In the information age, the difference between prosperity and obscurity rests in the dichotomy of two competing movements.
A third of the workforce is freelancing in the online “gig” economy; high school graduates are turning down lucrative trade jobs for degrees in technology. Forget a white picket fence and 2.5 kids—in the information age, The American Dream is to corner a niche set of data and exploit it for resources and mobility.
However, the data marketplace isn’t entirely conducive to America’s new dream. Vertical markets like digital services are saturated with supply; differentiation requires a mastery of social media and omnichannel retailing. Conversely, exploiting knowledge gaps across horizontal market spaces requires capital to manufacture and field associated collection technologies.
But advancements in cloud computing and virtualization are muddling cyberspace. Now, mobile users can access and configure data from remote stations and disseminate it across a myriad of networks. Decentralized exchanges are dissolving telecommunications boundaries and convoluting the information environment; it’s increasingly difficult to gauge the competitive landscape.
The complexities of interconnectivity leave unsuspecting innovators dazed and incapable of ascertaining attainable goals. As the “have nots,” they lack the business intelligence to characterize their audience and manufacture tailored products.
In contrast, the “haves” leverage cyberspace and detect fleeting sales opportunities while refining products in place. An array of industry sectors utilize online attribution to monitor touchpoints at the edge of customer experience.
There are two trajectories for the growing disparity in awareness: one toward obscurity; one toward relevance.
Relevance is enabled by hyper-analysis: the fusion of big-data, artificial-intelligence, and predictive-analytics technologies into comprehensive platforms that survey market turbulence and pinpoint assessment opportunities.
For example, the dockless escooter-sharing company Bird secured $400 million in venture capital by underscoring its unit economics and data-collection capacities. Investors were awed by the prospect of a sizeable fleet of autonomous-modular escooters conjuring up market intelligence information and forecasting dividends with razor-like precision. They were also assured that, when coupled with Bird’s regeneration capability, the proprietary data would form the bedrock of an enduring and independent information network.
That’s why bureaucrats and activists across Los Angeles—a key battleground in the ride-sharing market—are rushing to intervene. The inherent mobility of Bird’s platform is a direct threat to L.A.’s static and archaic transportation infrastructure.
The L.A. City Council recently passed measures that curb Bird’s reach. Notably, some rules incentivize the redistribution of escooters to low-income neighborhoods. Given Bird’s predisposition to assisting authorities, the rules effectively expand the surveillance capacities of pertinent departments (e.g. L.A. Police; Economic & Workforce Development; Transportation). Bird’s “persistent user tracking” function equips city programs with usable identity information for purifying census databases, honing predictive policing, etc.
L.A.’s hijacking of dockless escooters demonstrates that the new socioeconomic battlefront is public space. Urban infrastructures are assimilating multimodal sensors and retail is becoming cashless; “smart city” access points are primed to act as billboards for transparent and impactful brands and generate municipal revenues.
But as municipalities and industry captains fight over digital real estate, the “have nots”—entrenched in obscurity—scrap for the breadcrumbs that lead to interconnectivity. The condition of the knowledge-deprived is manifesting in a Mr. Potato Head phenomenon—i.e. “wearables”—where human orifices play host to interchangeable data devices.
Market receptivity to pervasive device-hosting signals that consumers, if necessary, will dig their own wells for usable information.
As such, it’s easy to envision VCs, equity investors, and economic developers exploiting this instinct and subsidizing fully-mechanized human bodies. Incentivized cyborgs, equipped with sensors and apparatuses, might be deployed to bridge smart-city network gaps, etc. A field of technologically-adept “have nots”— unsettled, underpaid, and uninspired—already exist to outfit the cyborg swarms.