. Depending on what they have to eat, they would be shown various animations. The food could be made to look different, with kids competing with each other to force down plates of creepy crawlies or imaginary creatures, or seeing them in different colours. Games could be integrated easily, so that they have to hit a series of virtual targets on the plate to get points while they eat, or achieve a particular rhythm.

3 Enhanced foods

Nutritionally enhanced foods will be commonplace in the future. Scientists will understand far more about human genetics and will be able to add supplements to control a wide range of health conditions. But since different kids would be susceptible to different genetically related problems, foods will probably come in a range of options with lifestyle symbols to indicate the groups they are aimed at.  Kinds will wear a range of digital jewellery with wide range of electronic functionality. One of the functions would be to interact automatically with foodstuff selection, so that kids would see the best foods highlighted in their field of view.

4 Food manufacture, multilayer farms

As pressure increases both on land availability and food transportation distances, it is likely that some multi-layer farms will start up, especially around the edges of urban areas. They are really just multi-storey buildings that grow crops instead of housing offices or car parking. Each layer of such farms would use artificial lighting, powered by renewables elsewhere. This would enable fresh food to be grown very close to where it is needed. It will also be easier to ensure uniformity of nutrition, hydration and growth medium in such farms compared to conventional fields, and to control pests, so we should expect higher quality of foods, albeit probably also at higher cost.

5 Vegetarian meats are coming over the horizon thanks to technology progress in genetics and tissue culture. Today, some meat substitutes are made from soya and other plant derivatives, but genetics will increases the range and capability of plants to grow substances that can be used for higher quality meat substitutes. Similarly, tissue culture – making good progress already in medical field, will extend over time to provide a range of muscle tissues that can be grown in labs and later factories that have similar structures and textures to natural meats grown on actual animals. Although some vegetarians will still refuse to eat factory-produced meat even though no animals have been involved and therefore no cruelty, may will undoubtedly welcome such advances and start to eat vegetarian and factory-cultivated meats.

6 Electronic medilinks will be important accessories for many people in the far future. These will monitor health conditions by analysing blood pressure, heart activity, blood composition, nervous system activity and so on. They will be able to record and analyse some data and relay it if need be to distant clinics, possibly even to the authorities, insurance companies, or parents. Medilinks may be involved in school dinner provision. Perhaps pre-packed foods would be read by a child’s electronic equipment, using barcodes, snowflakes or RFID chips. Or smart trays would know which foods have been collected, and how much has been eaten, and could relay the appropriate data to the medilinks. Obviously they could alert kids or staff of any allergies or other conditions. The forms of medilinks could vary enormously, from deep implants, circuits printed on the skin surface, or jewellery such as ear studs or bracelets or rings, anything in contact with the skin. Some foods are known to contribute to a healthy diet, and others to detract from it. Most are needed in balanced proportions. By monitoring food intake closely, people can achieve a varied diet that is pleasant without compromising health, guided by information from their monitors and medilinks.

7 Local sourcing and community integration are becoming ever more important for food producers and suppliers. A lot of people now expect that their food should not have to travel too far and shop accordingly, but many also want to have more involvement in the production. They care about whether it uses genetically modified seeds, or non-organic fertilizers. The many people queuing for allotments may well be interested in virtual allotments too, i.e. paying a farmer to grow crops exactly according to their specification. And smart tractors using GPS can treat each part of a field differently. This would be an attractive option for people who want to eat better and more conscientiously but don’t have enough time or spare garden to grow their own.

8 Social media are already used for networking over lunchtime by almost all kids, but these will evolve quickly. Proximity comm-badges can communicate automatically with other nearby, swapping files according to context. Kids can swap favourite shows or music they just found, or synch their social schedules. Of course this can be done remotely, but it is more emotionally valuable when it is done in the context of physical closeness. But kids already use lots of games integrated into social media and it is obvious that this will extend into the canteen too, with augmented reality enabling avatars and electronic beings to be liberally sprinkled around, many of which would only be visible to pupils. So they could play lots of games without teachers knowing what they are doing.

9 Social skills tuition will be easily added into a canteen environment. I have argued for years that most of the stuff learned at school that is really useful to kids in the rest of their lives isn’t taught in the classroom but learned in the playground or canteen. Things like dealing effectively with other people, interpersonal skills, empathy, leadership, motivation… With AI and augmented reality  and social networking electronics liberally provided, teachers or staff could provide gentle guidance without anyone else knowing.

