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September 2, 2015
Electronics Made In the USA

June 25, 2015
Appreciating HD Audio

June 9, 2015
The New Semiconductor Challenge: Doing More Without Moore

December 4, 2014
Limited by Design

June 2, 2014
RIP, Device Operating Systems

TECHnalysis Research Guest Column

September 28, 2015
The Philosophical Challenges with Smart Homes and Smart Cars

I thought it was the tech. I really did. But after thinking about it a bit more, I realize the technology isn’t the problem with some of the potentially biggest—yet stalled—opportunities in consumer tech: smart homes and smart cars.

Oh sure, there are definitely some serious standards issues that still have to get resolved before these opportunities can move forward, and arguably, those are tech-related. But even when they are, there are still much more deeply-rooted challenges that are going to keep these categories in a slow growth phase for quite some time.

Quite honestly, they’re philosophical.

The technology required to get a number of devices in your home to talk to each other really isn’t that hard. In fact, it’s been available for several years. Between WiFi, Bluetooth, and Zigbee, there are a wide range of connectivity options with different speeds and power requirements to easily connect a wide range of appliances, lights, mechanical systems and smart devices with our homes—theoretically speaking, at least.

And yet, they aren’t widely being connected.

As for smart cars, the technology to make cars drive autonomously is a lot tougher, but I’m fully confident that the smartest minds across Silicon Valley, Detroit, Germany, and other places, will be able to put together systems within the next year or two that can easily outpace the driving skills of the typical driver. In fact, they may well have done so already.

And yet, other than a few experiments, we don’t have fully autonomous cars.
So, what’s the issue?

It seems clear to me that we’re entering an era where just because we can do something from a technical perspective doesn’t mean consumers really want it. For the last few decades, the goal of the tech business has been to see what we could achieve. And frankly, those achievements have been extraordinary. The things we now take for granted, which technology-based products have enabled, are truly astonishing. Being able to communicate with or find anyone, virtually anywhere in the world at any time, for example, is mind-boggling if you really think about it.

Increasingly, though, technological advancements are occurring at a pace that’s arguably faster than what we’ve really been able to, or want to, take in. At the risk of sounding like a technological Luddite—which I assure you, I am not—there may now be a sense of things starting to move a bit too far too fast.

Much of the challenges have to do with privacy and safety-related issues. Opening up our homes and our cars to the potential of hacking is a pretty frightening thought to a lot of people. It’s one thing to worry about viruses on our PCs or even mobile phones, but when we hear about moving cars getting taken over, or home security systems enabling people to physically peer into our personal lives, the stakes are being raised, and not in a positive way.

Admittedly, some of this is generational and as part of the tail-end of the baby boomers, I’m perhaps a bit more paranoid (or shall we say, cautious) than younger people who are growing up in an always-on, always-connected world. But regardless of your age, there’s no denying that we’re starting to face much more difficult philosophical questions about the role that technology products can and should play in our lives.

To be clear, I’m not expecting, nor advocating any kind of slowdown in the technological developments that have brought us to this point. However, I do believe that companies who are actively involved in moving forward the agenda in smart homes, smart cars, and other more personally invasive categories are going to need to spend a lot more time and effort in educating the market about how their solutions will protect the privacy and safety of their customers.

In addition, as these products and technologies move into the mainstream of society, they’re also going to have to address legislative, regulatory, and even insurance-related issues that companies who offer other tech-related products haven’t really had to worry about.

There’s no question that the smart home and smart cars categories will bring some amazing new capabilities to consumers around the world, but it would be naïve to assume that these developments will come without some challenging philosophical discussions. Like many philosophical debates, these discussions are likely to be long, complicated, and fairly heated.

While it’s great to have the ability to do things that only recently were in the realm of science fiction, it’s also time to start thinking more seriously about the implications of what these new developments might mean.

Here's a link to the original column:

Bob O'Donnell is founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services.

Leveraging more than 10 years of award-winning, professional radio experience, TECHnalysis Research participates in regular audio podcasts in conjunction with the team at
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