Pocket Money

Some time ago we agreed with Elin (8) and Alexander (7) that they would receive pocket money from us every week. Surely a good thing to teach the kids to keep track of the money, plan, count, save. The only problem is that we never have cash. The kids will soon get their bank accounts with automatic transfers but they won’t be able to log in to the bank themselves to manage their accounts and hence to see the transaction history and the balance. Instead, they will have to manually keep track of the transactions, either by writing them down on paper, or, more likely, by using a dedicated app for that purpose, such as “veckopengen”. It’s amazing to see how quickly apps fulfilling some new purpose are being created. Cash was king just recently, and now it’s not any more accepted in many places in Sweden, such and cafés and busses. Swish is used everywhere, from hotdog stands on a street to online stores. Some people say that the barrier of spending virtual money compared to physical is lower. For me it has always been the opposite – as soon as cash leaves my bank account and ends up in my pocket it’s gone.

Digitalization, Digitization and Resistance

The buzz-words have been around for a while, and now it’s a fashion to use them everywhere. People don’t even bother to check the right wording. In the example from Twitter below, Ana is using error correction when citing Ann’s slide.

Here are two definitions from Gartner’s IT Glossary:

  • Digitalization is the use of digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities; it is the process of moving to a digital business.
  • Digitization is the process of changing from analog to digital form.
Obviously, it’s not so difficult to notice the change from analog to digital, so the slide above does not make sense. But enough of being word police. We all know that digitalization is a good thing. However there are industries that resist digitalisation even though it would have been easy to implement. One example is champagne industry. There is so much pride in having human riddlers coming thought the cellar every day and turning each bottle 1/8th of a turn. In my eyes it is a perfect task for automation. Another example is music industry. In 2015 Gibson released a new lineup of electric guitars that came with a bunch of really cool features. At least according to me and Paul. The coolest feature is their G-FORCE™ – an automatic tuning system that came on most of their 2015 models. This new lineup turned out an economic failure for Gibson. Musicians like trying new things but cherish classical features, and the new lineup received tones of negative reactions. The new automated tuning system was claimed to be inaccurate, the guitars dropped in price and the new features were removed in 2016 lineup. Paul was however happy about the 2015 guitars being on sale and got himself two… And in fact, according to his and other musicians’ measurements, the automated tuning system seems to work perfectly.


Half of todays jobs won’t exist in 2025. Job market will be more dynamic thanks to IoT, digitalisation and increased automation. Exciting times, even though some people seem to find it scary:

I am a big fan of automation as it enables reassignment of human effort to more creative tasks. Machines however become increasingly intelligent and creative as well – now they can write music, books, poems and scientific articles. As my kids grow older and I help them navigate their educational efforts, I cannot stop wondering about the highest-impact educational path in the changing job landscape. High-quality original content such as music, books and artwork has always been highly valued. Delivery methods, however, change radically. As guys from Markscheider Kunst said, “everything in this world changes, apart from musicians’ desire to create new albums”. One has however to be very talented to devote his/her life to creation of original content. “At some point in life I realised that I didn’t have talent, but I had good taste, and good taste could also be sold”, – a phrase from one of my favourite comedies, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which I like a lot. Those who have good taste wrt original content and learn how to sell it, have good chances not to be disrupted by industrial transformation.

Then there are of course other human needs that will not go anywhere, such as food, health, housing and communication. The end-product will always maintain its value for the consumers, but creation and delivery methods are changing. Science and technology around life-cycle management, all the way from creation to decommissioning, will constantly evolve. Those who love technology should navigate wisely, look out for novel developments and combinations of those, and make sure to become experts  in more than one area – so-called T-shaped, or π-shaped engineers – to increase the chances of staying relevant. And with the increasing digitalisation of industries and propagation of IoT and machine intelligence into safety-critical applications such as health and transportation, the consequences of being hacked reach the new level, making safety and security a safe bet when choosing one of the legs of you T- or π-shape.