10 Calorie control is an obvious thing to want in a canteen. Of course, personal medilinks might be able to help, but they will probably be used only by people with health issues. For the rest, simple calorie counting could be achieved simply by using packaging that can easily be read by mobiles and, adding such data so it can be added at till when the child pays for the food. But technology can go much further. Today, we already have foods that are rearranged at molecular level so that our body can’t digest them, such as sugar with the sucrose molecules mirror reflections of natural sugar. We should expect with ongoing nanotechnology and genetic modification and factory assembly that many foods would be available with reduced calories to those kids that need them.

So, many changes ahead for school dinners. But we still won’t be able to make kids eat them if they don’t taste nice.

Paying for health, changes ahead

The web has enabled transformation of most industries to some degree. In effect, the whole range of mechanisms for provision of services of all kinds has been decomposed and rebuilt. However, it will take many years for all these potential changes to become in-reality and then to ripple through all organisations.

This is true in all industries, so we see an interesting dynamic where new companies enter a market using new technology and new techniques to compete head on with existing traditional institutions. These often rely on their corporate and political power, influence and sheer momentum for their survival while they start to adapt to changes that they realise will prove irresistible even for them. But they must adapt, or eventually die.

Healthcare is no exception. Resources are limited, while demand is accelerating due to increasing expectations driven by everyday experience in other areas of life. People expect to live longer and to be healthier. They expect drugs, technologies, and medical knowledge and expertise to progress continuously, and to be given access to it. If and where it doesn’t, people perceive it as a fault.

We are now approaching the limits of sustainability of such expectations. State resources can’t be increased significantly beyond overall economic growth and are of course likely to actually reduce in the short to medium term. The only mechanisms left to improve health care now are to make it more efficient, to do more with less via better technology, organisation structures, or to use other groups to increase the resources available beyond state funding.

Once we start to look beyond the state, we see much greater resource availability, of which individual desire to be healthy takes pole position, with the desire to also be financially secure also taking a strong place. Many people already spend heavily on sports for example, and they can make a valuable contribution to a healthy life. This links well to many other forms of self help, such as eating better food, do-it-yourself health care via web information, using self help groups for advice instead of doctors and so on. All these are natural derivatives of social web advances.

If people start to perceive a gap between what they want and what the state provides, then such groups are likely to fill it.

Life insurance pays out when people die, but the later that is, the longer they are able to receive interest on the money paid in. It is in the interests of life insurers also to underestimate longevity, since the charges they can levy depend on the perceived risk of dying in a particular year, which they overstate, so their charges may well be higher than they need to be. This presents an opportunity to cultivate a trust-based relationship in place of the standard adversarial one, beating them in brand loyalty, by giving more accurate information to customers where they are more used to being manipulated by skilful marketing. Pension providers perversely have an incentive to reduce life span for retired people, so can’t be expected to help with schemes to improve health for the elderly, but they do have a positive incentive to keep people in good health while they are working, and hence paying into schemes. If people die early, i.e long before they retire, then pensions often have to pay lump sums in excess of payments received, so it is this part of pensions industry that may be useful in addressing health care. So it is clear that the finance industry sometimes but not always has the best interests of the customer at heart, i.e. when they are aligned with their own.

Insurance gives an additional incentive for people to improve the care they take of their own health. Health insurance is already sometimes linked to membership of health clubs, but could also take account of supermarket purchases for a family. If however, social media were to continue to develop along the lines of the current online buying communities, then large social groups could start self-insuring themselves, removing the profit element and reducing cost, without the big brother aspects of policing via insurance company. Of course, if these groups make sure that they comprise members mainly with good attitudes to looking after their own health, then their costs would be lower than the population as a whole. This self-organising local finance has much in common with the roots of the old building society model, and assisted by people’s familiarity with the web, it may well come back in direct competition with established banks and finance companies.

There is also a natural synergy here with social network sites linking in to sports clubs. Engaging in sports generally improves health, but it also provides opportunities for social networking, and if these are made better using improving technology, more people may do more sports and keep fitter. Linking to self insurance communities, large groups of people could do what they can to keep in good health, reducing their health costs. Similarly, adding immersive gaming and entertainment can make sports such as running or cycling or other gym activity more fun at potentially little extra cost.

