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Sponsored blog: Have engineers failed us? or Where's my jetpack?...

30 January 2020

Mike Maynard, Managing Director, Napier

In this regular series of columns for EPDT, Mike Maynard, Managing Director of B2B tech communications agency, Napier, asks whether engineers have delivered on the future promised in the sci-fi of our childhoods...

As someone who gets asked by his kids what it’s like to know you are more than halfway through your life (thanks boys!), I sometimes wonder whether engineers have delivered on the promises of the science fiction of my childhood. Have engineers delivered, or have they failed us?

Let’s look at the promises of the 1970s. There are some big gaps: no jetpacks; no hover cars: and, I don’t see any chance of the teleporter becoming reality. It’s easy to think that engineers have failed the world by not delivering the things that we all hoped would exist.

But let’s look at the positives. Just like any kid who grew up in the 70s, I wanted my own Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. I still sometimes look in amazement at my phone: not only do Google and Wikipedia team up to provide most of the world’s knowledge in a small portable device, but it’s continually updated. Take that, Ford Prefect!

We’ve also got the communicator: whether you liked the Blake’s Seven bangle or the Dick Tracey watch, smartwatches deliver immediate communication on your wrist. OK, we’re not zipping around the galaxy, but the Apple Watch lets me answer calls, even if I can’t find my iPhone.

What about talking to computers? Well, Siri, Alexa and the other voice assistants can respond to voice commands as well as HAL in 2001, although I must admit that I tend to use Alexa for dull things like turning on the light outside my garage, rather than plotting a course though space to find new planets. Alexa is also just one example of AI in the modern world. Although it tends to be specific applications, from predictive maintenance to  image recognition, my teenage self would have been amazed at what can be inferred from a smart algorithm today.

So overall, I think it’s a definite win for engineers. As someone who has moved into marketing however, I’m not sure that marketers have done a great job of communicating how we really are living in the future. Today I’m flying back from Arizona, where I’ve been quite happy to cross the road while a Waymo self-driving car stops. Self-driving cars? Most of you didn’t foresee that, did you sci-fi writers?

I’m feeling a bit grumpy: the flight I am on doesn’t have WiFi internet. I’m at 36,000 feet and travelling at 600 mph, and I expect to be able to catch up on what the Kardashians are doing? That’s something I didn’t even consider five years ago!

How does this relate to marketing? To be honest, I think we under-sell some of the achievements of the companies we work with. It’s so easy for corporate-speak to dominate, blurring the message in a stream of clichés and understatement. Every product announcement sounds the same, so how do we know when things are truly life-changing?

The big problem is the incremental nature of technological change: major innovations are the cumulative effect of several small steps forward. Marketers have very short memories, often only comparing the latest product against the previous generation. Wouldn’t it be good for marketers to look over a longer period of time, telling us how much the performance of a particular family of processors has developed since the introduction of the first device?

What do you think? Would you like companies to measure their progress over a longer timeframe, or is the difference between the latest and previous product the only thing that matters? Contact me on LinkedIn or through the Napier website at www.napierb2b.com and let me know what you think...


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