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Scanning for New Technologies – Martin Bryant

Way back last summer, we were delighted to be approached by Penny Andrews asking us to help her organise an event she wanted to hold in Manchester, in collaboration with SLA Europe and sponsored by Swets.  It was our first evening event and, despite Manchester’s famous rain living up to its reputation (and more), we were really pleased with the turnout.

Crowd shot of those who braved the artic conditions to attend

Crowd shot of those who braved the arctic conditions to attend

Martin Bryant, editor-in-chief of The Next Web, presented ‘Scanning for New Technologies’, telling us about tools to look out for in 2014, within a few broad trends.



The first new trend coming through from Silicon Valley at the moment is ‘context’ i.e. your technology fitting in with your current location or activity to help you out.

Google Now – is an app from Google which pulls together information from your Google services (e.g. email or calendar) to either remind you about events (e.g. a restaurant booking you’ve made) or give you information based on location (e.g. live traffic updates so you can adjust your journey time). I may as well confess at this point that I’m a bit of a Luddite so I was thinking ‘but my brain reminds me about what I’m doing of an evening’, however I can see this becoming useful for busy people. This service will develop so that it can anticipate what you are going to search for before you’ve searched for it; thus showing the direction Google is going in (more intuitive) and Martin also told us that they are investing in machine learning to help with this strategy.

Aviate – changes your phone’s homescreen depending on your location so you can have different apps showing at different times e.g. when you’re at the gym, your homescreen would show Spotify and your fitness app.

Everything.Me – is similar to Aviate, but the homescreen changes based on the time of day. So mine would probably bring up the Metrolink twitter feed at 7.35am and 4.20pm!

Humin – is a contextual phonebook which gets information from platforms such as LinkedIn and is an alternative for the address book app on your phone. Instead of searching by name, you can find your contacts using different information e.g. where you met that person, who your mutual friends are, where they live etc.

Quiet social

The ‘quiet social’ trend is the idea that you want to share information but you may not want it to be attributable to you, or you may not want it to be permanently available once you’ve shared it.

Snapchat – fits in with the latter definition of ‘quiet social’, as it allows people to share photos that then disappear from the recipient’s phone. Martin did say that there is an illusion of transcience as the images/videos shared “temporarily” may be stored by the recipients.

Whisper – a form of anonymous self expression which combines images with text to allow people to share their thoughts and feelings. I’ve just spent 10 minutes looking at people’s whispers so I can see that this could get addictive! Again anonymity is questionable as Whisper will be storing this data somewhere.

Some of the (cleaner) Whispers about libraries

Kwikdesk – a 300 character message using hashtags to create conversations anonymously. Each message is visible for a particular length of time as chosen by the author. This has implications for use in regions of the world where open communication and expressing your opinion is not an option.

Secret – is similar to Whisper but your posts are shared anonymously with your contacts, so they won’t be able to identify the author of the post. You can only share when you have at least 2 members in your network. As an ex-school librarian, my ‘this could be used maliciously’ alarm went off! I can only imagine the kind of ‘secrets’ that would be shared and the upset that it could cause when used by bullies.



Waking up to hackers

When we share information online, we often don’t know exactly what is happening to it, where it is being stored etc. Data infringements are increasing e.g. Snapchat and GCHQ. Going forward we could see more data security breaches if these companies do not take their responsibilities more seriously. During the Q & A session, Martin was asked when he thinks people will start to be more wary about their data and what they share. His response was that the majority of people won’t worry about it until it actually happens! I would lump myself in with that majority; I am not very protective of my personal information because I have a ‘what’s the worst that could happen’ outlook.. maybe I should strengthen some of my passwords and use two-factor authentication for my online accounts.

What about wearables?

Google glass – has been in the news a lot more than other wearable technology. It works via commands e.g. ‘take a photo’ and the idea is that you can access information at a time when it is relevant. It gives us a way of accessing information in a new context e.g. it could be used by journalists to share live video of events.