Artificial intelligence will play a big part in future health care too. Already expert systems play a key role in diagnosis, and many GPs can’t do as well on their own as an expert system. So today we have nurses on NHS Direct enabled to execute early stages of diagnosis and deciding with the computer whether a real GP is needed or not. In the future, as they get more used to AI, people may directly use online AIs without any perceived need to talk to a nurse or GP at all unless they need to get a prescription or treatment. Even that looks like to be increasingly outsourced to pharmacists, who could of course easily be copied in on any diagnostic process, and make up their own minds about the personal integrity and state of the patient needing the prescription. This could save a great deal of health costs. In fact, we may perceive various rings of care, with hospitals and clinics in the centre with expert staff, surrounded by technicians using AI, and then a large ring of self help groups, social networks, sports clubs and insurance companies all offering assistance, and of course many people will be able to find their problems via self diagnosis anyway, and frequent self treatment.

This will be highly incentivised by rationing of state provision. Regardless of party intentions, medical technology will become more and more powerful and demand will rise insatiably. People have to accept that they can only have some medical care provided by the state.

Social networks naturally care for people in their midst to some degree. Humans are tribal by nature. The degree to which on-line social networks fit this same anthropology is debated, but some social networks also relate to local geography, and these add a means of strengthening local community, enhancing bonds. As the social web continues to improve, and as positioning systems make the links to the physical world more tangible, so we should expect crystallisation of social networks into community networks too. These will provide an excellent platform for care in the community, ensuring that old and frail people can find local support, but only provided that the local society actually has the willingness available. Such networks can liberate the latent caring and willingness of communities, but cannot be expected to create it. Social health is quite a different matter from the technology support platform.

Similarly, home care can be helped enormously by having good networks, especially when coupled with webcams. People can video link with health workers or other people, reducing loneliness and providing care without the need to travel. This could make it much easier to provide independence and continuation of dignity as people age. Tomorrow’s older people will have aged in the background of technology availability and it will not so much possible as expected for them to access care and support using the network. They will not question being ‘fobbed off’ with cheaper net based solutions, but rather will treat them as the proper mechanism, and more likely resent it when they have to travel to access care when they know it could have been done more simply, cheaply and with less hassle across the net. Government and health providers should capitalise on this as far as possible to reduce costs. Insurers also may have some ability to force the use of such solutions, by only providing funding for the most cost effective care mechanism.

With all the economic pressures caused by rising health costs, increasing longevity and rising expectations of comfort, there is one major pressure on the system that is an internal social stress. Inter-generational conflict is highly likely to result if a younger generation sees that they are having to fund large gaps in the costs of an older generation compared to what they paid into the system,. With government forced to make cuts all over the economy, pressure groups are strongly resisting any reduction in the benefits already due to an ageing population that are actually far in excess of their payments into the system. Having voted for unaffordable benefits over the last decades, increasing longevity has greatly increased the value of them still further, especially pensions, but also health care costs. If government continues to defend such benefits to existing beneficiaries from erosion, and instead blocks future generations from receiving them, although they still have to fund them, this can only end in trouble. We should expect strong resistance from young people to funding costly benefits to which they are not themselves entitled. As yet, this realisation of the discrepancy between the benefits and costs accrued by different generations has not materialised. Indeed, the current demonstrations in France against pension age increase show surprising ignorance by the younger population, who appear to imagine that they will be spared from harsh reality themselves even though their retirements are many years away. All the demonstrators want future generations to pick up the bills, and of course that is also blatantly true here in the UK. But democracy is fragile, and requires that all sections of the population believe they are treated reasonably fairly. Ignorance of the degree to which younger people are currently being abused will not last, and the one-sided policies that substantially favour older people over younger people will not survive for long.

The nightmare scenario for inter-generational conflict is that if taxes rise too far to pay the deficit between payment in and benefits out for older people, then younger people who have good career options overseas may well take them, and as they leave, so do their taxes. It is not inconceivable that we could end up with a retirement home UK, with lots of expensive older people, and the less talented, and hence poorer, younger population, with a brain drain taking many of the best of the population elsewhere to less exploitative areas. That of course would be even less sustainable, all the more reason to prevent such a situation ever arising in the first place.

So there are many options for reducing the costs of health care, and in the background, other increasing pressures to do so. Health insurance companies have many options to work imaginatively with a well networked society for mutual benefit, and if they don’t bother to do so, then society will likely do so for itself via social entrepreneurs.

