The problem with the future is, its coming up behind you. You can never be quite sure how far away it is, and you can never be quite sure whether it will sweep you up with it, sweep by and leave you behind, or just run right over you.
Over at the Motley Fool recently they ran this snippet from an old copy of Newsweek. From February 1995.
In it one Newsweek journalist opined,
“Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries, and multimedia classrooms… [They say] we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure. The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper…
“We’re promised instant catalog shopping — just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?”
As the Motley Fool says, “It all seemed so laughable at the time. Unless you were a 14 year-old.”
Amazon was barely six months old when that article was written. Ebooks were slightly more than a figment of a 14 year-old’s imagination, but not by much.
How times change.
And how they will change again.
No matter how improbable some things seem right now, the fact is nothing is set in stone, and the future takes no prisoners.
We talk here a lot about changes ahead. Seismic changes. Tectonic shifts.
But it all seems so unreal.
Let’s ignore the future and spend our time pointlessly taking sides in the Amazon-Hachette dispute instead. Or fire off another round of tweets denouncing that stupid publisher than ten years ago sent us a rejection letter. Or spamming everyone with yet another Facebook campaign saying “Buy My Book!”.
Meantime the future just keeps on happening.
The Motley Fool were using the Newsweek report to make a point about the Internet of Things (IoT). Obviously the Fool’s take was what is in it for investors. And the numbers they are talking about are quite breathtaking.
But the rewards to investors will only come if the companies being invested in are hugely successful in the real world. And the real world is where we indies live and where we indies make a living.
The Internet of Things is going to radically change our existence.
We don’t need to have the faintest idea about what the Internet of Things might be to grasp that the world around is changing by the day.
The ebook world of 2007 when the Kindle first launched is as different from today as 2007 was to 1995.
We indies can sit back and let the future steamroller right over us. We can sit back and watch the future sweep by us and leave us behind. Or we can be part of it.
We know where we want to be.
The future is already here. The next ten years are going to totally transform our lives. Be ready for anything.
Cybermed, for instance. That is to say, actual medical care (care, not advice) administered over the internet.
As we’ve said before recently, we are fast approaching a tipping point as the IoT moves from geeky science fiction to mainstream reality. And it is at once the most exciting, but also the most scary, development in the history of mankind.
Most of you will be familiar with the new trend in “wearables” – fancy little wristbands and the like that monitor blood pressure and heart rate, for example.
But these are just gimmicky applications getting the public used to the idea of biotech monitoring. What comes next is where the exciting – and scary – bit comes in.
This article on VentureBeat today is well worth reading for a rough idea of the way biotech is going. Google, Samsung and Apple are particularly well-advanced with this.
The VentureBeat article mentions the pending iWatch from Apple and what it might offer. We suspect VentureBeat are being a little conservative and Apple’s variant will be even more spectacular than is suggested here. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, also sits on the board of Nike, and Apple and Nike have been working closely together for a while. Anyone thinking Nike just makes expensive trainers for teens needs to catch up with the real world!
Amazon? Amazon has just this month been in secretive discussion with the FDA, and lately head-hunted the guy behind Google Glass, so a safe bet Amazon is about to jump on this bandwagon.
Hey, show us a bandwagon and we’ll show you Jeff Bezos jumping!
One of the key distinctions between an e-commerce company like Amazon and a tech company like Apple or Google is innovation. The last serious innovation we saw from Amazon was in selling print books on-line. Since then Amazon has led the way in taking ideas developed by others and using them for its own ends. The Kindle and ebooks are a classic example. Notwithstanding the complete flop that is the Fire phone, Amazon generally do these things with a spectacular flourish (again, the Kindle is a great example), so it will be interesting to see what they are looking at next.
But Amazon is way, way behind when it comes to the Internet of Things. And whether its cybermed or any other branch of the next generation of internet development, the one safe bet is what Amazon does will be geared to one end: Amazon. We’ll explore in a future post why this is a particularly scary scenario.
But let’s stick with the IoT for now.
In a related post on VentureBeat there is a report on how Intel have just unveiled the world’s smallest wireless modem for the IoT. Yes, only geeks may have heard of it, but the IoT is already big, big business. The Internet of Things European Research Centre estimates that currently there are 80 items a second being connected to the Internet of Things.
And the IoT hasn’t even left the starting grid.
The Solidworks blog, way back in February of this year () estimated that by 2020 – just six years away – there will be 100 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things. No, not smartphones and tablets and laptops, but everyday devices like your coffee machine, your garage door, your car’s back seat, your packet of breakfast cereal…
It’s called the Internet of Things for a reason. And the impact on our lives is going to be breathtaking in its scope.