Handwriting and Creativity

My daughter Elin writes every minute of her free time – she loves to create and tell her stories. I never enjoyed writing stories – most of my school essays were written by my grandmother, and I hated to write introductions to my scientific papers. Elin produces tens of pages per day and sometimes needs a bandage for her fingers that hurt from so much writing. It’s not only the storytelling she enjoys but also the handwriting. Handwriting is not part of Swedish school plan but some schools still let those who want to play around with it. Elin is one of those who likes handwriting and she has also learnt Russian handwriting as it’s still mandatory according to Russian school system. And again, comparing myself to her I realise quite some difference – I never enjoyed handwriting and as soon as computers were around I became faster at typing (not because I am fast at typing though…). Some sources claim correlation of fine motor skills with cognitive abilities. However, I fail finding proofs that development of fine motor skills can lead to higher IQ. And if it did, there are many other activities that develop fine motor skills, such as painting, playing an instrument or playing computer games. In other words, I support the choice of Swedish school system. Still, we need techniques to capture thoughts. For an 8 year old child handwriting seems to be the most efficient. Elin is not good at typing yet, and honestly, typing does not seem to be a sustainable input method. To digitize the texts for her blog, Elin uses speech recognition software. It should be possible to eliminate the intermediary step of creating the analog version but she has not tried that yet. And again, handwriting itself seems to be an integral part of the creative process so maybe i should not strive to increased automation in this particular case.

It’s easier for us, geeks, to capture thoughts. “You ask me if I keep a notebook to record my great ideas. I’ve only ever had one.” Albert Einstein.

We’re being manipulated and we enjoy it

I did laugh at the below YouTube video last year when Apple released their new Macbook without ports – an “overpriced netbook”. And yesterday I ordered one of those. The idea of pushing business forward through eliminating old technology appeals to me. Indeed, who wants cables when we can use wireless transfer of data and video/audio signals. And I can’t say that my workplaces are so modern that I could control any of the screens wirelessly, but we’re getting there, and in the meanwhile one can use adaptors. “You may think that you want an adaptor, but actually you don’t”, said a good friend of ours, Tomas Sjöblom, and he was so right. 

It does not take long to change people’s behaviour. Couple of years ago it became illegal to smoke inside bars and restaurants in Sweden, and smoking outside is quite often uncomfortable due to the Swedish weather. As a result of this inconvenience I barely see any smokers any more. Similarly, making it slightly more difficult to use old technology, companies like Apple can easily steer us away from cables, file systems, locally stored files, and bought content, towards wireless, cloud and rented content.

Selling a Friend

Selling a Friend is a tough decision. I fell in love with this bike already in 2009 when I took my motorcycle driver’s licence. And in 2010 I picked a color and ordered one, shiny and new, directly from a BMW factory in Germany. And it didn’t matter that motorcycle season in Sweden is very short, that we spend almost all of it abroad, and that at that time I had two very small kids. I just wanted to own it. And ownership came with a couple of drawbacks, the worst one being that bad feeling of owning something that is being used way too little. I regularly screen my home for things being used too little and get rid of those. Decision of getting rid of a bike is different – it has that emotional component. 

I went through a similar emotional process when getting rid of the car some years ago. We chose to transform ourselves gradually together with the industry. First we outsourced changing of the car tires. Then we got rid of the storage space in our basement and outsourced it to a tire storage company. After that we outsourced all boring shopping to companies such as Mathem, got rid of the garage space and sold the car. Now, if we feel like going by car, we use Car2Go, DriveNow, Uber and taxis for short-range travels, car pooling for mid-range travels, and rental cars for long-range travels. But I should say that public transportation is gradually becoming more convenient, personalized and cool. The question is what kind of service you are after – the driving experience, transportation from A to B, or a specific mission being accomplished. In the latter case, transportation-related services may not need to be involved at all.

We’re becoming more servitized – in the era of Internet of Things one does not need to own things that lose value. There is a lot of value to grab and share between people and industries due to economies of scale, and there are big advantages from sustainability perspective. But I should say that we still keep a picture of one of our cars in a frame…

What’s a DVD?

What’s a DVD? We still remember, our kids don’t. They use TLA’s (three-letter acronyms) to sound right/cool. Like my 8-year-old Elin using term “MMS” in her blog just because she heard me say “SMS”, when we actually both mean just “message”. We got rid of our DVDs six years ago. I still remember this Facebook post i did in 2010, where Alexander lined up our DVDs on the floor, and a colleague of mine, Tayo @ekskog, asked me: “wotsa dvd?”

And I felt – indeed, why do I have this old technology in my home? We’re trying to claim ourselves to be early adopters and we should also be early-to-get-rid-of-old-tech. And we still had those DVD:s at home, so embarrassing. So we copied the movies to our network drive and got rid of the disks. And we did the same with all our CD:s and most of our books. They say educated people are supposed to have lots of books at home (and nowadays one can actually buy them by meter, sorted by color, to match the other decor). We do have lots of books – on the network drive and on my Storytel bookshelf.
Today we attended a dance show of Lasse Kuhlers dance school where Elin took part in. The show was recorded and everyone was offered to buy a DVD for 220 SEK. Well, a recording would be nice to have but what do I do with a DVD? How much money did they make on that? 440 SEK probably? What if, instead, they let anyone who Swished them 40 SEK to access a link with the file? About 500 people in the audience, half of them would go for it, and instantly they would have 10000 SEK in their pocket without a need to spend time on burning any DVDs. And a lot of happy people watching the video at home and booking more dance classes for their kids. 
All that said, apparently there’s something special about physical media. Last year Paul bought a vinyl record, and I can say – it was not cheap. 