The battle to dominate the information world

It is an interesting time for the IT industry. After two decades of convergence, we are finally at the point where pretty much all IT companies are realising that they are pretty much in the same markets. With almost full convergence of TV and PCs, and now tablets making the missing link, expanding into books and magazines as well as games, we now have direct and very open competition between players who were in very different markets just a year or two ago. Some players saw it coming before others though, and have stolen early advantages. Actually, there are few surprises, many IT futurists such as me were writing about such convergence since the early 1990s and it is playing out pretty much as we thought – it was always pretty obvious that it could and would happen. So there is little excuse for not seeing it coming. They are simply guilty of complacency. Nevertheless, we are where we are, and there is a raging battle for supremacy, with huge industry players scrabbling for the low hanging fruit and already making ladders for the higher fruit too, even while some are just arriving in the orchard.

There is no shortage of commentary about who might or might not win or even survive, and in which areas, but here is my take on the various players, their credentials for world domination, and what their advantages and failings are.

Google – Google of course has a very full hand of cards but it seems unable to fully capitalise on them. They are still leading in search of course, but they seem mostly to use other forays to make more advertising opportunities rather than direct revenue, which may be a slightly limited strategy. But they have the makings of an unbeatable platform now, with android (25.5% of the market, second only to Symbian with 36.6%), maps, youtube, Google TV, ipTV, a good suite of cloud based office tools , open source expertise, positioning, augmented reality, very detailed knowledge of customer profiles, and now even entering the pad market. Even this morning’s news is no big surprise that they are entering yet another sector, electronic payments, and I imagine they may well succeed where Paypal has failed to capitalise, and even where it has. But they are earning an increasingly tarnished record on privacy and arrogant attitude to rights. And they are fighting big battles on several fronts, especially with Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and the media companies. It is certainly tough at the top, and they will need a great deal of skill to pull of their expansion on so many fronts. I haven’t written a lot about Google, we all know who they are and how much of a threat they present. But of all the players, I think like many people that they are by far the best placed. Score: 84/100

Facebook is also doing pretty well right now, but is making lots of mistakes, especially on security and privacy issues. They can claim as much data as Google on personal profiling, but this is probably heavily skewed to the core of more sociable people who use it enthusiastically. Many people see no significant role for Facebook in their lives, even people who use Google many times a day. Many of its users (like myself) rarely bother to access their accounts so any estimate of worth based on sheer numbers of users is likely to be too high. I maintain a Facebook account mainly because it saves time having to reject friending requests, but I very rarely use it. For many of Facebook’s users, the novelty of interacting frequently and maintaining often superficial relationships will wear off, even if it takes two or three years. While new people are joining, there will be a steady stream of enthusiastic members, but it is unsustainable in that regard and one day everyone will be familiar with the various offerings and they won’t have much novelty value. Then Facebook and other intense social networking sites will go into terminal decline. Facebook will soon peak, and they must milk their position now to expand into area with better longevity, or they will not be a serious player in the long term battles. Currently, they simply have too few areas of expertise. Of course people can execute searches and other services from their Facebook page, but if it loses its strength as an anchor, it has no real advantage over any other site that also gives access to such functions, via Google for instance. Their latest venture to provide an email service in direct competition with gmail will be interesting. It might possibly help to add retrospective foundations that slow the drift away and help lock in new subscribers. It is a little too early to call its success but it is still only part of a suite, and comments by its CEO that email is too slow and informal betray a dangerous lack of understanding of why email is successful and why not everyone prefer instant messaging. Score: 65/100

ebay – ebay is a sad story of missed potential. It had so much promise, but underestimated the value and power of its resources until they became commoditised and devalued. When they bought Skype, and already owned Paypal, many of us in IT looked and were worried, especially given the enormous trust-based community they had cultivated so well. They were perfectly positioned to launch a world wide electronic payments system, making huge roads into retailing, travel, banking, telecomms, content distribution, renewable energy distribution, and even social structuring. At the time, the world was ripe for such a move but they totally missed it. They later offloaded Skype at a big loss – it should have multiplied in value under them when keyed in to their other assets. ebay a few years ago was in a better position than Google are now, if only they had had a good leadership team. But they hadn’t and they didn’t and now they are back to being just a pretty good auction company, with few other avenues for expansion. I love ebay, it is a great company, but it blew its chance of world domination badly. Score: down from 85/100 to 40/100

