Technology is anthropology

Technology is anthropology

The interesting thing about the technology business is that, most of the time, it’s not the technology that matters. What matters is how people react to it, and what new social norms they form. This is especially true in today’s era, well past the midpoint of the deployment age of smartphones and the internet.

People — smart, thoughtful people, with relevant backgrounds and domain knowledge — thought that Airbnb  and Uber  were doomed to failure, because obviously no one would want to stay in a stranger’s home or ride in a stranger’s car. People thought the iPhone would flop, because users would “detest the touch screen interface.” People thought enterprise software-as-a-service would never fly, because executives would insist on keeping servers in-house at all costs.

These people were so, so, so wrong; but note that they weren’t wrong about the technology. (Nobody really argued about the technology.) Instead they were dead wrong about other people, and how their own society and culture would respond to this new stimulus. They were anthropologically incorrect.

This, of course, is why every major VC firm, and every large tech company, keeps a crack team of elite anthropologists busy at all times, with big budgets and carte blanche, reporting directly to the leadership team, right? (Looks around.) Oh. Instead they’re doing focus groups and user interviews, asking people in deeply artificial settings to project their usage of an alien technology in an unknown context, and calling that their anthropological, I’m sorry, their market research? Oh.

I kid, I kid. Sort of, at least, in that I’m not sure a crack team of elite anthropologists would be all that much more effective. It’s hard enough getting an accurate answer of how a person would use a new technology when that’s the only variable. When they live in a constantly shifting and evolving world of other new technologies, when the ones which take root and spread have a positive-feedback-loop effect on the culture and mindset toward new technologies, and when every one of your first 20 interactions with new tech changes your feelings about it … it’s basically impossible.

And so: painful trial and error, on all sides. Uber and Lyft  didn’t think people would happily ride in strangers’ cars either; that’s why Uber started as what is now Uber Black, basically limos-via-app, and Lyft used to have that painfully cringeworthy “ride in the front seat, fist-bump your driver” policy. Those are the success stories. The graveyard of companies whose anthropological guesses were too wrong to pivot to rightness, or who couldn’t / wouldn’t do so fast enough, is full to bursting with tombstones.

That’s why VCs and Y Combinator  have been much more secure businesses than startups; they get to run dozens or hundreds of anthropological experiments in parallel, while startups get to run one, maybe two, three if they’re really fast and flexible, and then they die.

This applies to enterprise businesses too, of course. Zoom was an anthropological bet that corporate cultures would make video conferencing big and successful if it actually worked. It’s easy to imagine the mood among CEOs instead being “we need in-person meetings to encourage those Moments of Serendipity,” which you’ll notice is the same argument that biased so many big companies against remote work and in favor of huge corporate campuses … an attitude that looks quaint, old-fashioned and outmoded, now.

This doesn’t just apply to the deployment phase of technologies. The irruption phase has its own anthropology. But irruption affects smaller sectors of the economy, whose participants are mostly technologists themselves, so it’s more anthropologically reasonable for techies to extrapolate from their own views and project how that society will change.

The meta-anthropological theory held by many is that what the highly technical do today, the less technical will do tomorrow. That’s a belief held throughout the tiny, wildly non-representative cryptocurrency community, for instance. But even if it was true once, is it still? Or is a shift away from that pattern to another, larger social change? I don’t know, but I can tell you how we’re going to find out: painful trial and error.

Can Technology Solve Economic Disparity?

THE EFFECT OF technology on economic inequality has long been debated, with experts pointing out the numerous benefits of regions and populations getting acquainted with tech tools, but also the downside of too much technology heavily impacting employment and human lives. In Latin America, a series of measures, including new technology tools, are trying to improve economic mobility.

When Ignacio Martinez was 22 years old, he noticed the recruiting process in low-wage industries in Latin America was tedious and inefficient. The turnover was high, people jumped from one job to another, and attracting employees was pricey, time-consuming and guided solely by candidates’ salary expectations.

“These are industries where the labor market functions as a commoditized market,” says Martinez, who adds that people are selected for jobs not necessarily based on qualifications, but rather on the cost of labor.

