Are we due for a Pokédex? January in review

This past month has been a whirlwind of tech activity, thanks in part to CES and Apple’s Vision Pro launch, and also thanks to the continued hype and fervor around AI as an emergent (emerged?) technology. We’re nowhere near peak AI, but business elites and tech titans have been dreaming about a chatbot driven future for quite some time.

This hype doesn’t come as a surprise to me. It was expected, but the energy that’s being directed towards the endeavor of implementing AI is staggering. It makes me concerned about the integrity of our institutions and our communities, and pushes me to wonder how that integrity is preserved amidst the fervor and the hoovering up of valuable personal data.

This opportunity for data acquisition means scammers are having a hay day. It is increasingly difficult to trust that a family member on the other end of the call is actually who they say they are. While we’re told to lean into what this new technology has to offer, we’re also subjected to short bursts of digital shakedowns which test our abilities to detect an AI imposter or otherwise.

On a community level, we don’t really have a choice with implementation and thus our level of exposure. Technology and it’s effects are made available by those that produce it. A self-driving car might run you over, exacerbating an already awful situation. You might attend a concert or go down to the convenience store and get kicked out based on digital surveillance profiling. This type of surveillance feels on par with repressive regimes and it’s easily implemented by public and private companies and institutions. In this nefarious form, we’ll only continue to get burned by innovation.

I’m no luddite though. I’m a techie through and through, and that’s why I’ve been tuned in to the newest gadgets that are being released. I’m excited about consumer products that are truly built for people and built on a more stable foundation than, “this would be cool.” One of Nintendo’s engineers, Gunpei Yokoi, has previously referenced the notion of “lateral thinking through withered technology.” I appreciate a technology that is driven by the contemplation of user experience, not assumed consumer needs and desires.

I was having a dinner with a friend the other day and we got to talking about a device recently announced at CES, the Rabbit. The device is essentially a walkie-talkie that you (or your loved ones) can use to interface with the apps and services on your phone. It’s pretty sleek and toy-like thanks to the companies partnership with Teenage Engineering.

While it has it’s prescribed use case of automating your phones functions, I would take the device in a different direction. Between the types of toys that children have access to now and those they did historically, our priorities have shifted. We’ve continued to produce toys marketed towards toddlers and which look like the pet you might not have, and at the same time we’ve shifted from those toys that encourage engagement with the natural world to… drones?

There are other toys, but they haven’t kept up with the times. They are more analog in nature, like lego kits and rock tumblers. Kids aren’t really into rock tumblers like they used to be. And rock tumblers haven’t really kept up with kids. There’s surely an entrepreneur out there attempting to corner the limited rock tumbler market, but it’s just that – limited.

I’m excited by devices like the Rabbit because of the potential functionality with the streamlined form factor. We’ve seen apps for identifying plants, mushrooms, and bird calls further enhanced by Google Lens or other visual analysis tools, but we haven’t seen a dedicated device for identifying the natural world. Integrating the two might bring a quality of life improvement in terms of how we engage with tech and the internet.

Much like Gunpei Yokoi referencing the utility in older technology, there is also utility in a slower pace of consumption. A remark I heard from the Verge’s Niley Patel about Apple’s Vision Pro is that it felt like watching a movie in a theatre. He cited the black out experience enabled by the fit of the headset as a means of encouraging him to just watch the movie. No phone, no other tech. Technology and applications with a dedicated use case serve as a means of grounding us in the moment.

I would expect to see a tool in the very near future that enables robust analysis of the natural world, aiding amateurs and experts alike in their exploration – a “Pokédex.” Like the Pokémon Go phenomenon, where dedicated utility was found through the discovery of new Pokémon, this type of tool might encourage a deeper level of engagement with the physical world. Hopefully not just as a flash in the pan, but as a sustained and integral part of life.

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