Microsoft – Microsoft has much in common with Google, they operate in many of the same areas, but they differ greatly in their approaches. When Microsoft sets its mind to it, as with the xbox360, it can do a wonderful job, and it makes acceptable products across a wide range, but all to often its other services and products leave users with a feeling that they don’t really understand networking or security, and consequently leave a lot of dangerous holes in their software. They are not as frantic as Google, preferring to take their time to identify and penetrate areas that they think are important, but although that sometimes leaves them follwoing rather than leading, it is also a safe strategy provided they can manage to gear up when need be. Their core strength has always been in PC operating systems, and they have had limited success trying to stretch it to other platforms such as mobiles, smart phones, or TV. There is no reason to suspect they will suddenly be able to get that sorted. However, games are likely to be a key convergence attractor over the next decade. Augmented reality will need maps and positioning technology, and good search, and they should be able to cope, but really key to making AR take off is the ability to use gesture recognition, fingertip tracking, and be able to manipulate 3d virtual environments, adding virtual characters and avatars to the everyday world. There are few players who can compete with them in that other than Sony, and Facebook and Google would take a long time to catch up. So at least in augmented reality, Microsoft starts out with a very strong position. Operating in 3d virtual environments should also give them a good position in the convergence with TV and film industry as it becomes more interactive. So even though they are an old company, Microsoft still holds a few aces, and with their cash cows in the background, will certainly be around for a good while yet, long enough to figure out how to do social networking, media distribution, and maybe even auctions. Score: 80/100

Apple – Apple is also doing very well at the moment, but perhaps too well. They are building a dangerous level of arrogance which may lead them to crash eventually and is certainly building a list of enemies, so I wouldn’t back them as a long term winner. They have made some excellent new products since their first ipod success, and their latest range of ipad, iphone, ipod, and airbook are very good indeed. But not unbeatable. They also have a strong record in media distribution with iTunes, which they hope to extend to ipTV. But like Google, they are fighting battles on several fronts already. With their content distribution, they seem to want to own a popular walled garden, but people generally don’t like those, they want to access whatever they want, so they will only use a walled garden as part of an overall package. Apple have also often been accused of being a high price option, and sometimes are certainly guilty of under-specification in their products, so their products are quite beatable too. Recently, they have also shown a willingness to censor, and to block other formats such as Flash media. Patent rows on other fronts add together to be quite a range of conflicts that will inevitably sap resources and impede their progress. Apple has also recently shown a complacency in security. They had a good history because their operating systems were quite well designed, but much of their success in avoiding viruses and other attacks is probably down to low market share compared to other PCs. You can’t become a monopoly without losing a minority position, so eventually they would become a prime target. So, they have a few things against them. But, they sell well for good reason and are unlikely to trip any time soon. They have a good chance of winning some battles, and have a core loyal group who will stick with them. So they will certainly survive, but their chances of world domination are only fair to middling. Score: 60/100

News Corporation – Rupert Murdoch established a great empire, and showed himself to be a shrewd and proficient businessman, but inevitably age forced a handover of control of the Empire to a younger but much less certain chief. The News Corp media and content empire has a lot of strengths, and in recent years has made some success in getting into adjacent areas such as telecomms. But it suffers from high pricing, an arrogant attitude to the marketplace, demonstrated belated understanding of the web, and slow adoption of new technologies. It also shows weak understanding of the future of the corporate relationship with customers, no doubt based on a long and successful history, but in the IT world, historical success can be an impediment. News Corp demonstrates a simplistic, capitalist exploitation model that is already dated and will soon become a barrier to their development. The world is changing fast, and in spite of keeping up in some areas such as HD and 3D,  they seem stuck in the past in many ways. They seem still to believe that they can force the world back to old-time business models, but they are a big fish in a very big ocean, and will eventually have to accept that the market they dominated no longer really exists. The Myspace venture made a big loss, and their attempt to try to force the whole industry into charging for news online has failed miserably – they have a pitiful number of subscribers and have sold much of their influence and brand loyalty for pennies, hardly a shrewd move. They will use their existing size and momentum to attempt to penetrate new markets to some degree, but are not one of the stronger players now. Score 35/100

