Archive for February, 2013

“I’ve seen incredible things. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”


The GE commercial played in the background, but something about those first lines resonated. Where had I heard them before? Turns out the lines are part of an advertising campaign called “Brilliant Machines”. In a promotional piece called “Pushing the Boundaries of Minds + Machines” they say:

The world is on the threshold of a new era of innovation and change with the rise of the Industrial Internet. It is taking place through the convergence of the global industrial system with the power of advanced computing, analytics, low-cost sensing and new levels of connectivity permitted by the Internet. The deeper meshing of the digital world with the world of machines holds the potential to bring about profound transformation to global industry, and in turn to many aspects of daily life, including the way many of us do our jobs. These innovations promise to bring greater speed and efficiency to industries as diverse as aviation, rail transportation, power generation, oil and gas development, and health care delivery. It holds the promise of stronger economic growth, better and more jobs and rising living standards, whether in the US or in China, in a megacity in Africa or in a rural area in Kazakhstan.

Who’s speaking? Who’s saying those things? Who is the “I” who has “seen things”? It’s a non-human, an android–a non-human machine that is meant to simulate a human machine.

I’ve seen things. I have a past, a memory. This thing I’m seeing now I’ve put into the context of all the things I’ve seen during my life. I’ve seen things that aren’t me. These things are separate from me; they coexist with me inside some larger ecological space. That thing we used to call the world. I’ve seen things. I’ve seen incredible things. Things so rare. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.

I wonder if GE, in telling the beginning of the story of ‘Brilliant Machines’, wanted to foreshadow the end of these same brilliant machines? It finally came to me, the line from the commercial resonated with Roy’s “Tears in the Rain” speech from Bladerunner.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.
Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.
I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate.
All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Time to die.

Stacks have no Outside


It was a quote that rolled by on Twitter the other day:

“Don’t skate to where the puck is going to be, skate to where hockey is going to be invented.”

While the speaker probably intended this to be a sign of energy and a singular commitment to disrupt the status quo with a completely new technology, I took it as a signal of a bubble that was about to burst. In the previous dot com era, there was the joke:

“If you don’t come in on Saturday, don’t bother coming in on Sunday.”

The fiction was created that one’s work is one’s life and that the two never need be in balance because they are one and the same. The current saying about hockey implies that if you are smart enough and work hard enough you can create a paradigm shift in the way technology is used and the way people live. You can create a new kind of game.

In 2008, Steve Jobs discussed how he viewed changes in the technology landscape:

“Things happen fairly slowly, you know. They do. These waves of technology, you can see them way before they happen, and you just have to choose wisely which ones you’re going to surf. If you choose unwisely, then you can waste a lot of energy, but if you choose wisely it actually unfolds fairly slowly. It takes years.”

In 1848, the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in Northern California unleashed the largest migration of people in the history of the United States. What no one told those would-be gold diggers was that by 1850 all of the surface gold was gone. Only the large mining companies using hydraulic water cannons were still able to extract gold from the hills.


Today’s version of the large mining company is what Bruce Sterling calls a Stack. These are the ecosystems that have staked out large sections of the Internet from which they can extract gold.

A Stack doesn’t have to “break the Internet” to do this; it just has to set up the digital equivalent of a comprehensive family farm, so that the free-range cowboys of the Electronic Frontier are left with crickets chirping and nothing much to do. A modern Stack will leverage stuff that has never been “Internet,” such as mobile devices, cell coverage and operating systems.

In order to become a “Stack,” or one of the “Big Five” — Amazon Facebook Google Apple Microsoft — you need an “ecosystem,” or rather a factory farm of comprehensive services that surround the “user” with fences he doesn’t see. Basically, you corral Stack livestock by luring them with free services, then watching them in ways they can’t become aware of, and won’t object to. So you can’t just baldly sell them a commodity service in a box; you have to inveigle them into an organized Stack that features most, if not all, of the following:

An operating system, a dedicated way to sell cultural material (music, movies, books, apps), tools for productivity, an advertising business, some popular post-Internet device that isn’t an old-school desktop computer (tablets, phones, phablets, Surfaces, whatever’s next), a search engine, a dedicated social network, a “payment solution” or private bank, and maybe a Cloud, a private high-speed backbone, or a voice-activated AI service if you are looking ahead. Stack cars, Stack goggles, Stack private rocketships optional.

The goal of a Stack is to eliminate the outside. Once inside the Stack, there should be no outside of the Stack. The horizon of possibility is defined by the Stack. With the twist that the horizon should appear unlimited. The Stack is a place where you should believe that you could skate to where hockey is going to be invented.