Fast forward, Martinez and two other associates now own Alana, a Tinder-like platform for the job market in Mexico where recruiters get access to filtered qualified workers who match employers’ required skills. Through the same service, workers obtain career guidance and ideas for what skills they need to develop, while companies’ human resource departments limit the time spent on recruiting and keep better track of overall employees’ satisfaction rates.

“There are a lot more tools out there (in the high-skilled corporate world) — applicant tracking systems and filters — but they haven’t gone down to these blue-collar, typically offline and informal markets, because these are harder to execute on,” says Martinez, who lives in Mexico City. “But there is a huge opportunity and that’s where the real problem of mobility and differentiation is.”

Alana has more than 60,000 users in Mexico City, was part of the fall cohort of the Y Combinator, one of the highest-ranked business accelerators in the world, and is considering expanding into other parts of Latin America.

“Our mission is to give opportunities,” Martinez adds. “What we are building is essentially tools through which people can grow, both the candidates and employers.”

Apps such as Alana may provide a boost to Mexico, a country where one recent study estimated nearly 3 in 5 jobs are in the informal sector, constituting nearly a quarter of the nation’s economy. Latin America’s second-largest economy shrank in 2019, the first time in a decade, the country’s national statistics office reported in January. That slowdown likely will extend into this year, according to analysts at Deloitte.

Technology and Economic Inequality

The world economy would reach “digital supremacy” by 2023 and the information technology industry in Latin America will see increases in 2020 despite a drop in economic growth and regional political uncertainty, shows data from the International Data Corporation, a global market research company based in Massachusetts.

Economic inequality remains high in many areas of the world, in particular in Latin America. Twelve out of the 18 Latin American nations struggle with high levels of income inequality, while corruption, youth unemployment and government ineffectiveness are still regional issues.

Latin America and the Caribbean ranks as the fourth-largest market in the world for internet usage, behind Asia, Europe and Africa. Yet there is room for growth, say experts, with the Japanese SoftBank Group announcing last year they would be investing up to $5 billion in a regional innovation fund in the area.[ 

MORE: Increasing Number of People in Central America Say Their Lives are Thriving ]

“Latin America is on the cusp of becoming one of the most important economic regions in the world, and we anticipate significant growth in the decades ahead,” says Masayoshi Son, chairman and chief executive officer of SoftBank Group, in a press release.

Technologies such as Alana have the ability to create strong bridges among social classes, such as other services in sub-Saharan Africa where farmers can better plan their work with more accurate weather prediction tools, or in Latin America where they facilitate access to financial services.

Yet technology alone can’t boost economies, say experts, since any innovation requires an adequate policy framework to be deployed.

“You need to have some kind of institution that is corresponding to the technology,” says Christoffer O. Hernæs, chief digital officer of Sbanken, Norway’s first digital-only bank. “So bad news for a lot of the hardcore technology evangelists out there — the technology alone will not solve this stuff if we don’t have the mechanism allowing us to actually utilize the technology in the right context.”

According to Hernæs, who is based in Oslo, technology could dramatically improve working conditions for people around the world when it can improve translation services and mediate communication between cultures, so that workers in one country could perform tasks they understand in another country.

Yet technology also threatens job security with automation and algorithms getting ready to replace millions of positions in the upcoming decades, increasing economic inequality worldwide.

“Fifty percent of current work activities are technically automatable by adapting currently demonstrated technologies,” say experts from McKinsey & Company. “Six of 10 current occupations have more than 30% of activities that are technically automatable.”

Cool fitness gadgets

Unlike other glucose monitors which typically require you to stick a needle in your body, Glutrac is a smart wearable for non-invasive glucose monitoring. It works by measuring interstitial fluids (those outside your blood vessels) when you scan your index finger on an optical touch-screen sensor.

Using artificial intelligence and deep learning to calculate your blood glucose levels, the company claims an accuracy rate of 90 per cent. The fact that it’s a wearable means that you can now measure, in real time, your body date, anytime and anywhere.