Virgin – Virgin plays in many diverse fields, from wedding dresses and space travel to banking, TV, broadband and telephony, holidays and airlines. For many years, it typically tried to play underdog but sometimes high price levels and cavalier attitudes to quality of service undermined that position. However, recently it has matured somewhat and competes just like any other company. Its current strategy seems to be sound and it shows good promise, hence increases in its share price. Its basket of phone/broadband and cable TV competes well and is growing fast in the UK. But in the whole IT space it still is a fairly small fish in just one pond, and its non-IT plays don’t link well so it has a lack of internal synergy between the various wings. It should be expected to do reasonably well and to survive, but although growing well in the UK, it isn’t a serious contender for worldwide IT world domination. Score 25/100

Other cable companies, content providers. Many cable companies are recovering from disastrous early plays, but there is massive competition within the sector and that will prevent most of them from entering other areas. There is also a lack of vision in the sector, with the exception of Virgin, perhaps because this internal conflict is keeping them focused too much on  immediate threats. But whatever the cause, cable companies show little prospect of colonising other areas of IT than immediately adjacent offerings. Although there are very many companies in the cable sector, it is possible to link most together and give a combined score of 20/100

Amazon – Amazon was one of the biggest early winners in the web and is still going very strong. Keeping its position and strength in its core business, it has gradually and cautiously expanded into area that form natural neighbours, such as other retailing, e-books, music and video distribution. It has also managed to keep a very good image, avoiding the arrogance of many other players, and has a high level of trust with customers.With its very successful Kindle device, it can proceed to attack many of the most lucrative parts of the pad market, and of course it also forms the ideal convergence point for the electronic magazine industry, which has been desperately looking for solutions to their otherwise imminent  demise as people buy less paper. Although it is strong in selling computer games, and other retail, it is not becoming a producer of any of these, and seems content to leave many areas to other competitors. In other companies, this would be a strategic error and a major threat, but because it is so strong in an important sector, where it looks pretty unbeatable, Amazon needs not worry, and can afford to stay cosy. They seem content not to take over the world, provided they are left alone to run a significant part of it. But their core strengths, presence and unmatched ability to avoid making big errors in security, privacy or all-out war with competitors, that does however make them a good contender if ever they want to. Score 70/100

RIM – Research in Motion, source of the Blackberry, is of course renowned for dramatically changing countless lives by making it easy and intuitive to do email on the go. With web and mobile access generally, they are in a strong position, but they have many many competitors in that field and every small error is used by competitors to steal market share. But so far they are still there with good product offerings.  It is very hard to see them going much beyond the mobile market for now. They might cope in pads, and might even manage once augmented reality come on stream, but they are currently heading downhill in terms of overall share of a rapidly growing pie. They are in real danger of being swallowed or simply left for dead as the bigger players mop up their bits of the market. Score 15/100

Nokia – phones. Nokia is the undisputed king of mobile history, but is now struggling to adapt to a new world that isn’t focused on mobile phones any more, that they didn’t appear to see coming till it was too late. The Symbian platform has 36.6% of the market so is still market leader, but that is down from 44.6% last year, with Google’s Android quickly growing to over 25% in the same period. They are right to be worried. Nokia has a reasonable strategy, cultivating good relationships and expensing core strengths, but they are not as fast to realise the potential as some of the others, and not as agile in responding either. They certainly are technically good and also have a very good understanding of the importance of good customer relationships, intuitive interfaces and social networks. But they are simply too late into new product areas such as pads, and really didn’t respond well as it became clear that IT fields were converging, so they will now be playing catch up from far too constrained current position, and look unlikely to ever recover their previous dominance. Symbian in particular is looking increasingly likely to be an historically important platform, in spite of being leader today. Quite simply, the aces are now held by other players and Nokia will have to be content with a reasonable share of a bit of the market. Score: 35/100

Tesco – Tesco is one example of a long list of other companies that have good relationships with large numbers of customers, and use that as a springboard to market themselves into other areas. Since there are so many companies trying just that, it means that the sector of the market that is open to such forays is already overpopulated. What it does guarantee though is a little bit of competition in the background to keep activity reasonably brisk. Each such company is local to a particular region, so there are no strong global players in this role. Where services are local too, they will offer significant but not major competition, but will remain largely irrelevant on the global scale across the whole convergence sector. Score: 10/100

