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(Today’s essay comes from Fortune digital editor Andrew Nusca)
I remember when Yves Béhar first showed me the August smart lock. It was years ago, before the product—which replaces the conventional combination of a metal key and mechanical tumbler with an authenticated mobile device and Wi-Fi-connected electronic unit—was announced to the world. The designer dropped by my office at the Time-Life Building in Midtown Manhattan to give me a sneak peek. He demonstrated its utility by using his smartphone to digitally grant me access to his California beach house, right then and there. With a tap of his finger, he revoked it.
Good thing he did. Today I live a short walk from the Pacific Ocean and could actually take him up on the offer. (Surf’s up, Yves!) But Béhar has been rather busy in the years since that visit, and he appeared at a Fortune Brainstorm Design dinner at San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday to highlight how some of his projects demonstrate the kind of design he hopes to see in the world.
We need design that is driven by humans, artificial intelligence, design, experience, and speed, he argued. His Snoo, “a robot that takes care of your baby,” is an AI-equipped bassinet that coddles and calms an agitated newborn so a parent can get a good night’s sleep. It’s a far cry from the humanoid robots seen on the silver screen and a rebuke to a parent who says that they’d never hand their child to a bot. “I love this game of cat and mouse,” Béhar told Wallpaper’s Tony Chambers. “As a designer, we want to contradict these dystopian Hollywood notions.”
At the other end of the spectrum was Elli-Q, a device meant to cater to the elderly by connecting them with the outside world. “If you really think about who AI is going to serve, it’s healthcare—the aging population, babies, people on both ends of the spectrum,” Béhar said. And not, as we’ve come to expect, able-bodied people in between.
When Béhar first moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990s, at a time when Microsoft reigned supreme in the tech industry and Apple was faltering, “being design-driven was not seen as a path to success,” he said. That’s changing, and quickly. Designers are a key part of board, product, and investor meetings. “When technology fails, it’s not because of the technology,” he said. “It’s because of the design.” All the better to make it a more strategic part of the organization.
Consider L’Oréal, which despite its millions of customers is trying to act like a startup by not resting on its brand to move product. Béhar worked with the company to design a set of transfer tattoos that can be scanned by a smartphone to reveal whether you’re getting too much sun—an empirical prompt to apply sunscreen, ideally L’Oréal’s.
Béhar closed out the night by arguing that there’s more work to be done to incorporate design into the highest echelons of business. Not every part of the world is as progressive with this as the Bay Area, he said. It’s a missed opportunity, especially when it comes to technology. “Who best to take a low barrier to entry and turn it into something magical and special?” he asked. “Designers.” It was difficult to disagree.
Blown away, literally. After 14 years exploring the red planet, NASA’s Opportunity rover on Mars may be done. The space agency hasn’t heard from Opportunity in several days and fears the unit may be out of commission after a huge dust storm blew over its position.
Blown away, metaphorically. A bevy of new and improved products are on the way from Microsoft. The company is said to be working on a cashier-free checkout system, possibly for Walmart, similar to the technology used in Amazon’s Go convenience stores. Also Microsoft is prepping an overhaul of its Office Suite apps. And new hardware is rumored, including some smaller, cheaper Surface tablets.
Lockdown. Apple is making the iPhone more secure against attacks through the phone’s lightning port. The aim is to shut down a cracking technique used by crooks (and also by law enforcement agencies) trying to get encrypted data off a locked phone.
Trust the process. What are they drinking in Chicago? The city wants to build a 15-mile high-speed rail connection from downtown out to O’Hare International Airport, but without funding the construction cost itself. That has greatly limited the number of interested bidders. Now the city is on the verge of selecting Elon Musk’s brand new, untested Boring Company to build the system, Bloomberg reports.
Discount shoppers. It’s still losing money on every customer, but subscription theater service MoviePass said on Tuesday that it has exceeded 3 million subscribers and is on track to reach 5 million by the end of the year. Joked VC M.G. Siegler on Twitter: “If only they had *negative* 3 million subscribers, they’d be doing great!”
Another kind of maelstrom. With users sometimes confused or overwhelmed by all the posts on Twitter, the company is taking another crack at creating an automated system for highlighting news and creating more personalized feeds. The company is adding more curated topics to the “explore” section of its app on hot news and major stories, like the volcanic eruption in Hawaii. Users will also get news alerts based on their personal interests.
Fight to the death. Runaway gaming sensation Fortnite passed 125 million players in less than a year, publisher Epic Games announced on Wednesday. The company is creating a series of competitive Fortnite tournaments that will culminate in a “World Cup” event next year.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
If you think Facebook is destroying your life, or all of society maybe, boy, have I got a book for you. Virtual reality developer turned tech big thinker Jaron Lanier’s new tome doesn’t beat around the bush. It’s called Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. Reporter Franklin Foer reviews the book for the New York Times and finds some of the arguments convincing, but others less so.
While Lanier has shown a capacity for wit, this book is hokey. He’s enthralled by his coinage of the acronym “BUMMER,” which stands for “Behaviors of Users Modified, and Made Into an Empire for Rent.” Instead of slamming Facebook and Google by name, he endlessly refers to them as “BUMMER” companies. There’s a laziness to his polemic: a lack of examples, arguments that unfold much too quickly to gather their full powers of persuasion, writing that chokes on excessive metaphor. Over the course of three pages, he uses lead paint, climate change and crude oil to describe the workings of the BUMMER machine.
Many of his criticisms of social media will feel familiar to distant observers of American politics. Twitter and Facebook have made us cruder, less empathetic, more tribal. Only at the very end does Lanier venture into new territory. His argument, however, is a profound one. He worries that our reliance on big tech companies is ruining our capacity for spirituality, by turning us into robotic extensions of their machines. The companies, he argues, have no appreciation for the “mystical spark inside you.” They don’t understand the magic of human consciousness and, therefore, will recklessly destroy it.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
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ZTE, Trump, and China: Here’s What the Fuss Is All About By Kevin Kelleher
Google Home Can Now Handle Three Voice Commands at Once By Emily Price
Facebook Won’t Rule Out Building Eye-Tracking Technology By Erin Corbett
A Comprehensive Look at How We Got to Peak Electric Scooter Mania By Polina Marinova
BEFORE YOU GO
Mixing a variety of common themes here at Data Sheet comes news of a solar-powered bitcoin mining facility being built in Illinois and touted by spokesman and former Star Trek actor William Shatner. But don’t ask Shatner to explain bitcoin. “The concept is so, I guess the word is bizarre,” Shatner told the Chicago Tribune. “You have to blank your mind and say, ‘What is blockchain, again? How does mining operate, again?’ The concepts are really strange, and yet when you begin to grasp it, it makes sense.”