Narrative Clip – when Martin arrived, I thought he had his ipod clipped to his jumper but he explained that it was actually a wearable camera that takes a photo every 30 seconds. The clip is then plugged into a computer and the images are uploaded onto a webserver and a specific app is needed to view these. These images can be combined into stop-motion videos. This has privacy implications, I didn’t really like the idea of being photographed without knowing about it (even though I’d probably been on 20 different CCTV cameras that day). I can imagine that this would be a cool gadget to take on holiday!

Fitness tracking – is the biggest trend in wearable tech. Things like the Nike FuelBand and the Jawbone can be worn during a workout and deliver statistics to your phone so you can track your performance over time. Martin believes that it is the usage of this data that will develop in the near future so that users will have more information available to them.

Smartwatches – connect to your phone and give you information such as music, photos etc. They are not a big trend at the moment because the functionality is limited.  However, Apple are due to launch an iWatch, which should increase the popularity of this technology. The main focus of the smartwatch will be health and fitness, which seems to me that Apple are trying to tap into the Jawbone market.

Smart watches

Smart watches

The Internet of Stuff

Martin told us that he’s sick of hearing about the ‘Internet of things’ so he has renamed it the ‘Internet of stuff’. A subtle change maybe, but you heard it here first! Basically ‘stuff’ is anything that isn’t a computer or phone or traditional internet-enabled device.

Nest – is a thermostat device now owned by Google. This allows you to control and monitor the temperature of your house remotely. I can see the use of this, especially if you’re on holiday but you’ve forgotten to adjust your heating.

Withings Smart Baby Monitor – allows you to watch a live video feed of your baby sleeping. Got to be better than watching Party Wright Around the World. Martin advocated other uses of this technology e.g. using it to keep an eye on your pets while you’re at work. You can also speak/play songs into the room.

Petnet Smartfeeder – allows you to remotely control your pet’s food bowl so you can dispense food as and when needed (or set it on a timer).

Kolibree toothbrush – logs information about your toothbrushing habits. Again, maybe this is me being a Luddite but really?! This seems a step too far in the need to gather data about personal habits. My dentist already likes to tell me that my teeth are going to fall out if I don’t floss, I don’t need him to back this up with data provided by my toothbrush.

Making sense of the stream

Beyond Tweetdeck there are emerging partnerships e.g. Twitter and Thomson Reuters providing sentiment data about certain companies, CNN and dataminer – identifying breaking new stories.

I asked a question about this – how do you know what to invest in/sign up to? As librarians, we want to know about technology so that we can use it to support and develop our work but with limited time and budgets, how can we make sure we’re doing this right? Martin suggested following a few twitter accounts to help ‘make sense of the stream’.

@magicrecs – looks at the activity of your followers and recommends tweets and accounts to you. Cons – if a fake account is popular this will be recommended to you.

@achievementbird – provides information on engagement stats e.g. RTs, favourites, follows.

@eventparrot – provides information on breaking news events.

Smarter Twitter

Smarter Twitter

In general, Martin said there’s no surefire way of knowing what will become successful but recommended The Next Web to keep up to date with new technologies and also Techmeme (an aggregator)

Smart phones and computers

This is the technology that we are all familiar with.. Martin said there are not going to be any major game-changing developments in the next few years in terms of these devices. However, Chromebooks maybe become more popular as most things can now be done on a web browser.

What to look out for

Bitcoin – is a cryptographic currency. There is uncertainty over its future – will it replace existing currency or will it be the currency of choice for illegal trading e.g. drugs. 

3D printing – will become more widely available and the possibilities for printing will develop. Martin said that this will be a major force in the economy in the coming years.

Robots and AI – Google are currently working on something in this field but not much more is known. We ended on a fairly depressing note as Martin outlined a future in which humans will become obsolete (and possibly even extinct) as intelligent robots are developed.

The Q & A session that followed was very interesting, unfortunately I was trying to livetweet so I didn’t take any notes! If you were there and you asked a question, please add it and the response to the comments.

A massive thanks to Martin for delivering such an interesting presentation; I really learnt a lot and enjoyed finding out about what to expect in the future. Thanks again to Swets for sponsoring us and to Penny on behalf of SLA Europe for asking us to be involved.


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This entry was posted on February 25, 2014 by in NLPN events and tagged , , , .

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