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 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, revised dream. Vertical markets like digital services are saturated with supply; differentiation requires a mastery of online community-building and omnichannel retailing. Conversely, exploiting knowledge gaps across horizontal market spaces requires capital to manufacture and field pertinent data-collection technologies.
But advancements in cloud computing and virtualization are muddling cyberspace at a dizzying pace. Mobile netizens are accessing and configuring data from remote stations and disseminating it across a myriad of networks. Decentralized exchanges are dissolving telecommunications boundaries and convoluting the information environment, making it 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 generate tailored products.
In contrast, the “haves” are able to 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 currently 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 incentives effectively expand the surveillance capacities of city stakeholders (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 levy new forms of tax revenues.
But as municipalities and industry captains fight over this mixed-reality 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 are willing to dig their own wells for usable data.
It’s easy to envision VCs, equity investors, and economic developers exploiting this instinct and subsidizing fully-mechanized human bodies. Incentivized cyborgs, equipped with proprietary sensors and apparatuses, might deploy 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.
Though, this all begs the question: if abandoned escooters can trigger a public hellstorm, what will ensue from cyborg incursions into unsuspecting boroughs and neighborhoods? Because surely, that’s our cyberpunk-dystopian future if actionable information is perpetually reserved for the privileged few.