SMART WATCH

The Withings ScanWatch is the world’s first smart watch. It is able to detect sleep apnoea episodes. Sleep apnoea is detected through a sensor that monitors your oxygen saturation levels. This is achieved by emitting and absorbing light that is passed through your blood vessels throughout the night. ScanWatch features a classic analogue design but includes a digital display at the top that is capable of displaying various health data.

SMART MAT

YogiFi is a smart yoga mat embedded with sensors that allows you to track your progress on posture, strength, flexibility and balance. Voice instruction provides correctional feedback. It works with third-party wearables such as Apple Watch and FitBit to track and correlate body vitals in the context of yoga practice sessions. It’s available in May.

DESK EXERCISE MACHINE

Cubii is an elliptical machine that allows you to exercise while sitting at a desk! It is designed to fit under most desks, with the recommended desk height from the floor to the underside being at least 58.3 cm. Unlike other desk exercise machines, Cubii’s ergonomic design mimics the motion of an elliptical. This means that the range of motion is lower and puts less pressure on your knees.

The number of calories burned varies based on the resistance setting and the speed of rotation but it’s quite possible to burn up to 150 calories per hour on the Cubii. Through a Bluetooth connection to your wearable device, you can track, share and set goals.

INDOOR RUNNING

If you don’t like the idea of doing anything like stationary cycling and would rather do some running outdoors, you should look into Nurvv Run, which is an insole designed to help you run faster and to reduce your chances of injury.

Its smart insoles have a whopping 32 embedded sensors that capture data 1,000 times per second. It pairs with an app to provide real-time suggestions on factors like cadence, step length, pronation, balance and more. You can receive audio coaching feedback using wired or Bluetooth headphones and it’s compatible with both Apple and Android.

Huawei Watch GT 2 Review

Huawei has been in the wearables space for quite some time now, and has been steadily pushing out new smartwatch models in India. The company launched the Watch GT early last year for Rs. 15,990, and there’s now a successor aptly called the Watch GT 2. Surprisingly, this watch packs in more features but is priced lower, at Rs. 14,990. The new smartwatch promises 14 days of battery life and has a speaker that’ll allow you to take calls on the watch itself. Should you plonk your money down on the Watch GT 2? We review it to find out.

Huawei Watch GT 2 design

Huawei offers the Watch GT 2 in two sizes; 42mm and 46mm. Surprisingly, the design is a little different for the two variants. The smaller one looks a lot like the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active (Review) with a plain casing, while the bigger variant has markings around the bezel that give it a sportier look. We have the 46mm variant for this review.

The Huawei Watch GT 2 has two buttons on the right side. These protrude quite a bit but are easy to press and offer good tactile feedback. The upper button is to go back in the UI, while the lower one can be assigned to any feature on the smartwatch. Between these two buttons is the speaker grille, which isn’t very easy to spot.

Huawei Watch GT 2 Buttons Huawei Watch GT 2 Review

The Watch GT 2 has two buttons on the right side.

Huawei has used wide 22mm straps for the Watch GT 2. These are user-replaceable, and you can pick any standard 22mm strap of your choice. The base option comes with a black Fluoroelastomer strap that feels comfortable when worn.

The 1.39-inch AMOLED display sports a 454 x 454-pixel resolution which is higher than that of the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2, which we reviewed recently. There is no pixelation, and the smartwatch has auto-brightness which helps it adjust to changing ambient light conditions.

At the back of the device, you’ll find the heart rate sensor along with the charging mechanism. The Watch GT 2 does not support wireless charging like the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2. Instead, it uses a magnetic dock with pogo pins. The magnets on the charger help it to securely latch onto the Watch GT 2. Huawei’s charger uses a USB Type-C port, so if you have a smartphone with a Type-C port, that’s one less cable you’ll need to carry.

Huawei Watch GT 2 specifications, software and features

The Huawei Watch GT 2 is powered by the company’s Kirin A1 processor. Huawei developed this chip specifically for wearables, including smartwatches and wireless headphones. It competes with the Snapdragon Wear 3100 SoC which is used by most WearOS devices, and the Exynos 9110 SoC which powers the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.

Huawei does not specify the amount of RAM available, but does say that there’s about 2GB of storage on the watch. This can be used to store audio files on the watch itself, which can be streamed directly to a Bluetooth headset.

