Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The future is mediocre

Are you dissatisfied with the progress of technology?

Well, it turns out that you're a minority.

Wired magazine talks about how the need/want for convenience in the digital age has encouraged "just good enough" gadgets, information formats, you name it.

Ben Hescott, computer scientist extraordinaire (who I heard about this article from) says, with a snicker, that the RSA system that protects so much of our commercial and personal communication today is also "just good enough". It relies on an unproven assumption about the hardness of certain problems involving large prime numbers. This means that everytime you go on the internet, you are "just secure enough".

But there's more. This is the flip side of just-good-enough:

The last page of the article touches on Kaiser Permanente, an integrated healthcare organisation made up of for- and non- profit groups of entities, the largest of its kind in the country. I'm not really a fan of large corporations, and they have got some negative press in the past, but as of late August 2010, I have it on reliable account that they're trying to reinvent themselves not as the-cost-concerned-HMO but the-HMO-that-cares.

Here they are, at the cutting edge:

"In 2007, Flanagin and her colleagues wondered what would happen if, instead of building a hospital in a new area, Kaiser just leased space in a strip mall, set up a high tech office, and hired two doctors to staff it. Thanks to the digitization of records, patients could go to this "microclinic" for most of their needs and seamlessly transition to a hospital farther away when necessary...

What they found is that the system performed very well. Two doctors working out of a microclinic could meet 80 percent of a typical patient's needs. With a hi-def video conferencing add-on, members could even link to a nearby hospital for a quick consult with a specialist..."

This might have a developing world ring for some of you folks out there...

To me, What Kaiser is doing sounds great, especially in the world's-least-efficient healthcare system, where incredibly high costs, extreme bureaucracy, and poor incentives for doctors and healthcare providers trap people in inefficient and non-optimal plans and systems. Don't even get me started on the whole health insurance thing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fun has you

The problem (I'll admit I took some liberties in defining it):
People don't care enough about their communities, cities, environment, world.

The theory:
If you want people change their behaviour, to do something, make that thing fun:


visit: -- This word means "funny safety theory" in Swedish. Google told me so.

From using the stairs to recycling, Volkswagen of all people are devising innovative solutions to make people act more positively, and have more fun, at the same time. I hope that in the future fun will be a reliable way to make people be better people.

I think the trick is finding lowest-common-denominators (or greatest? I don't quite know) of fun. For example, I enjoy riding my bike as my primary (only) means of transportation (which makes my carbon footprint smaller), but this is rare among people. The greatest successes will come from increasing the incentives to cultivate high value-to-action behaviours like recycling and using public transport.

"Cheaper" actions like recycling will of course be easier than taking the bus. I don't like buses or trains that much, they're all plastic, often dirty, never on time, people are cold, but imagine if each bus and train car were somehow unique and interesting.

The Fun Theory is a fascinating approach, and if it's been done before, I haven't seen it as well publicised, and compellingly presented as this.

Go Sweden!