Could IBM Watson replace my doctor?

Junior & I

Now I’m on my way home from US. The visit to IBM was short and sweet. Really fun to see the heart of their research lab where magic happens and coolest ideas are being created by coolest people. But now that meetings are finished I realize that I caught cold, thanks to all that air conditioning. And luckily it’s US and the selection of pills to fight any disease is wide. So I search for a super-pill at Walmart and will for sure be recovered soon. Getting medication in Sweden is much more restrictive – one needs an ordination from a doctor. And our doctor is not extremely bright. Last time I visited him with my newborn Paul Jr who started to develop some rush on his skin the doctor had no clue. What he had was a lot of authority, but absolutely no clue about the reason of the skin rush. So he suggested that Junior may be intolerant to lactose. What? This does not make sense, especially since Junior never had stomach problems. And surely a mother of a small kid does not come unprepared to a doctor’s appointment in the era of big data, social networks and efficient search engines. Of course I had a number of possible diagnoses figured out that I presented to the incompetent doctor. And indeed, he liked my suggestions and prescribed the suggested medicines.

And that was the result of googling through a number of sources on the net for an hour.  A powerful reasoner that operates on a knowledge base of medical information would have completely automated that work for me. In fact, IBM Watson – the engine that has recently beaten humans in Jeopardy (see this video, for example) – has now become a doctor and is perfectly capable of replacing humans when it comes to medical diagnoses. So the new role of doctors could be to provide assurance of what the machine has come up with – that’s much more time efficient and precise.

The Power of IoT

Today I am in New York with my colleagues from Ericsson Research meeting IBM Research. We are talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) – the trend of physical things becoming connected and available for developers to build services using them. And I am staying at this nice hotel at Times Square called CitizenM. The first thing I always do in when I enter my room is to search for a regulator somewhere on the wall to increase the temperature in the room. I fail at doing that but shortly after I discover an iPad with an application to control everything in the room – curtains, blinds, lights, TV, A/C, and even the color of the lighting in the bathroom. There are also modes you can choose between – romance, business, party, etc – that make the whole room change its character. How cool is that? Some years ago we enjoyed the Emergency Party Button videos on youtube (such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZIfIzNW9xM), and now it has actually been implemented commercially.

Another cool example is Car2Go – a service where you can grab and drop off a Smart car anywhere in a city, that you control from an application on your phone. And if something is not working for you – just check that application – it has the answer. The state of all the car sensors is monitored by the cloud application, and if you try to end your rental while the trunk is open or when the car is parked a forbidden area the application will complain.

And what about the stage for Eurovision Song Contest? Last years’ performance of Måns Zelmerlöw started a trend, and this year every second artist used the cool animations provided by that stage. Did they get an API for that?

And the most interesting innovations will come with cross-domain interactions. IoT breaks the verticals and allows application developers to build their services across domains, which in its turn opens up a lot of new business values. Can the mood that I choose for my hotel room stretch to the car that I rent? I have been working with connected embedded systems for many years and still I get mind-blown when I see them in practice – it’s actually happening!

“… everything is possible”

How would the world look like if everything was possible from the technology perspective? If we had unlimited computational and memory resources and if data transfers happened instantaneously and without any losses. In other words, if the physical world did not put any limitations on technological capabilities. Would we have a completely different world, with more and richer services and new industries that do not even exist today? Practice shows that every technological breakthrough gave us a new disruption – just think of what we can do today thanks to mobile broadband.

Every new child in the world starts from the latest state of technological progress. We love technology, so our kids know that every room has a large screen and speakers where you can stream any content available on the web, cloud storage or devices. This is their starting point. Servitization is in their blood, devices around them are stupid, and services serving them are intelligent. When they want to get hold of some digital content they expect it to happen instantaneously and device- and location-independently. This is at least how my 8-year-old thinks. But what about my ½-year-old? He has no limits, not yet. He has not been told about the limits. How creative could he become if there were no technological limits? And isn’t it why we love virtual reality and prefer Minecraft instead of Lego.  As my good friend and colleague Leonid Mokrushin once said: “If it’s software, everything is possible”.