Chip makers such as Intel, ARM, AMD, etc. These companies have a very good position supplying chips to many of  the other key players and are unlikely to want to move too far away from this very cosy territory. But they could if they wanted to. It would be possible to eradicate conventional OS solutions for example, by incorporating them into chipsets, and the same with application software. A very low cost, very secure solution is enabled by using firmware for such things in place of disks or volatile memory. Using a cloud for data storage and provision of more frivolous apps would work well. So although there is no need for them to migrate yet, and no sign that any will make the move, this sector is actually in a very good position to rebuild the entire foundations of the industry, changing the whole business model structure for all the rest. So in spite of lack of any signs of current megalomania from this part of the industry, it poses a very strong potential risk, and should not be ignored. Score: 70/100

Sony, Ericsson, BT… There are many niche players in the market, some with strong regional presence, such as BT, who are weak internationally, and some such as Sony who are globally present in several market niches and have good customer loyalty, and yet other such as Ericsson who are present weakly in some markets and strong in others, such as Bluetooth chips. These all have in common that they are relatively small fish compared to many of the other players as far as domination of the information world goes. Some exist only because of their history giving them enough momentum and reserves to keep them going a while longer, and could not really have emerged otherwise as fresh companies in today’s world. They are not to be written off as companies, but equally cannot be considered serious competition for position of master of the universe. Collective score: 10/100

New entrants: Some of the players above didn’t even exist a decade ago. There are more people emerging from education every year with deep personal understanding of their information dominated world and lots of imagination and entrepreneurial drive. This race has no start line and no finish line, and new players will frequently emerge and take key positions. The biggest asset they will have by far is the size of the opposition, whihc makes them more entrenched and sluggish than a new entrant, which is free to identify any type of play, any weakness to target, and can catch the existing market by surprise. Of course, there are numerous potential roles and I will not speculate in this entry as to what they might be – I’ll leave that for another time. But of all the players likely to be emporer or empress in 10 years time, this one is towards the front of the pack. Score 80/100

All others: score 1/100

And I totally forgot: comments below

Student protests

So students are protesting. Before the violence appeared later, “about time” was the first thought that crossed my mind. What took them so long? I of course totally condemn the violence that erupted later, but I fully support the peaceful protest.

In my view, it is morally wrong to hand debts accrued by today’s adult generations onto those who are now still children, and who don’t yet even have a vote. Our children played no part in economic mismanagement or adult greed that created this mess, and should not be made to carry the burden of fixing it. They certainly should not have the debt imposed on them without their consent.

Of course, politicians are presenting it rather differently, as making kids pay for their own education because it gives them enhanced prospects later, and therefore perfectly fair. That severely disturbs the balance of reward between the state and the individual. Of course, the country cannot survive unless many people choose to do degrees, and historically, most people wanted to get them because they got more interesting better paid work as a result, so there is benefit to both sides, and the costs might therefore also be shared, reasonably. But since higher earners pay more tax, graduates always have contributed far more into the education system than others, due to their higher average salaries.

It was balanced, but now that balance is threatened. We need well educated professionals now more than ever, and we should not discourage aspirations to become one by taxing such roles more heavily, which is what in effect is being proposed. An effective tax rate of 45% until they are 50 is not much of an incentive to become an engineer rather than a tube driver, policeman or yet another administrator. Yet most of the value add in our modern world ultimately derives from science and engineering, so with fewer of them, our economy will have less money to pay the bills, and the extra taxes will prove to be a false economy. We will also then be forced to import more people to fill the gaps, worsening overpopulation.

So I hope the students win. They are fighting for the generations of students coming after them, and for the principle that debt should not be handed on to our descendants, who have no say in the matter.

There are wider issues here too . If debt is handed down to a generation who had nothing to do with its creation, they will resent the older generations and less willing to fund holes in their pensions funds as longevity increases and makes them bigger. By creating obvious discrepancies between the rewards available to different generations and the costs to be paid by them, intergenerational conflict will inevitably result. In a struggling economy, we need the population to work together, not to create internal conflicts.

Another issue is that government is creating a tax system that rewards some career paths better than others instead of simply taxing according to ability to pay. Those who choose to become entrepreneurs, TV presenters, sportsmen or many other careers that pay well but don’t necessarily need degrees, will pay relatively less tax than those filling jobs of at equal value to the economy, but which require people to spend three or four extra years in poverty while working extremely hard for a degree. We need entrepreneurs, but we also need the well qualified professionals who will staff the key jobs in their enterprises. One is of no use without the other.

The government is right to tackle the debt crisis bequeathed to them, but this is not the way to do it. There was already a good balance of reward and payment between state and individual, and it will be destroyed, creating division and conflict, and it will certainly prove a false saving if it disincentives higher education.