There is support for Bluetooth 5.1 along with GPS which can be used to track outdoor runs. The device is water resistant up to 5 ATM, so you will be able to take it for a swim. The 46mm variant is also capable of receiving calls over Bluetooth.

Huawei Watch GT 2 Beauty Huawei Watch GT 2 Review

The Watch GT 2 adjusts screen brightness automatically.

Huawei runs proprietary software on the Watch GT 2, and it is compatible with devices running Android 4.4 (or later) as well as iOS 9 or up. Unlike WearOS devices and Samsung’s Galaxy Wearables, you don’t have the option to download new apps on the Watch GT 2, which somewhat limits its capabilities. While this would seem like a huge cause for concern, Huawei has included a large number of essential features on the device.

Just like most other smartwatches, the Huawei Watch GT 2 is capable of step and distance tracking. It also has its own GPS for tracking distance. Heart-rate, sleep, and stress monitoring are also supported (though stress tracking works only when paired with Android smartphones). There’s also workout logging, and a few workouts are pre-configured. Huawei has managed to cover the basics, but the workout list is not as expansive as Samsung’s on the Watch Active 2.

You will need to download the Huawei Health app to sync the Watch GT 2 with a smartphone. The pairing process is simple and quick. Sleep and heart-rate tracking are enabled by default. Stress tracking needs to be enabled manually, through the Health app on an Android smartphone.

Huawei Watch GT 2 performance and battery life

The Huawei Watch GT 2 has a crisp display that is viewable under direct sunlight. The ambient light sensor is quick to bump the brightness up when needed. Huawei does not offer an always-on mode on this smartwatch but you can keep the display on for up to 20 minutes after use. This might disappoint people wanting an always-on display. The watch is quick to wake up when you raise your hand, and the display goes off when you lower it.

Performance could have been better, as the smartwatch feels slow when scrolling through the UI, compared to the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2. If you swipe quickly a couple of times, the Watch GT 2 might fail to register the last one. It also takes some time to open submenus, which might get annoying when you’re in a hurry. While using the watch at a casual pace we did not notice these issues.

Huawei Watch GT 2 fitness Huawei Watch GT 2 Review

The Huawei Watch GT 2 tracks activities quite well.

The Watch GT 2 buzzes to alert you to incoming notifications, and you can set the intensity of the vibration. You can see alerts on the watch but cannot interact with them, so for example if you were hoping to be able to reply to WhatsApp messages quickly using the watch, you’ll be disappointed. What you can do is take calls on the watch. The inbuilt speaker is fairly loud but you will have to move it close to your ears to hear callers clearly.

We put the Watch GT 2’s fitness tracking functionality to the test by walking exactly 1 km, and the watch reported 1.02km which is a good result. The Watch GT 2 utilises GPS to track distance, and the route we took was reflected on a map. To check step counting accuracy we manually counted 1,000 steps as we walked, and the watch registered 994 which is also acceptable. We can say that the Huawei Watch GT 2 is good at step and distance tracking.

Sleep tracking was accurate on the Watch GT 2 as well, and it recorded our bedtime correctly. The app shows a graph and assigns a score to the quality of sleep. It also breaks down your sleep patterns into deep, light, and REM sleep.

5 gadgets every keen cook needs

1. GET A GOOGLE NEST HUB FOR MESS-FREE RECIPES 

First up, a smart display is a great addition to the kitchen for lots of reasons. The Google Nest Hub has all the smarts of Google Assistant built in, with the benefit of a seven-inch screen. This means you can watch YouTube videos on how to make your favourite dishes, as well as ask Google Assistant for new recipes. It offers up step-by-step instructions on its screen, all controllable by voice, with saves you getting your phone messy with food-covered hands. All that, and it can serve up your cooking playlist from your streaming service of choice too – the speaker is only so-so in terms of music quality, but it’ll do the job.