We’ll explore in detail in future posts the myriad ways in which the IoT is going to impact on literature, publishing and indie authors, but here’s just a teaser of what the future has in store for us.
Hugh Howey’s latest post asks why Amazon cannot provide us with data about how far a reader has read a book, at what chapter they gave up, etc. Basic data Amazon will have from every live-linked (as opposed to side-loaded) device, be it a Kindle device or one using a Kindle app.
Like most sci-fi writers, Howey is way behind the times when it comes to science reality. :-)
Never mind how many pages a reader got through. What about how much the reader’s adrenalin pumped when they got to that scary scene in your zombie holocaust novel? Or how their pulse rate quickened when they got to that sex-scene in your erotica novel?
Did they all but fall asleep reading that long, boring description of your new fantasy world you’ve created, which you just had to spell out in the first chapter instead of drip-feeding amid the action? Did they switch the TV on halfway through another chapter and have one eye on the TV screen and the other on your book, trying to decide which was more interesting? And what were they watching anyway?
Did they pause half-way through to tell someone how much they were enjoying this book? Did they speak to them, tweet them or what? What exactly did they say? Your tweets are already public knowledge. Your emails may not be so public, but are hardly private. Voice recognition is already well-advanced – who’s to say your next-generation device won’t be relaying back your every conversation?
The IoT is potentially George Orwell’s worst nightmare come true.
But back to those readers and the data Howey wants. Er, Hugh, Data Guy’s gonna need a bigger boat!
Did they read it at home on the couch, or on a bus? In the dentist’s waiting room or on the subway? Did they make an extra-strong espresso to make sure they stayed awake to finish the book? Or was it a Diet Coke or a full-sugar Pepsi? Chilled or room temperature? From the can or in a glass?
The IoT will know these things. Devices will talk to each other. It’s called the Internet of Things for a reason.
Perhaps more importantly, did the character in your book drinking that particular brand of coffee or that particular cocktail, or travelling off to that particular exotic location, entice the reader to click on the link? What link? By 2020 most novels will be full of discreet advertising links – that’s how most of us will be paid, not by royalties.
And never mind links, you can be sure if you lingered on that page where that particular brand of coffee was drank you’ll be getting a mail-shot from a retailer offering you a great deal on coffee, and if the book was set in Tahiti you’ll be inundated with ads from holiday firms asking you if you want to experience the real thing.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
By 2020 indie authors will be competing with robot-written novels with perfect spelling and grammar, simultaneously translated into as many different languages as need be, and yes, if we are honest, they will be pretty good.
Easy to say no robot can ever reproduce a fine work of art, but try telling that to the chess players who used to say no computer could ever beat a Grand Master.
And of course most novels are not fine works of art.
Pretty much every novel out there is a re-working of an existing theme or idea, and especially in the age of indie ebooks many are little more than dire quality first drafts. Most series are simply the same characters and same situations with a few name changes and tweaks here and there. That’s what most series are about, after all. Comfort reading, not originality. Comfort reading, not Shakespearean drama.
Try looking at Wikipedia and working out which posts are written by a human and which are bot-written. The number of bot-written posts on Wiki is staggering. But you’d be very hard-pressed to tell which is which.
There are already bot-written novels on the retail sites, and while they may not be making much headway right now, the software will just get better and better.
How long before a bot-novel offers you the chance to decide Character A and Character B need to jump in bed together, or Character C needs to dump Character D and get a thing going with Character E? And if you later change your mind, just tell the device and the story line will change, right there in front of you.
How long before you just decide what mood you are in and the bot writes a novel right there and then to suit your every desire? Vampire western with lesbian erotica and a hint of steampunk, two cats and a scene with a furry rabbit, shaken, not stirred? Coming right up.
How long does it take a bot to write a 100,000 word novel? A lot less time than it took you to read the first word of that sentence.
No, these won’t be prize-winning works of art. Your shot at the Man-Booker prize (or whatever it’s called this week) is safe.
Yes, purists will heap these bot-works with scathing criticisms, but readers are not always so discerning. Just look at what makes the charts nowadays…
And it’s a short step to the algorithms giving bot-written works preferential treatment in return for smaller unit payouts. What does a bot care if it gets a 70% “royalty” or just 5%?
As we’ll be exploring in forthcoming posts, the IoT is not all bad news for indies and literature. There’s a lot we can gain from it, if we are prepared to go the extra mile.
But being aware of it is the first step.
Don’t get left behind by the future. Grab a front-seat ticket and enjoy the ride!