Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Enchanted Objects


In David Rose’s Enchanted Objects, he posits four technological futures. I wrote about the first of these, Terminal World, a few weeks ago. He says it’s about “glass slabs and painted pixels.”

The second of these futures is Prosthetics, where we transform into our “Superhuman selves.” The third is Animism, a world filled with “swarms of robots.” (See last week’s post.)

Finally, he offers Enchanted Objects, a world where “ordinary objects are made extraordinary.” Not surprisingly, Rose is a big deal at MIT’s famed Media Lab and is immersed in the latest technological gadgets. Obviously, this is his preferred future.

The book is subtitled, “Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things,” but the last is its true focus. Things, says Rose and many others looking to shape our technological future, will be connected via the Internet to other things and especially to our computers, tablets, and smart phones.

And I’m sure they will be. As to whether this will be the dominant technology of the future, I have my doubts. Although the author favors the term “enchanted” to describe these, I’m sure we could all agree these are enhanced objects.

Like any added feature to any product, only the market can judge its success or failure. The key question for Rose’s preferred future is, will people pay the additional cost?

No matter how much a feature or set of features adds to a product, will enough people buy it if there’s a comparable product with less features for less money? In other words, enhancement is a luxury, not a necessity.

If you press Apple buyers, they will say its products are enchanted. Apple’s last quarter was the most most profitable of any company. Ever. More than half of that profit came from one product (iPhone) in one country (China).

This success has more to do with Apple’s image and marketing (and Chinese culture) than the iPhone’s features and price, which are comparable to other smart phones. Buyers may have desired enchantment, but didn’t have to pay more.

While Rose has a vested interest in a future filled with enchanted objects, others are invested in each of the other alternatives he presents. The inevitable result will be a mixture of all four.

It’s easy to see the trend to glass slabs. The future of prosthetics is less clear, as is that of robots . Even less obvious is how they all will join The Internet of Things. Some things may succeed as Enchanted Objects, but I don’t think they’ll dominate.

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