2. KEEP AN EYE ON INGREDIENTS WITH A FRIDGECAM

The Smarter FridgeCam gives keen cooks an easy way of keeping an eye on what food is in the house, without needing to buy a whole new smart fridge. The FridgeCam is secured inside your fridge door, taking a photo every time the door is closed that can be viewed inside the connected Smarter app. You can also keep an inventory of your items by scanning their barcode as you add them to the fridge, and get notifications when things are approaching their sell by date, so you know you need to stock up. The FridgeCam can even add items used or expired items to your Amazon Fresh or Tesco shopping list automatically, plus there’s Alexa integration on hand to hear a list of what you’ve got in, or receive suggestions on what to cook for dinner, based on the ingredients it knows you have.

3. CHOOSE A SMART OVEN FOR A HELPING HAND

Brands like Hoover, Siemans or Whirlpool are among the best to consider when it comes to choosing a smart oven. Depending on your budget, they can offer a whole host of functionality, such as touchscreen control, advanced cooking and cleaning features and in the case of something like the £1,200 Hoover Vision, you even get an in-oven camera that allows you to keep an eye on the cooking process in real time. However, even in relatively entry-level options around the £200 to £400 mark, you will see wi-fi control on the spec list, which will allow you to get the oven pre-heated from your phone when you’re not in the house – perfect for getting in from work and having the oven ready to go.

4. USE A MEATER THERMOMETER FOR PERFECT RESULTS

The Meater meat thermometer is a super handy gadget that will help you cook any meat to perfection, whether you’re trying to nail the perfect medium rare steak, or want to ensure you don’t dry out that roast chicken. All you need to do is place the Meater wireless thermometer into the meat, open up the companion app and choose what it is you’re cooking. It will then recommend a cooking time and temperature, and adjust throughout the cooking process if necessary, allowing for any resting time too.

5. MAKE CLEARING UP EASIER WITH A VOICE-CONTROLLED BIN

Finally, clearing up after you’ve cooked up a storm has never been more satisfying than with the SimpleHuman voice-activated bin. If your hands are full, simply say “open can” to have the lid open automatically, and you can also say “stay open” if you’ve got lots to clear down. It features three microphones that triangulate sound for voice recognition accuracy, so even in a busy kitchen when there’s music on and people chatting, it will still pick up your commands – plus it offers gesture control too. Just wave your hand over the top and the lid will open.

Great Gadgets Coming In 2020

1Samsung Ballie

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Samsung

A tennis ball-shaped rolling robot that follows you around the house. What can it do? Well, it can act as a fitness assistant and activate smart devices to assist with household cleaning. It will also respond to commands, such as “Come here, Ballie” and reply with a jingle when you ask it to “Say hi”. But mostly it’s for fun – your own personal BB-8, complete with bleep-bleurp sounds. Skittish, loyal and thwarted by stairs.

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Withings

There are plenty of “hybrid” smartwatches on the market – connected timepieces that look like analogue watches. Withings has produced a few of them, but its new ScanWatch goes big on health tracking. A 30-second ECG reading can be taken via three built-in electrodes in the watch, while a sensor tracks your oxygen saturation while you sleep, to help detect sleep apnea. The addition of a digital crown to dismiss notifications, set alarms, etc does away with any touchscreen functionality, making this more like a traditional watch than ever before.

3Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold

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Lenovo

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Fold is a computer with a folding OLED screen. It’s calling it the “world’s first foldable PC” and joins a cluster of foldable tech this year. Hold the tiny laptop in your hand like it’s a novel, or open up the screen full-size and use the keyboard wirelessly. A futuristic, versatile solution that eliminates the tablet/ laptop debate.

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Joué

A pleasing instrument that simplifies music making. Connect the wooden board to four brightly coloured silicon modules and you can make beats, add distorted guitar solos or knock out synth riffs a la Daft Punk. The French company’s aim is to democratise music making – it claims to be able to make a viable musician out of any music fan.

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Samsung

Taking phone mirroring to its logical conclusion, Samsung’s new TV flips between standard wide-screen mode and vertical portrait mode just like your phone. Samsung says its designed for “the mobile generation” – though that surely means everyone by now – and allows you to view vertical videos from Facebook, YouTube and your own phone the way they were filmed, on a 43-inch screen. Bonus points if you own a Samsung Galaxy phone: you can sync it with the TV so it rotates as you turn your phone.